Restorative practices

Building a Toolkit: Can Restorative Practices Advance Equity?


While visiting partners in Washington D.C., I was struck by a critique of cultural competence. Robert Simmons, Chief Executive Officer at Maya Angelou Schools/See Forever Foundation and long time partner of Strategic Community Partners, critiqued professional development aimed to build cultural competence as insufficient. He asserted that training and development needs to be aimed toward equity. Robert suggested  that training should start at equity literacy and not cultural competence.

As an educator and lifelong learner,  I was fascinated by the use of a literacy model to guide professional development around diversity and equity. I reflected on the ways that capacity building intersected with equity and questioned How. I began researching the work on Equity Literacy by Ed Change to determine the scaffolding necessary to develop equity literacy. As I researched this model and the four abilities of equity literacy (the ability to Recognize, Respond to,  and to Redress biases and inequities, and the ability to Sustain equity efforts),  I couldn’t help but wonder, How can one inspire educators and leaders to develop and practice equity literacy?

As I grappled with this question, I  remembered a leadership training hosted by Black Family Development, Inc. that I had previously attended. This training on Restorative Practices shared the  fundamental unifying hypothesis of Restorative Practices per the International Institute for Restorative Practices. This hypothesis, that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them” aligns to the work required in equity literacy development.

Restorative practices offer both practical applications and a theoretical paradigm to build relationships, forge community, and restore harm. The underpinnings of Restorative Practices are helping me to answer the question of “how”.   Restorative Practices teach that we all have value and should all be treated fairly,  that human relationships are best when there is free expression of affect or emotion, and that there are healthy processes we can implement to respond to conflict. And I believe that if one can leverage Restorative Practices as tools with leaders and educators, one can inspire them to develop and practice equity literacy.   

Ofelia Martinez, a Community Organizer with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, who attended Restorative Practices Training with me, shared that Restorative Practices do advance equity work stating that “It [Restorative Practices] clears the tension with people and their goals are more meaningful and actually can complete them, it gives the person motivation to actually DO the work.”

However, I know Restorative Practices are only a piece of the puzzle to advance equity in an organization. What are other resources have  you used in your organizations to advance equity? Share your thoughts!