In 2010, Austin ISD leadership noticed the distinct differences in the demographics between its staff and students, along with disproportionate rates in both special education and disciplinary referrals. As a result, the district committed to providing ongoing, meaningful professional learning opportunities for staff to engage in critical self-reflection on their interactions with students, staff and families in a manner that considers the diverse needs of all.
In growing our understanding of student needs and learning what evidence-based practices were being used at state and national levels, Austin ISD’s cultural proficiency and inclusiveness team, led by Angela Ward, PhD, Administrative Supervisor for Race & Equity in Austin ISD, began to dive into restorative practices.
Nurturing Identity-Safe Spaces
Restorative practices offers the opportunity to create culturally responsive communities, focusing primarily on building relationships & maintaining positive connections with students and families. In 2017, Austin ISD was awarded an Education Innovation & Research Grant to support whole-school implementation of culturally responsive restorative practices, which took efforts around nurturing identity-safe spaces for staff, students, and families to the next level.
“Over the years, we’ve learned our staff need to develop a critical consciousness, understanding their view of the world impacts those around them,” states Dr. Ward. “They need to understand their role in creating a sense of belonging in their classrooms and work environments for others to feel safe, welcome and included.”
It’s an Inside-Out Approach
Critical consciousness starts with self-awareness, the first of the social and emotional learning competencies. Ultimately, Dr. Ward shares, culturally responsive restorative practices work is at the heart of social and emotional learning. The two work hand-in-hand.
It takes all of us building each of the competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, executive functions and responsible decision-making) to effectively create safe, inclusive, culturally responsive, academically engaging and equitable learning environments.
Dr. Ward concludes with a message for educators to remember:
“Your unique perspective plays a vital role in our ability to all grow as equity-centered social and emotional leaders.”