Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022: Keynote Q&A - Harvest Collegiate Circle Keepers

Chris McNutt
August 1, 2022
A Q&A transcript of our third keynote at Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022.

This transcript is a discussion with the Harvest Collegiate Circle Keepers from July 28th, 2022, and a follow up to a flipped keynote session available on YouTube.

0:00:00.0 Chris: Awesome. Thank you so much, Martin, for the introduction there. It was great reading all your thoughts and hearing from you. Also, nice shirt, Eli, killing it. [chuckle] But anyways, folks, welcome. Hello. Welcome to our Q&A session with the Harvest Collegiate Circle Keepers. It's been great seeing you all in the Discord, actually, and engaging in discussion with us, and I'm looking forward to the discussion. Before we get started, here's the format. In a second, we're gonna do some brief introductions for all the Circle Keepers and then we'll jump right into some questions. We picture this, again, as just an open, informal, kind of panel-type conversation to learn from one another. As always, feel free just to write your questions in the chat, which I'll read out loud, or raise your hand using the reaction at the bottom of Zoom. Please remember to lower your hand afterwards so I know if there's a follow-up or not, otherwise I will just keep calling on you.

0:00:52.4 Chris: We'll do our best to ensure that all questions are answered. If your question's kinda similar to someone else's, we might just go on to a different one. As always, Nick does have a word cloud to share, which he just put again in the chat. Nick, if you wanna share that. There it is, words that you'd use to describe the Harvest Collegiate Circle Keepers Keynote. We got inspiring, hopeful and fire as being extra big, so they must have gotten a bunch of responses. That's pretty cool. As well as beautiful, exemplar, transformative, equitable. I know for me personally, it's just cool actually seeing this stuff done. I shared this on the Discord, but I think a lot of times when we talk about these cool things, it tends to feel very theoretical and we forget that there are folks doing this work, either you all in your actual classrooms or youth groups such as this who are doing this work at scale amongst the entire school. So it's awesome to see. Before we get started with those questions, again, I'd love to do some introductions. Martin, I'll kind of turn it over to you and then we'll go from there.

0:02:06.0 Martin: Hey folks. Good morning. It may be afternoon... Actually, maybe... No, it's not... Maybe it's afternoon where some of you all are. It's beautiful to be in space with everybody. One of my mentors and folks who I really look up to is Adrienne Maree Brown. And Adrienne Maree Brown in the book, Emergent Strategy, they speak a lot about... There is always a conversation that needs to happen in the room, and that can only happen with the folks involved in that room. And Adrienne Maree Brown says that it is our job to find it through a process of collaboration. Adrienne Maree Brown also speaks a lot about less preparation and more presence. So there's no slideshows, there is no... Yeah, there's really... The format is just, we all ask questions to one another and we answer them. So we're gonna start with just some really quick introductions. My name is Martin. My pronouns are he/him, and I am the Dean of Culture and Restorative Justice Coordinator at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, and I'm also a music teacher. And I'm going to pass it to my beautiful Circle Keepers. And let me see, we got a little order of conversation for us, and it's going to be Amber.

0:03:40.5 Amber: Hi. I'm Amber. Pronoun, she/her. And I'm a rising junior at Harvest Collegiate High School.

0:03:50.8 Daniella: Hi. I'm Daniella. Pronoun, she/her. And I'm a rising junior and Circle Keeper at Harvest Collegiate High School.

0:03:57.3 Martin: I'll pass it to Nico.

0:04:00.5 Nick: I'll go right now. I'm Nick. I'm also a rising junior in Harvest. And my pronouns are he/him.

0:04:10.4 Nico: I'm Nico. He/him. And I'm also a rising junior.

0:04:16.3 Henry: I'm Henny. He/him. I'm also a rising junior and a Circle Keeper leader at Harvest.

0:04:24.6 Ness: Hi. I'm Ness. She/her, and I'm a Circle Keeper and [0:04:28.4] ____at Harvest.

0:04:30.5 Martin: Hi, Ness, can you please say that again? We couldn't hear you, I'm sorry.

0:04:35.9 Ness: Hi. Can you hear me now?

0:04:37.8 Martin: It's a little short. Can you speak a little closer to the computer, please?

0:04:41.9 Ness: Hi. My name is Ness. I'm a she/her, and I'm a Circle Keeper and a Harvest... [chuckle] I'm a cheerleader at Harvest.

