Bammel Middle School Restorative Practices Coordinator Keon Banks, from left, and Bammel Principal La’Quesha Grigsby, join Arrow Academy Superintendent Dr. Jim Christensen and other educators onstage during Harris County Department of Education’s recent “Restoring School Culture” conference.
HOUSTON – Nov. 16, 2018 – When the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) was assembling panelists to address its recent “Restoring School Culture” conference, Bammel Middle School Principal La’Quesha Grigsby was at the top of the invite list. Grigsby and her campus had been part of a yearlong HCDE study, and the school was recognized during the conference for its work in the area of implementing restorative discipline strategies.
“The panel was a really good opportunity,” Grigsby said. “It was the first time we got to share the data outside of Spring ISD. Implementing Restorative Practices is hard work, and we can’t just tell people to do it without training and support.”
Presented by HCDE’s Research and Evaluation Institute and held Oct. 23 – during National Principals Month – the conference offered Houston-area administrators an opportunity to learn about the ongoing HCDE study of Restorative Practices and get firsthand impressions from a panel of educators that included Grigsby and Dr. Keon Banks, who teaches at Bammel and also serves as the Restorative Practices Coordinator at the campus.
The Restorative Practices introduced at Bammel – sometimes referred to as Restorative Justice – are about more than just new policies and procedures, Grigsby said. Instead, they are aimed at addressing the core relationships between staff and students and between students at the school. Before implementing the changes, Grigsby knew that transforming the campus culture would take time. She also knew that any change would have to begin with campus leadership, faculty and staff.
“The reality of it was that we had to start with the adults in the building,” Grigsby told attendees at the conference, “and if there was no commitment from the adults in the building, then nothing else that we did would work.”
Through HCDE’s Uplifting Pupils Project, Grigsby and her staff began training before the beginning of the 2017-18 school year to implement Restorative Practices on the Bammel campus. Then, throughout the school year, teachers and students at the school took part in “circle” meetings at the beginning and end of each school week. During these community circle activities, students took part in discussions on both pre-determined and spontaneous topics.
“The community circles every Monday and Friday are one of the most important parts,” Grigsby said. “That’s really the foundation. It gives kids a platform to express themselves, to dialogue, and to talk about things that are happening at the school. Classes meet individually, but everybody in the building is talking about the same things, so it connects the larger community. Everyone knows that they’re going to get a chance to share. And, when someone else is talking, as we like to say, you have the privilege of listening.”
First-year results from the research study indicated that Bammel’s use of relationship-building and positive-communication practices – including the twice-weekly community circles – had reduced the overall number of disciplinary referrals while also increasing positive interactions between teachers and students. According to Grigsby, those results required a shift in mindset for both her and her staff members.
“We kept trying to address behaviors,” Grigsby said of previous years. “We kept trying to change behaviors. We kept trying to make them act right and do right, and the answer was that we needed to address the relationship we had with the kids.”
By focusing first and foremost on relationships and only then working on establishing rules to guide behavior, teachers and staff members have seen a new dynamic emerging.
“When we changed the lens and changed our focus from fixing the behaviors to repairing the relationships, we saw changes on our campus,” Grigsby said.
Asked what she and her staff had learned in the time since the Restorative Practices were introduced at the school, Grigsby emphasized again how the system is helping Bammel set the stage for student growth.
“We’ve really just started the work, and it’s a process that’s going to take time,” Grigsby said. “I believe you have to change the culture before you can address many of the academic issues. The academics are incredibly important, but if behaviors are going to impact academics then we have to focus on behaviors, and on relationships. We cannot overlook and ignore the importance of relationships in building a learning community.”