At first glance, the piece of white vinyl on the floor looks like a bit like a Twister board. But the students at Dora Moore know that the “peace path” is a vital part of how the school uses restorative practices to resolve conflict and repair relationships. The peace path has two sets of footprints alongside sentence stems; students walk the path and use it to guide their communication.
Restorative practices focuses on forgiveness and accountability, and uses strategies to help those involved understand the choices they made and how they can move on from there.
“Kids don’t always come to us knowing how to see outside of themselves. As a school, our job is to teach and part of that is teaching empathy and an understanding of how their choices affect others,” said Karen Barker, principal of Dora Moore.
“It’s not about the student, but the choice,” added Morgan Isaacs, Restorative Justice Coordinator. “We deal with it and move on in a way that doesn’t create shame or judgement.”
The staff at Dora Moore focuses on restorative practices, preferring to avoid suspensions unless absolutely necessary. The principal explained that sending students home doesn’t usually change the root cause of the issue and can sometimes make it worse.
“Suspensions can be upsetting for students, so it’s our last step. We explain to students that their behavior is causing a safety issue and we need to work together to figure out how we can ensure a safe environment,” said Principal Barker.
Dora Moore is a restorative practices visitation school, where educators come to learn about the work being done at the school.
“We’ve had students who were involved in altercations talk to the visitors about how the restorative process impacted them and how they were able to move on,” said Isaacs. “Students have even begun to initiate it on their own — they come to me and ask if they can walk the peace path.”
Second-grader Addy Lyman, who has walked the peace path, shared, “it was helpful to think, calm down and share my feelings.”
Gerard Bronson, who is also in second grade, said, “the peace path helped me to know what the other person wanted from me.”
Dora Moore, which serves students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, prides itself on a culture of consistency and cohesion. A culture committee decides on schoolwide systems, which means the expectations for students are consistent across all classrooms and grade levels. Staff are encouraged to be ‘warm demanders,’ who hold students to high expectations in an environment of kindness and caring.
“Students feel the school is safe and that teachers care about them,” said Isaacs. “We really made sure these ideas were part of our culture and starting that shift can be challenging. You need everyone in the building to believe in it.”
The staff at Dora Moore knows that student behavior isn’t always just about choices, but is also part of the chemical response in their brain. If students are amped up, they may make choices they might not otherwise make in a different state of mind. The staff is currently working to identify ways to create systems that will support students in using physical activity, meditation and other strategies to help them make better choices.
“You have to think about the motive behind people’s behaviors, then write the correct prescription,” said Barker. “Sometimes the issue is communication, and when students learn how to put words to their emotions, it’s powerful. Walking the peace path allows students to feel heard — that’s a powerful gift we can give them.”
Restorative practices are part of Superintendent Susana Cordova’s plan for leading DPS toward a streamlined focus on Equity, Instructional Excellence and Collaborative Teamwork. The plan includes the goal of embedding restorative practices in all DPS schools. Learn more at superintendent.dpsk12.org.