0:04:52.8 Ryan: Hi. My name is Ryan. I'm also a rising junior, and I am a Circle Keeper leader at Harvest Collegiate High School.

0:05:03.4 Drew: Hi. My name is Drew. I'm a rising junior and Circle Keeper at Harvest Collegiate High School.

0:05:10.7 Irvin: Hi. My name is Irvin. I'm also a rising junior in Harvest.

0:05:18.0 Bacha: Hi. I'm Bacha. My pronouns are she/her, and I'm also a rising junior and Circle Keeper. And that's all. Nick already went.

0:05:31.1 Martin: Great. Alright, folks. So we're here to chat. So the questions are now open. Yeah, who's got the first question or prompt?

0:05:46.8 Chris: I can go ahead and get us started here based off some questions on the Discord and then we can go from there. Again, folks, feel free to either raise your hand or write your questions in the chat. The first question from the Discord regarded kind of how you manage doing this work. Something that struck me when I was watching kind of the documentary, really, that you put together is how heavy a lot of these topics are. And kind of the daily struggle, I guess, that would go into doing this work. How do you all continue to do that work and thrive within your learning environments Knowing that every day you're engaging in this?

0:06:30.6 Martin: Amber, you wanna get us started?

0:06:34.8 Amber: Yeah. I was just trying to think about the answer real quick. I would say, honestly, it is a lot of hard work, but being able to make sure that you also put yourself first as well and making sure that if you need a mental health break, you can take one. And if we know we can't do the work and we need to take some time for ourselves, being able to step back from leadership positions sometimes and let other people shine.

0:07:16.1 Chris: Awesome. And then in the chat as well, we can start going through a few of these. So Alex asked, "Were any of you Restorative Justice skeptics or didn't believe in it when you first heard about it? And if so, what changed your mind?

0:07:33.4 Daniella: I could answer that. I was a bit of a Restorative Justice skeptic at first because I always though it was like, one person was the perpetrator and the other one was the victim, and that's how it was completely, there was no other side to it. But after joining Restorative Justice with my team and joining Circle Keepers and learning more about it, I realized that there's more to just someone 'caused a problem and another person was hurt by it. I learned that it's easier to talk about it, to hear everyone's side. That way, there's no misunderstandings or miscommunication, 'cause communication is extremely... That's what causes most problems. So just learning from Restorative Justice kind of opened my mind to so many other possibilities of how to fix things and how to find solutions without going further and causing the problem to get worse at some point. So, yeah.

0:08:26.9 Chris: That's interesting, and thank you for sharing that. I'm curious, then, do you all see connections between the work that you're doing at kind of the K-12, or I guess high school level, to the world at large? So seeing that mindset at the community or state or national scale.

0:08:54.3 Amber: I can answer that. I think that like Daniella said, a lot of it is kind of, for us, it's about communication, but I think even when we take a larger scale, like the world, and kind of what's going on right now, the communication is there. People know what people want, but it's kind of ignored or it's kind of disregarded. So I think that working in schools, like kids our age, it's definitely one of the main factors that we look into, but in general, I don't know if it counts as much.

0:09:37.6 Chris: I see. Thank you. Thank you. Let me shift over to a question from Nick. Nick just asked simply, "What prompted you to wanna do this? What prompted you to get involved with the Circle Keepers?"

0:09:55.6 Nick: I think I could speak for all the Circle Keepers when I say this, Martin just kind of told us to join. Whether we started with doing some type of Restorative Justice work or anything Martin is in, like he does music, yeah, he just kinda... If he thinks you're a good fit and he thinks you'll be a good Circle Keeper, he'll ask you, and then that's just kind of how people get into it.

0:10:20.5 Chris: And then follow-up for you, Martin. If that's the case, how do you go about kind of cooperating and leading this together with the Circle Keepers? How do you identify and grow the movement?

0:10:34.1 Martin: Great. That's actually a great question. So primarily, I identify as a youth organizer in... Although my training is in music, specifically in improvised black American music and jazz, I always feel like the best thing that I've learned from music has been actually this idea of community building and learning to play well with others. So the same way... I grew up playing music with people and identifying like, "Oh, that's... Actually, that's a bass player I wanna play with, let me reach out to them." Or I will go to a show and be like, "Oh my gosh, that singer is ridiculous. When she sings or when he sings, it really speaks to my soul. I actually wanna build with them," I've been able to transfer those skills to my youth organizing. And so it's been a two-fold process, one of them in which we always keep an open-door. So Circle Keepers is an open-door club where really anyone who is passionate about doing this work can come into the work, but they can also come out of the work. If it's too much for them or if they find that it's actually not the kind of work that they wanna be doing, it's always... You can go and then... It's always open, so you can always come back.

