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Restorative Works: Coaching Through Relationships

logo   2019 Issue

Restorative Works top
Restorative Works cover bottom

Impacting Schools p7 top


At the School District of University City, Missouri, restorative practices is an integral part of school climate and culture. Even the basketball team is on board. Kelvin Lee, Head High School Basketball Coach and Restorative Practices Specialist, is using talking circles to build relationships and bring the team together, explains Nancy Cambria, District Director of Communications.

After plays kept falling apart due to a lack of student leadership, Kelvin led an hour-long circle in the gym. Talk soon turned from basketball to Black History Month, prompting students and coaches to open up about hardship and resilience. An assistant coach shared the pain of losing two parents to incarceration. During this emotional circle, two team captains emerged to take on leadership roles. “What’s great about the circle is you also begin to see who the leaders are,” notes Kelvin.

As a result of their improved communication, the team won the Conference Championship for the first time since 1995. “My players are starting to walk down the high school’s hallways like ambassadors for the school,” says Kelvin.

Both the team and the school as a whole have come a long way. After a police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, University City students and staff were upset and anxious. Racial tensions were impacting the entire school district.

Now, says Gary Spiller, the district’s Executive Director of Student Services and Innovation, students feel safe and free to express themselves, supported by their teachers. What brought about this change? In response to recommendations in the Ferguson Commission’s report and a study by Washington University, the district implemented restorative practices, culturally responsive classroom techniques, trauma-informed teaching and social-emotional learning.

IIRP Instructors provided restorative practices professional development to district staff to help them strengthen relationships with students and build community and trust. The district passed a resolution, “Humanize School Climate Through Restorative Practices and Social Emotional Learning,” the first of its kind in Missouri. Students can speak openly and honestly about tensions before they escalate and worsen.

University City High School also has a restorative practices class for students. “It’s a way to work with our students towards a more restorative culture,” explains Gary. In action research projects, students are identifying concerns in their school community and applying the practices. “Alumni are now prouder of their alma mater, and more educators want to work here,” Gary adds. “I believe our district is a better place because of restorative practices.”

Boys Basketball Team 2018-19