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WE Embrace Equity: Building Culturally Relevant Learning Communities Through Relationships

Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT) is both a mindset and a set of actions necessary to break the predictive link between student demographics and student success.  Culturally relevant educators constantly engage in reflection and refinement around knowing themselves, knowing their students, and adapting their practices to meet the needs of all students. 

One strategy being implemented in classrooms throughout the District is restorative practices.  "Restorative practices is a range of practices that work along a continuum that give teachers tools to build community, be empathetic with their students, and communicate in a way that really builds relationships," says Vilay Greene, Teacher on Special Assignment and Restorative Practices Trainer. "It's not a new thing. It's what every great teacher knows is the magic tool – that good communication builds relationships."

One of those practices is the community circle. Community circles support the two main goals of restorative practices: building community; and responding to harms through dialogue that sets things right. Circles cultivate a culture in which everyone feels like they belong. They build a particular sense of community in which every member – students and teachers, feel that they are seen, heard, and respected.

At Aloha-Huber Park K-8, restorative practices and community circles are a school-wide norm. Each morning in Melina Anderson's fourth grade class, students enter the room and make their way to the carpet for the morning's circle. Each day there is a check in on how everyone is feeling and a daily precept to discuss.  Often, Mrs. Anderson will teach a lesson in the circle to encourage and engage every voice in the discussion. "It creates a space for us to address the unique needs of all of our students and has been really powerful, and not in a way that is in conflict with instruction," says Anderson.

For Thomas Justman, Humanities teacher at Stoller Middle School, restorative practices have made a significant impact on his students.  Following students' hurt feelings stemming from disagreements about our political climate and hurtful Instagram memes, Mr. Justman followed the training on restorative practices and "shut my mouth and gave students time to have their say and a safe place in which to do it." In response, Mr. Justman received the following email from a student in his class:

"Dear Mr. Justman,

I just wanted to thank you for class today, it really means a lot to me that you want to take the time to learn about your students and what they believe in and how they are feeling about all of the craziness that has been going on lately in the world and in our country. I especially appreciate how much you care, I could really see today that you see us as human beings that you care for and understand what it is like to be in our shoes; which is not something that I see a lot of. Ever since you talked about how we are all humans first, I have really begun to see the world that way and not be so closed minded which is kind of hard for me to admit. Republican, democrat, independent, or whatever we may be, it doesn't matter because in your class, we are heard, we are safe, and we are respected. Thank you so much, Katie"