0:11:58.0 Martin: And then the other side of it is, actually, as a youth organizer, as an educator, I've identified some folks who I see some specific traits, or sometimes it's just like an energy, right? That I'm like, "Hey, this young person would be actually a great Circle Keeper." And in some cases, it's been me saying, "Hey, I think you should join." And they coming for a meeting and eating some Oreo cookies or some fruit snacks and being like, "Hey, you know what, I like this space." And in some other cases, it's been as extensive as me really, really, really... Students, I think, would say the word pushy, me being like, "Yo, I think you should join. Hey, I think you should join. Hey, I think you should join." And in some cases, I've called homes and I've spoken to parents and being like, "Hey, your kiddo has an amazing ability for leading, I really recommend they join this."

0:12:53.5 Martin: And so it's been a process of finding out where the people power is in our school, and then developing it. And something that has been also intrinsic to the way we work is actually focused on relationship building because folks said this work is really hard. Even when we're doing affirmation circles... So people like to think of Restorative Justice as like only a process in which we talk about harm, sexual violence or drugs or misbehavior, but even when the work is light, like relationship building or creating a website or finding out what movie we're gonna go see as a cohort, it's still really hard. So making sure that those relationships are always... There's always space for finding out what's going on and seeing where the help can come from. I don't know if that kinda answers.

0:13:55.4 Chris: I think that addresses the question quite well, and I think it's leading to some really intriguing follow-ups, and this could be for any of you. The first comes from Rixa, who asks, "I wonder what the tipping point was for each of you that gave you the personal courage to get involved." They state that, "One of the things we witness in our school is the inability or intentional disregard... Or unintentional disregard to step forward and disrupt when peers are engaged in harmful behaviors. So again, the question is about what gives you the personal courage to get involved in doing this work.

0:14:37.1 Ryan: I can answer that. So when it comes to the courage to go up in front of a bunch of people in our school to share the things that we're working on, I think you personally just have to... Or for yourself, it does have a lot to do with your own personal personality and what you're able to do, 'cause I know personally sometimes I have issues with speaking up or whatever in front of a lot of people, like stage fright, or things like that, but I also think you just have to learn to not really care what other people have to say. Or at least in the specific context of what we're actually talking about, you have to know that what we're doing is important and something that needs to be shared to everyone. So there's not really anything that they can say about you yourself and like, oh, like how you're a teacher's pet or something like that because what we're doing isn't really about that, it's more about helping you and getting them to understand how to move better and how to treat people better so that there is a decrease in the conflict or the incidents with your teacher that you don't have to reach the level of actually having a fairness with us, so yeah.

0:15:52.9 Chris: Thank you. Yeah. Go ahead.

0:15:54.8 Martin: Before I pass it to another Circle Keeper. I think that one misconception that people have is that RJ fixes conflict, that RJ is the tool that fixes conflict. And I always like to be reminded, and these are words of Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, conflict is the basis for learning. And also, conflict is a day-to-day reality. We are in conflict all the time. And so it's important to know that conflict is just like a reality of being alive. What we're trying to do is we're trying to not let every conflict be the reason for relationships to shatter, not let every conflict be a reason for cancellation, or not be every conflict a reason for like, "Okay, I'm done with this. I'm quitting." Or like, "This friendship is over". Yeah, is there any other Circle Keeper that would like to add on to what Ryan beautifully said?

0:17:01.2 Drew: I'll add. I also think it's because with Circle Keeping, you get a good group of friends and people you can trust. And doing mediations or doing circles with your friends is like it gives you more confidence, it gives you more motivation to want to do it and actually participate, and it also makes it fun overall for everyone.

0:17:22.9 Chris: Awesome, awesome. I think that this is a really good question that, really, mostly relates to Drew and Ryan, what you're talking about, this is from Dustin, who asks, "How do other students react to the RJ practices? Are there challenges trying to get people in your school community to accept the work that you're doing?"

