This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. Part 1 looked at preparing for holding a difficult conversation about poverty. Here, I clarify how restorative practices might help facilitate a conversation about poverty and what to do to address poverty.
The preparations I mentioned in Part 1 included recollecting thoughts on the matter, nonviolent communication practice, and familiarity with using RPS circles. Perhaps we might also assume that interest in poverty emerged from previous discussions and that all participants are engaged in the conversation and have developed relationships and rapport through previous circle-based conversations.
The Proactive Restorative Practice Circle
The proactive RPS circle, one type of circle within RPS, offers a discussion structure from which many of the best and inclusive teaching practices might be used to build relationships, awareness, compassion, and opportunities for learning. An introductory example of what one might look like can be found here.
Several features of an RPS circle facilitate its utility:
- Students and teachers engage in RPS circles regularly such that they internalize procedural expectations and have experienced the benefits of such a circle.
- Students and teachers sit in the circle together without desks or items to distract attention from the conversation.
- Although the circle formation removes distractions and equates spatial prominence (i.e., everyone is equally prominent), it does not determine participation. That is, circle participants may choose to institute rules including a designated talking-piece that signals who has may speak in a given moment or that all must talk in a given conversation. However, circles are inherently flexible —some may not wish to speak about certain topics and thus some groups may adjust expectations accordingly. They may also structure three go-arounds, at the beginning, middle, and end of the session, in which each student has a chance to make a comment.
- Circles also may bound different types of conversations. An initial conversation about poverty may be solely be a collective exercise to generate awareness. Subsequent conversations may be about personal experiences with poverty, discussions about what causes poverty, how does it impact life at school, and any actions the group might take.
Given the complexity of poverty, one best and inclusive teaching practice might be to encourage learning without imposing particular viewpoints. RPS communication practices support two particular processes vital for maintaining awareness of imposition and domination. First, they aid an individual or group of individuals to identify and explore implicit assumptions that they might hold or disagree about. Foremost, RPS communication practices seek to split observations from implicit judgments, beliefs, values, and private agendas; that is, they try to ground discussions of poverty in observations. Given that many likely have different sets of observations, RPS communication practitioners can use these conversation tools to clearly communicate their observations, feelings, and any needs associated with navigating disagreements. Second, they might help a group navigate instances when one might perceive a particular violation of group expectations within a discussion of a contentious topic. Again, they ground sense-making and interpretive processes in observations, feelings, needs, and requests.
Taking realistic action
Participants in RPS circles might elect to take realistic social change action. As mentioned previously, RPS are not designed to address larger social problems by themselves. Community organizing, legal advocacy, community development, action research, and restorative practices with larger groups are designed to address those problems. However, RPS circles can be used to identify sources of problems and how they manifest, construct collective narratives or oppression, brainstorm actions, navigate conflicts that might emerge during these action, and reflect throughout the process.
Taken together, RPS circles offer ways to engage with difficult conversations in ways that do not reproduce hegemony. They offer versatile platforms from which educators might engage with students in creative and constructive ways—particularly when they are embedded within and embody restorative principles.