Picture inside of an early childhood preschool center, New Zealand.

“Mannaakitanga is about values of integrity, trust, sincerity and equity. Through manaakitanga, the teacher and fellow students recognise and affirm the identity of each student in open and trusting relationships.” Ministry of Education definition

Street mural in Wellington, thought it fit with this idea of our individual complexity.
Sign posted of one of the main values at Hobsonville Point Secondary School,
outside of Auckland, New Zealand.

I have been struggling with how to synthesize what I am doing here in New Zealand. For a good portion of the last couple of months I was editing and waiting on an ethics approval to be able to collect data for my project. I have also attended trainings, read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, met many educators and other professionals in the field of restorative practices, and visited schools. Now that my ethics approval finally came through, I am processing how to fit into the next few months. Everything I hope to collect such as gathering stories, survey data, and an understanding about the bigger picture of school wide restorative practices in New Zealand. I want to share those lessons, observations, and ideas with all of you back home and somehow more broadly.

I recently received a letter from a friend back home, my first since I have been away for months. She asked me about what was on my mind. What are the observations I have had around restorative practices and its role in education. She specifically asks about the indigenous influences of restorative practices. I get the opportunity to attend a class here at Victoria University that centers around the history and aspects of restorative justices, restorative practices, and the broader social movement that it has become. Restorative ways of approaching crime, education, or the very simple ways it impacts your relationships. There is a view shift, a perspective change that has to occur for someone to see through a restorative lens.

Howard Zehr writes in his book Changing Lenses:

“I have been involved in photography for many years. One of the lessons I have learned is how profoundly the lens I look through affects the outcome. My choice of lens determines in what circumstances I can work and how I see. . . . The choice of lens, then, affects what is in the picture. It also determines the relationships and proportions of the elements included. Similarly, the lens we us to examine crime and justice affects what we include as relevant variables, what we consider their relative importance to be, and what we consider proper outcomes.”

Our view, what we choose to see in that view and how we see determine what we choose to focus on. Restorative practices, a relational view is very much a lens I find comfortable looking at the world through. Don’t get me wrong I am no saint in all my relationships, but I definitely think our knowledge that we need each other. The view outside of myself, and connection to another, that reciprocity is a human need. We know that the school to prison pipeline are real. Their is a connection to how we run our prisons and how we run our schools in the US. We know that harm happens, conflict happens, and reconciliation or resolutions where the person who caused the harm and the one who was harmed very rarely happen. We know that those systems are also full of structural racism. We know a lot, but I would argue we are doing little to change our lens. To look differently at the picture, we need to shift how we approach our relationships. We need to change our idea of crime and punishment. We need to ask ourselves curious questions. We need to separate the deed from the doer. In my training with Marg Thorsborne, she spoke to the room full of educators about our own lens. How do we view children? How do we view the misbehavior of children? Are we asking curious questions? Or are we just looking for someone to blame and punish? Are students held accountable to learning from conflict? Or are they just punished with little thought to the other who was involved, all the thought becomes about the self and how hard they have it now that they are ‘in trouble’? Do we create spaces of community, care, and trust that allow students to have something they even want to restore back to? Or are our schools lenses focused only on the number outcomes produced by a test? DO we even care about that student, the child, the human sitting there taking the test?

The restorative questions used in mini-chats or with students when harm or conflict happens are curious open questions. They seek understanding. They draw on the student to process what happened. They take an outward look and thought to the others involved. They call for repair and growth.

Taken from Dorothy Vaandering,
The Significance of Critical Theory for Restorative Justice in Education

There is an image that I was introduced to in my training with Marg. It poses two lenses we can use when looking at a child’s behavior.

Image at the end of a restorative practice training at a primary school in Wellington area.

The more I move into a broader understanding of restorative practices, restorative justice, and relational approaches, the more I see our need for it not only in our schools, but also our societies. In New Zealand, through the Māori lens it becomes easy to see the world through the collective. They have so many words, phrases, and practices that show their value of relationships. But it is also important to realize a restorative way of being is something we can all practice. It isn’t fixed and we have to have continual self-reflection. It may shift a little based on our culture, or how the group wants to set a restorative approach, but at its core it values and respects our interconnectedness, our individual identity or mana, and our need for each other.

Poem posted in an early childhood preschool center, New Zealand.
Wairua means: spirit, soul as well as attitude, quintessence, feel, mood, feeling, nature, essence, atmosphere.

This blog is full of my own thoughts and options. I attempt to cite all resources and sources.

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