0:17:51.8 Ryan: I'll hop on in a second... Okay. So when it comes to, actually, new people to fairnesses and things like that, I think they do have... They're like, "Oh, this isn't gonna work or this is stupid or whatever," but then I also feel like our school, maybe it's because we were doing it all year, but kids eventually just got used to it, like, "This is just something that we do." So I think once you make it so that they're having different points of interactions and not just when they're getting in trouble, where they're being taught about the RJ practice and they become more open to it and more understanding of what it actually is, because we didn't just interact with kids about RJ when it was like, "Oh, you're getting in trouble," or "Oh, there's been a point of conflict," but we were going to classes and we were having meetings with kids in the school and sort of assembly versions of sharing the process of RJ or just introducing them to the idea so that when they do come to a fairness, they know what it's about and they understand what we're trying to do.

0:19:00.7 Ryan: And then even if there is like, "Oh, I don't really wanna be here," type of thing, we just have to deal with it in that certain time and place where it's like, "We're here. We're not trying to get you in trouble or anything, we're actually trying to make it so that it doesn't further along and then it comes to the point of suspension and things like that." So, yeah. So I think it's more like just working with the person and having that conversation and being straight up. We're not trying to be fake with them, we're trying to be realistic to the situation and just tell them really what it is we're trying to do and not how us as students are trying to be on the teacher's side or whatever, and I think that's another good part of it being misread because we're coming from a place where they can relate to. So yeah, that's...

0:19:47.6 Chris: Awesome. Thank you for sharing. Kind of a brief follow-up, this could be for any of you, which is, how does this impact you when you yourself is a part of a fairness where it's people that you know or when one of your close friends, for example, is someone that you're doing the fairness with and you're the person that's moderating? Or does that happen at all?

0:20:13.8 Ness: [0:20:13.9] ____.

0:20:18.9 Chris: Sorry, Ness could you... Sorry to keep making you move closer and closer to the camera, but we can't hear you. Thank you.

0:20:24.9 Ness: Alright. Sorry. So I have actually gotten taken to fairness before Circle Keepers who mediate fairnesses was... We're friends, so she's the one that's mediating it and I was the one that was taken to the fairness, well, we don't choose biases, so she has to... [chuckle] How can I explain... She has to lead the fairness how she would lead everyone else regardless of me being her friend or not. She can't be biased about it. And there's no hard feelings, obviously, because as a Circle Keeper, you have to trust the process and she can't just be on my side just because she's my friend. So it's like, usually, fairnesses that our friends mediate, they don't really happen, but even if they do, they're just really honest and no hard feelings are taken, if they do, being there anyway, so it goes well because you're just leading the fairness how you just lead it with everyone else.

0:21:25.0 Amber: Ah, wait. Yeah, to add on to Ness, yeah most of the time, we try not to do fairnesses with close friends 'cause you don't want any conflict happening between the friends as well, but if it does happen, like in that scenario, yeah, you kind of drop everything at the door. You kind of come in with a new mindset and new morals, basically, and be more professional in that case.

0:21:52.7 Martin: I wonder if actually Alexis can speak a little bit because even though one reality that the youth have is that they're mediating conflicts sometimes between folks that they're friends with and sometimes between folks that actually they're not friends with, and one thing that we always speak about is we speak about this idea of bias and like, "Oh, you can't be a Circle Keeper if you're biased." And one conflict or one problematization that we always have is that we actually all are biased. We human beings are always biased, we socialize in different ways. Like in this country, we were socializing what bell hooks calls like a White-supremacist capitalist, imperialistic... Imperialistic, capitalistic White-supremacist patriarchy. So it's really hard to walk into a fairness and say, "Oh, I'm not biased," especially when somebody... You're mediating a fairness, you're mediating a meeting between a person who really harmed your close friend. So I wonder if folks, I don't know, maybe like Nico or Irvin or Alexis, if y'all can share a little bit about this idea of how you facilitate mediations when your friends are involved in them.

0:23:24.0 Henry: I would answer that one. Usually, when I'm in a facilitation or I'm mediating one and my friends are usually in the mediation, obviously, I can't really be biased, especially one with... And I remember one time in a situation with a teacher and one of my friends... Sorry. And you can't really... It's kinda hard to not be biased 'cause like, oh, yeah, that's your friend, but also, you can't really be biased 'cause... Okay, I might be kinda biased with my friend, but then this other mediator, they're here to always balance it out and keep it in check. And usually, from the times that I had to mediate my friend in a fairness, majority of the time they are the harmers, so it's kinda hard to be biased against someone who's clearly... Who's done the harm, yeah.

