Amplifying Youth Voice in a Restorative School Community

by Sue Perkins, Director of Training & Program Development, Community Matters

“Begin with the end in mind.” – Stephen R. Covey

During staff development workshops I often ask educators to reflect and share why they decided on a career in education. “To support kids”, “Because I wanted to make a difference”, “My third-grade teacher changed my life and I want to do the same for other kids” are common responses. These answers are not huge surprises, and they don’t usually catch other participants off guard. However, as they continue to reflect on why they chose their careers, what it is they want for their students, and how their daily priorities and frustrations often get in the way of those intentions, the surprises, and often the tears, begin to flow. The truth is, while reaching towards our goal to improve the lives of students, the path often gets blurred by the demands of the day-to-day.

It is encouraging that good news is moving from the horizon closer to our reality. Two tried and true and empowering ideas are building momentum together: Restorative Practices and Youth Voice, promising more engaged, respectful and caring school climates.

Note the definitions of these two practices, as provided by Wikipedia:
Restorative Practices focus on improving and repairing relationships between people and communities. The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm and restore relationships.

Youth Voice refers to the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people as a collective body. The term youth voice often groups together a diversity of perspectives and experiences, regardless of backgrounds, identities, and cultural differences.

Returning to our initial goals for becoming educators can be approached using The Formula for Empowering Youth, as outlined by Community Matters founder Rick Phillips. This formula reminds us to begin with the end in mind. As we all want our students to be competent, caring and contributing (3 C’s) members of society we must support their success. This includes providing a sense of purpose, power and place (3 P’s) along with opportunities to be engaged, equipped and empowered (3 E’s).

The 3 “P’s”
Purpose, Power and Place
The 3 “E’s”
Engage, Equip, and Empower
The 3 “C’s”
Competent, Caring and Contributing

The Formula for Empowering Youth highlights the developmental needs of youth and the monumental contributions that students can make to a school’s climate. This formula builds upon the foundation of Restorative Practices, which provides for the building of healthy relationships between students and adults at school. Through these relationships students are encouraged to use their voices to make a positive difference in their school. Simply put, true dedication to Restorative Practices supports empowering Youth Voice to the benefit of the school community.

Returning to why we chose education as our career focus, our personal examples serve as our starting points. In order to be successful, we must continuously remember our final goal – to keep the end in mind. To make a difference in a child’s life, we can start by building solid relationships of respect, and by encouraging their voices as they participate fully in the restorative climate we strive to have on each campus.

A few ideas for encouraging and amplifying student’s voices within our Restorative School Communities:

  • Invite students to serve on the Site Council and the PTA
  • Have students plan and facilitate Restorative Community Circles
  • Have students contribute to the school’s website and social media accounts
  • Use the student’s interests and requests to build Enrichment Activities
  • Adults can work together to be sure every student is greeted by name daily

Restorative Practices, like the Formula for Empowering Youth, remind us to provide opportunities for all students to be full participants in the school community, not simply “consumers” or passive bystanders. When recruiting students for leadership positions or responsibilities, remember to reach out to a variety of students on campus. For example, the students on the Site Council do not need to be the Honor Roll Students. Broaden the reach to include students who may not otherwise have an opportunity to be heard.

Our students’ ideas and energy are tremendous and should be put to good use! They have much to say and to contribute to the campus climate. This does not require more work from the adults, but simply requires us to remember why we became educators in the first place.