Harriet MacLean on successful restorative justice practices at a model middle school – POP3

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Brandon Krueger
Brandon Krueger
Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

Harriet MacLean is Assistant Superintendent of Education Services for the San Rafael City Schools in Northern California. Harriet moved through a variety of different teaching roles including learning Spanish so she could teach in bilingual classrooms before gaining her administrative services credential and being appointed Principal in the school she had been teaching in for some time.

Harriet MacLean
Harriet MacLean

After more Principal roles and coaching and overseeing a group of Principals, Harriet returned to what she describes as ‘the job of her life’ – at Davidson Middle School San Rafael where Harriet was Principal for 6 years.

At Davidson, Harriet led significant success in improving the attainment of all students and also put in place a system of Restorative Practice.

Harriet’s Top 3 in Restorative Practice:

1. A very strong, challenging and supportive academic program

This has everything to do with culture and climate and it’s essential before you begin to add restorative practice. Harriet removed the tracking of students and developed the community by getting people to know each other better by talking to each other. This is only possible if different kinds of people are together in classrooms. There was a culture of separation when Harriet arrived.

So a new academic program was implemented with a full ELD program and none of the original tracking of students. In her second year, Harriet introduced community building circles.

Suspensions were cut in half which has to be attributed to the new academic program.

You have to have a system in which every student feels cared for, valued, supported and challenged academically.

2. Build community 

You build community first and then when there is a break down in community, that’s where the restorative practices come in.

Harriet brought in a lot of traditionally silenced voices – students, parents  – and found out what it was they wanted from the school. She held meetings in the library but eventually also went into living rooms to carry out the research.

This enabled the school to bring on board people who were afraid of the changes.

3. Start bringing in the restorative practice

Harriet started with Restorative circles. Students fill in a form when there is a conflict and then a meeting is held at which the four restorative questions are asked.

After this was in place, Harriet implemented the Peer Court. This is ‘suspension diversion’ with the student, a parent, an assistant principal who acts as an advocate for the student and a panel of the student’s peers who have been trained. The panel produce a contract of restitution and the ‘victim’ gets to explain what the effect was.

Thirdly, Harriet used http://www.nobully.org When an incident of bullying occurs, a circle is convened without the target and run by a teacher or adult. A group of students is brought together which includes the perpetrator of the incident, some leaders and some who watch and do nothing about the situation. The target’s own words are used to describe what happened and each member of the circle adds one thing they will do to make the target’s experience better. This approach often results in the perpetrator suggesting ways to avoid the behavior in future.

Harriet says that in 99% of cases the bullying stops.

Using these three practices, the school managed to reduce the suspension rate to 40-50 in four years while student numbers increased to 1,100.

Finally, Davidson was the first to implement Beyond Differences which is designed to end social isolation. There is a Beyond Differences club and the first event was ‘No one Eats Alone’. The approach is spreading nationwide.

Harriet’s email address – hmaclean@srcs.org

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