0:24:28.9 Martin: Before we pass it to Alexis, it's also... Something that I want for everybody to be rooted on, and actually, this is a question for participants, we have this idea that... For example, me as a White Latino and as a cisgender person, I often struggle with this idea of, "Oh, no, I'm one of the good Whites. I'm one of the good men. Oh, I'm one of the woke quote-unquote. And so this idea that other people are harmers but we don't create any harm, I think it's a very dangerous position. And at Circle Keepers, one of the things that I'm working on as a practitioner of Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice and one of the things that I'm trying to help the youth maneuver is this idea that we are all harm makers, we all create harm. So when we sit in a mediation, we try to mediate from a place of, this harm occurred and how does the harmed feel about it, what are the things that are needed, but also from a stance of like, "Hey, I am also a harm maker." So Alexis, can you speak a little bit on the idea of mediating conflicts with your own friends as opposed to folks who you don't really know?

0:25:54.9 Alexis: I'm sorry, can you repeat your question?

0:25:57.1 Martin: Yeah. Can you please speak a little bit on this idea as a Circle Keeper of mediating conflicts with your own friends as opposed to basically mediating conflict with people that you're not friends with? That was the original point.

0:26:14.6 Alexis: I would say mediating conflicts that has to do with your friends is definitely harder than people you don't talk to because you would always... Well, I always kind of have a bias because at the end of the day, I really wanna protect my friends from certain problems that may go on. So I definitely think another person being there to help me mediate the problem is easier because that friend would be like... But that other person that's helping me would be kind of stopping me from having that bias and eliminate the problem rather than me just being on my friend's side the whole time.

0:27:05.7 Chris: Awesome. Thank you. I think that it's probably worth talking about this common thread that's emerging as all of you are speaking, so that's brought by Skylar and Eli and Colleen and Links, which is perhaps the public perception of Restorative Justice work, and this is true for me as well in my former school community, this idea that Restorative Justice means that, "Nothing happens to kids," as in it's a way to get out of traditional discipline, and that's seen as a bad thing. Particularly, Links asked the idea of, how do you build trust in your community to this work? What's the process for teachers and families and even students, and the idea of turning more power over to students and perhaps lessening or changing and transforming the idea of discipline.

0:28:04.5 Daniella: It's kind of a hard question. I would say to get people to feel more comfortable with students kind of disciplining people, we kind of... What Circle keepers do, again, in fairnesses and mediations, we basically get to know the people we're working with. We can't really move forward and trust someone to hear your problem out when you don't know them 'cause it's just a matter of what are they gonna do with this information? Especially with families, families aren't gonna wanna talk about a situation with their child if they don't know the person they're talking to.

0:28:39.0 Daniella: So we do... I know we do a lot of icebreakers, getting to know the person. Sometimes we'll talk about their favorite ice cream flavor or we'll talk about how their week is going so far or a highlight of their day just to get them... To ease the mood 'cause getting... Usually when students or the youth kind of mediate stuff, we are not taken too seriously 'cause it's like, what do we know about discipline? What do we know about anything? We're seen as, "Oh, yeah, they just play video games. They just talk a lot. They don't know anything." So showing them that we understand them, that we're on the same level by getting to know them better, them getting to know us, we're kind of on the same eye to eye level, like, yeah, they understand me, I feel a lot more comfortable to talk about my situation and to hear them out, maybe their ideas of how we could fix this problem will help me move forward and to stop me from redoing this problem again or causing any harm. So yeah.

0:29:40.4 Chris: Awesome. Thank you, Daniella. Is that process the same for, perhaps, teachers? And I don't know how much you interact with, perhaps, families for onboarding people to this process.

0:30:01.2 Ryan: Wait, so you're asking about how parents are integrated in the process?

0:30:06.2 Chris: Yeah. Basically, are there circumstances where parents see this program as either not being legitimate or not being effective without actually knowing what it is? How do you convince them?

0:30:19.9 Ryan: I think me personally as students, when it comes to parent meetings with children about certain actions, we aren't really there for it. So I'm pretty sure the teacher... I mean, parents know about the RJ practice and that it's youth led and things like that, but when it actually comes to the parents experiencing or seeing it, they don't really see it. And we haven't yet had, really, a situation where a parent was curious enough to come and talk to one of us unless Martin talks to them about it.

