RESET: Strategies for building a restorative culture at your school from Shelneka Adams, Louisiana Department of Education
At the Power of Present Summit in November 2022, Shelneka Adams, Child Welfare & Attendance Liaison at the Louisiana Department of Education, shared the research-informed work she’s been doing to bring more restorative practices into schools across Louisiana that help improve school culture, chronic absenteeism, and of course, student achievement. Her RESET (Restoring Every Student, Every Teacher) framework was found to lower suspension rates by a staggering 64%! You can watch the full presentation on RESET below, or read on for highlights and practices you can leverage in your own school and district.
Developing & Implementing RESET
When improving chronic absenteeism, examining suspension, what Shelneka describes as the “stepchild of chronic absenteeism,” is critical. The challenges and psychosocial issues that students and teachers alike face throughout the school year like safety, fear, and stress begin to drive school avoidance/refusal, which manifests into chronic absenteeism, then truancy, and ultimately, dropping out of school.
In her research, Shelneka noticed several common features that drove high suspension rates that were contributing to high chronic absenteeism rates:
- The same students were often repeatedly suspended
- Referral language was not restorative
- Culture was more responsive than proactive, with poor student-teacher relationships
- Lack of investment by all educators
Space to Reflect
In response, Shelneka created a referral system that educators could use while implementing the RESET model. If a teacher was going to write a referral, they were also required to complete a questionnaire (visit the International Institute for Restorative Practices to learn more). At the same time, students would get the opportunity to tell their side of the story with their own questionnaire.
The results? 35% of teachers reported not completing a referral after spending time with the questionnaire. Taking time to reflect, they realized that if they were having a better day, they likely would’ve laughed the incident off.
A Restorative Circle
Of course, some incidents still required a suspension. To support both staff and students, RESET requires that teachers receive feedback afterwards and also get clear communication around when their students will return to class and how they can support the student moving forward.
RESET recognizes that students may be arriving at school with their own personal challenges and traumas, and that teachers have needs as well—being a caregiver 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, is taxing. An essential piece of RESET is providing a “re-entry circle,” where a counselor, student, parent, and teacher discuss how they can better support each other on an ongoing basis, and treat every day as a new opportunity to learn and build positive relationships.
Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child
Strong relationships are the foundation of successful school cultures and strong attendance. RESET encourages a “safe person” identified for students that they can confide in on days when they aren’t feeling great. It doesn’t always have to be their teacher— maybe it’s the lunch lady who gives them an extra piece of lasagna.
By proactively getting ahead of common barriers and school avoidance, suspension rates can decline and attendance can improve. This may include:
- Providing a quiet place to rest for a student who was up all night working or in an unstable environment
- Washer/dryer so that clean clothes are not a barrier
- Welcoming students who are late and still offering breakfast
Checking in to Keep the Momentum
Building a restorative culture is not a one and done deal. After a suspension, a critical component of RESET is holding check-ins. For students, this is done every day for two weeks with their trusted “safe person” to create a routine. Checking in with educators is just as important. A teacher who was upset enough to write a referral felt harmed, and can benefit from another team member checking in with them as well.
Proactively nurturing relationships and creating a culture where families don’t have anxiety about a call home or a check-in is a key part of RESET. Shelneka recommends calling families of the “middle kids” — students who aren’t struggling the most, nor are performing the best, throughout the year and celebrating one good thing about the student.
Families of students who are struggling should also regularly get a call home that highlights one good thing about the student and their current focus.
Rethinking In School Suspension (ISS)
So many students drop out when they feel impossibly far behind their peers. RESET ensures that students in ISS don’t get lost in busy work. Teachers are asked to provide a youtube video or Khan Academy link related to the lesson they were missing so that they can stay on task with their classmates.
ISS should provide a space where students get the Tier 3 support they need, the meals and work to fuel their learning, and of course, time for the “regroup” to address psychosocial issues. This may include yoga, meditation, and guided imagery, to help students feel safe, get centered and feel like they belong at school.
Restorative Practices to Incorporate
Creating a restorative culture at school requires investment and proactive work from every team member. This may include:
A warm welcome: Encourage teachers to be proactive as they greet their students at the door. If they notice a student is tired or having a bad day, consider sending them to a counselor before things escalate. They may just need some extra rest before continuing on with their day.
Communication and language matters: Remember that when we receive labels, we often wear them, so be sure to use positive words!
Mentorship & community partners are essential: Pairing high risk students with a mentor can prove invaluable. At the high school level, seniors need someone to guide them through to graduation, sophomores & juniors need someone to keep them motivated, and freshmen can use help in getting set up for success. Mindfully hosting community events where students, families, and their mentors can mix and mingle encourages people to look out for each other, learn what gets each other motivated, and nurture it to stay invested in school.