0:30:57.9 Martin: So to add on a little bit about what plans are, so as we know, we all work in... I think it was Foucault who said it, "Schools are prisons," we work in prisons, we work in the prison state. And the Department of Education Code of Conduct and what we're allowed to and what we're not allowed to do, it can often prevent from doing a family circle with parents. It can often prevent a young person facilitating with parents. So one of the issues that we're confronting is how do we keep confidentiality? How do we... Also, how do we keep boundaries between young people and adults? Oftentimes, adults who are pretty upset and disappointed or hurt about something that might happen to their offspring. So we are actually beginning to engage in a process of training our families.

0:32:08.4 Martin: So this year, something that Circle Keepers are going to be doing, and we're actually starting to work this in the next two weeks, is we're going to do teachings and workshops for our whole PTA. And through that, we're going to, hopefully, develop a cohort of parents who are trained in what we call tier one circles: Conflict resolution, affirmation, getting to know your circles, as well as some circles, like, how do we welcome back a student that had a suspension? How do we manage inside the home conflicts? I have had some restorative circles between families, it's actually a big part of the work that I do as the Dean of Culture at my school, but typically, those circles do not involve youth leaders for the most part. I don't think that we've had any circles in which I've been able to bring a youth practitioner into a family circle. But it is my hope that we can begin to change the narrative and actually just change just the whole paradigm. Because really, Nico would be oftentimes a better facilitator than I would be, or Drew, when there is a conflict happening between young people and their friends because I'm... I'm sorry, young people and their families, or we could co-facilitate. So that is one of my hopes. I think, Alexis, you had your hand up. But also feel free... Chris, you're doing such a lovely job of facilitating conversations based on the questions, so I'll pass it back to you.

0:33:54.5 Chris: Sure. And Alexis, if you have something to share, feel free just to send a thing in a chat and I'll come back over to you. Yeah, this is great. I have a question that's really pulling at a different thread here, but it's a really intriguing one from David. David asked about how this connects to your academic experiences. He says that he assumes that when you feel safe in your relationships and our agents restoring justice in your world, you may be more open to taking risks with your learning and are quicker to forgive others and yourself academically. Is that true? Do you see a connection between the work you're doing with the Circle Keepers and Restorative Justice with your academics and classwork?

0:34:44.1 Martin: Ness, can you please... Ness, do me a favour, can you switch with Amber? Can you all sit in the... Switch spots. So sit where Amber is sitting. I think your microphone is catching it better from there.

0:34:56.3 Amber: [chuckle] Okay.

0:35:00.5 Ness: Okay. What about now, is this better?

0:35:02.8 Amber: I think it's just the headphones.

0:35:04.8 Martin: Yeah, a little bit better. There you go.

0:35:06.9 Ness: Okay.

0:35:09.4 Amber: Off you go. [chuckle]

0:35:11.9 Ness: [chuckle] Okay. I'm so sorry, I forgot the question, can you please say... Oh, I remember it. Yeah. So personally for me, ever since I've been doing Circle Keepers and Restorative Justice, it has changed my view of conflict in general. So in my personal life and academically, I don't only implement Restorative Justice and fairnesses and what we do when I'm doing it, I use it in my personal life too and it has actually impacted my life better and I get to see things differently and know how to react to them better than how I did before I became a Restorative Justice and Circle Keeper.

0:35:53.4 Chris: Awesome, awesome. Thank you. And it sounds like it's been a positive experience for you all as you've been involved with this program. Two logistical questions very quick, I think this one's probably aimed at Martin, how long ago did you start this program? Or were you the person that started the program?

0:36:12.4 Martin: Great question. Actually, I do think that the point before, I think it's worth unpacking it a little bit.

0:36:18.1 Chris: Sure.

0:36:18.5 Martin: Because it's not all fun and games, it's not all positive. I wanna be honest, this is really taxing work. Every time... So mediations happen during the school day because nobody's gonna come before school or stay after school, which means that students miss class to do a mediation. So I wonder if folks can speak a little bit on just the hardships and also how it's impacted you academically both positively and negatively. We know that this work impacts students positively because any kind of academic assignment that makes you deal with actual education as opposed to schooling and where it puts you in positions of leadership and where it lets you see the world through different lens actually impacts people positively, you get a better sense of belonging, you get a better sense of who you are yourself, but I wonder if we can speak a little bit on what else kinda happens for students. And I think that education as opposed to schooling, I think that's Dewey, right? James Dewey. Is that his name? I think it... Yeah. Is Dewey's name James? That's his first name, right?

0:37:40.6 Chris: John.

0:37:43.4 Martin: Sorry, I gotta drink some more coffee. I gotta drink some more coffee. John Dewey, education as opposed to schooling. So I wonder if folks, maybe Irvin or Nico or Drew or Bacha, really anyone, if you can unpack a little bit more of how this impacts you academically for the good and also what are some challenges?

0:38:08.0 Nico: I can speak about it. So for the fairnesses during class, you kind of have to check yourself and be like, "Can I miss this class for this fairness?" Because if you keep missing classes for it, you're just gonna end up falling behind. So you can choose not to do them, but based on what classes you need to actually be in. And it helps academically, I learned a lot about RJ and how to mediate, you just have to be careful with your actual school work at the same time. But for me, it hasn't... I haven't let it affect my grades negatively.

0:38:53.7 Henry: Yeah. To add on to that, you could choose not to do fairnesses  but also, teachers will tell you, "You're missing too many classes because of fairnesses, so you cannot do a fairness during my class. You have to be in my class."

0:39:12.9 Irvin: Yeah. And also, there would be times where you would have to go make up your work if in that class you're being behind, like Nico said, you just need... Like during lunch, maybe after school, if they're even there, you can stay there and catch up on some work that you didn't do during class or stuff like that.

0:39:37.7 Bacha: And I also think that a lot of the Circle Keepers are just... Are doing well in academics even to begin with, so it's not really a main issue for us. I think we manage it pretty well because we are already doing well academically. But I think a lot of us, myself included, have used just going to do mediation as an excuse to miss a class that we don't really like or whatever the situation may be, but I think because we do well in academics, it's not really a problem for us. And if there is a class that we're not doing well in and there's a fairness that period, we have enough self regulation to miss it. We're like, you just cannot engage in that one.

0:40:24.0 Martin: Yeah. I actually wanna build a little bit on what Bacha said. One of the most beautiful things that I've been able to experience in my whole life actually in academia and in teaching is actually seeing how young people are beginning to basically take ownership over their own lives. I can 100% trust Bacha when she tells me, "I'm not feeling Algebra 2 right now," or "I'm not really feeling going to science because I have too much going on, but I will make up the work so I can do a fairness," I can 100% trust that she will make up the work and she will excel. When Henny comes to me and says, "Hey, I'm not seeing eye to eye with my music teacher right now or art teacher right now. I need a break from this class. Can you put me in a fairness?" I can 100% trust that Henny will get the work done, and not only get it done, but he will excel on it.

0:41:24.5 Martin: And also another part of it is Circle Keepers is an open-door policy. It just happens that this year's cohort, it is mostly students who perform really well in academics; not everyone, we do have students who struggle academically, we have them right here, however, if you are failing a class, you can't miss that class... Like if you have a D in music, you will not be taken out of music. As a matter of fact, we're going to mentor you in it. So we do that process. And to answer back to the question that, Chris, you had asked me, Harvest Collegiate High School has always been a Restorative Justice school. Our principal, her name is Kate, we love Kate. She's really a really great visionary leader. She comes from a background not only from Harvest school of education, but she actually attended the Peace and Justice program at Columbia University, so her vision for Harvest was a school that focused on Restorative Justice. So we've always had it.

0:42:49.1 Martin: I got to Harvest five years ago as a music teacher, and I began interning in the Restorative Justice program because I had been doing activism with youth for 10 years before, mainly doing drumming and activism, like I would take youth to protests and we would perform songs in bucket drums and sing chants, so I've been involved with youth activism and social justice activism for many years, and so it seemed like a great place for me to grow. I didn't know anything about RJ. And the person who I trained under went on disability leave, so I began working on the program part-time. And Harvest always had a youth leadership part of it, but it was really like two or three students that were trained in conflict mediation. And I took the program. And as I grew it, my first year, we were like two to three people. The second year became like five or six people. And we rocked with just six people. One person quit halfway through because it was too much work for him and he wanted to really focus on coding and tech. And then the third year, it went back to being three people, three seniors, who I still I'm really, really close with.

0:44:17.8 Martin: My fourth year... Arundhati Roy speaks a lot about the pandemic as a portal, and COVID and Zoom school was truly a portal for Circle Keepers. I was able to teach a Restorative Justice class on Zoom that met five days a week, and we had a mutual aid/political education club that met once a week. So most of these folks came from that class. And we were able to grow it last year over about 12 people. And as we grew the work, actually this year, it jumped up to 30 people. So we have 30 Circle Keepers who are trained, but who are not equally as committed, who... They like doing mediations or they like the environment, but I would say that right now, we are focusing on building the relationships rather than building the masses. So for me to mentor 30 people, I think it became a little bit too...

0:45:28.5 Martin: Drew, can you please... There are some folks who have to step out, can you please put our Instagram page on the chat for everybody? And Nico, can you please put our website so people can be in touch with us. So 30 people became way too many people for me to mentor and also for the youth to mentor. So right now, we're focusing on finding what is the sweet spot between a cohort that can be very close in leadership, but also what is a place in which there is space for everybody. So we are going to create and open up a cohort for community service in our school, we're going to open up a cohort that does youth participatory action research and ethnography in our school. I don't know if that answers y'all's questions, but yeah.

0:46:27.1 Chris: For sure, for sure. And there's many more questions coming in, and I think that people could probably ask you questions all day. If possible, I'd love to hear more if folks wanna ask more questions in the Discord, if any of you wanna stick around there and answer a few things. As we kind of wrap up, I'll leave us with one more question here in a second, but just as a reminder for folks attending the conference, at 1:00, we'll have our session with Dr. Jennifer Berkshire, which is our last live session here together, and then we'll close out later today. Because I forgot to hit the End Giveaway button, you still have time to enter the giveaway, which technically was supposed to end two hours ago, but if you haven't done so yet, react in the giveaway channel. Even if you're someone who didn't attend the conference, if you're one of the Circle Keepers, if you wanna win nature, if you're sure, you can react in that giveaway channel and you can do so. We're also... Martin just says, you can also ask questions on the Instagram. As a final question to summarize here in the last five minutes, I think it would be good to end on... Most of the folks that are here probably do not have perhaps an administrator who is adopting this work, or at least hasn't sought it out, or else they wouldn't need to be here to learn more about Restorative Justice work. So what recommendations would you have for educators who believe in what you're doing and need a place to start?

0:47:45.8 Martin: I would say one thing and then Circle Keepers will say one thing each, following our order. I would say that we have to think of, we are in gardens, not mines. So plant that little seed, like we don't... You don't have to... The Talmud... I'm Jewish, so the Talmud speaks a lot about, we don't have to finish the work, but we're also not... We're not allowed to abandon it. So just because we can't do the whole thing in one year doesn't mean that we can't start. So just one little seed of RJ with your admin, and also please feel free to reach, I'm gonna put my email, we do do a lot of professional development workshops for teachers and for students and for admin. So okay, Amber, one thing.

0:48:35.9 Amber: I would say that take one step at a time and it's okay to make mistakes, but it's what you do and learn from those mistakes is what really makes you like...

0:48:50.6 Daniella: I would say, build with your community, trust everyone around you. And if you can't trust them, build up that trust and just work together in finding solutions to make the community stronger and better.

0:49:18.6 Martin: Who is our next person in the line? Or just go ahead, someone can share. That's fine.

0:49:27.5 Ness: I'd say set boundaries for yourself. And pamper yourself. If you feel like you can't do this, don't think that you have to, it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to take a break. Don't overwork yourself.

0:49:54.9 Ryan: I can go. So I think that...

0:50:02.4 Ryan: Sorry. [chuckle] I think that a big thing for someone who wants to start RJ is really just knowing yourself, knowing your boundaries, keeping those boundaries and just making sure you're... I think being organized is a big part of it, like try to be as the most... Have the most organization as possible because there is gonna be a lot going on and you will have to keep yourself in check because no one is really going to do that for you. So, yeah.

0:50:31.7 Nick: I would say take your time getting into it, don't rush it. If you need a break, take a break, don't push yourself too hard.

0:50:46.8 Drew: I feel like patience is a good one. It's just like, not everything happens as soon as you want it to, like giving everyone a chance to think or a chance to speak is good.

0:50:56.1 Nico: I would say you have to like build community and make sure you teach everybody.

0:51:02.4 Irvin: Probably build up relationships to get through Circle Keepers or something like that.

0:51:11.6 Bacha: Yeah, I'd say relationship building is a big one. Just within Circle Keepers, it's like we're all like one kind of big friend group, and it's really important in the work that we do.

0:51:24.0 Henry: I would say to prioritize your mental health over the work.

0:51:39.4 Martin: That sounds like amazing advice y'all. I need to take that advice myself.

0:51:45.5 Chris: Incredible. Thank you all so much for being here, seriously. We'll keep in touch. We'll make note of the email and Instagram and Discord channels and all that kind of stuff. Thank you all again for joining us

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
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