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Restorative Systems & How It Can Help Bring Change

Usually, we try to space our emails and blogs to avoid overwhelming your inbox more than it already is. As someone who tries to maintain having zero unread messages, the struggle can be real.

The recent violence against Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) includes the mass murder in Atlanta that claimed the lives of eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women this week made this important to write sooner.

We should note that violence against AAPI communities has always been present but has risen significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic. This rise in violence has also impacted how people converse and talk about AAPI community in organizations and social circles. In the last six months alone, my AAPI friends have shared stories such as:

  • A director telling a teacher, "you aren't the right Person of Color to have an opinion," as she tried to discuss her thoughts on the anti-racist curriculum the school is adopting.

  • A group of colleagues "joking" around about Covid-19 and shushing each other when an Asian came over. One of them commented, "well, I guess we can't talk about the 'Chinese' disease now. It will probably hurt your feelings."

  • A company intentionally leaves off AAPI from their equity work. When questioned, a person with power within the organization stated it because "they aren't the group in the news."

  • After the events of George Floyd, a friend saying to another, "yeah, but you aren't discriminated against in the same way, so why are you even upset?"

Every statement is not only cringe-worthy but laced with bias and Orientalism.

I have been deep in reflection, trying to figure out where we go from here. With the Capitol Riots, it was clear what we needed was to bridge to productive discourse. And, as a result, I wrote about how we need to encourage dialogue rather than debate with our students. The continued systemic violence–racist, gender-based, and other–requires a broader view of a system that has caused so much harm. How can we even go about that?

I believe we should take a restorative dialogue and systems approach.

This approach I learned from Duke Duchscherer, a Center for Nonviolent Communication Certified Trainer. I got special permission to share some of the ideas and techniques associated below. Thanks, Duke! To begin, Duke Duchscherer shared with us that

"a restorative system is a consciously chosen, dynamic set of agreements a community makes regarding how they would like to work with the conflict within their community. These agreements are developed by people from all sectors of the community. They outline in detail the structures and process that will be used when a conflict arises within that community."

While the workshop I attended with Duke focused more with adults, I couldn't help think that so much of this can apply to a classroom and school setting. As an individual who utilizes restorative practices, I found a great deal of correlation, but also appreciated this focus on identifying and caring for a wider system.

So what does this look like in a classroom space to bring this awareness and conversation around a system? There are three major steps.

  1. Identify and be super clear what is the exact system you want to explore. During this phase, have students look at patterns of behavior. For this event, I would have students look at the Stop the AAPI Hate press release on the rise in crime towards Asian American Pacific Islander, recent news stories, but also anecdotal stories and quotes like I shared above. Have all students explore systems of structure through relationships, values, and perceptions.

  2. Center everyone around change. This is about what is in your sphere of control and influence. We all belong to the social system we are exploring to a degree no matter what it is, so we need to understand our role. Be transparent with your students or collectively decide what the purpose of this change is.

  3. Finally, engage your students in a restorative dialogue focused on that system. For this dialogue to be successful, there are some key principles from Duke to help guide the conversation.

Key Principles of Restorative Dialogue

  1. We are All Interconnected – all things are connected in a web of relationships. This web of relationships is at the heart of what it means to be a community and a society. If the relationships are not repaired, communities and society will not function well.

  2. Relationships are Central – damaged relationships are the cause and the effect of harm, conflict, crime, and war.

  3. Interdependence – interrelationship implies mutual rights/obligations and responsibilities and implies a concern for healing of those involved – those who were directly harmed, but also those who did harm as well as the wider community.

  4. Community Involvement – not only involves the communities impacted in addressing harm and restoring relationship; but also in the design of the whole system, including traditional dialogue and conflict resolution processes.

  5. Systemic Approach – addresses not only individuals and community's concerns for safety, human rights, the general well-being of its members; it also looks at broader societal systems and structures that led to or supported the harm happening.

  6. Address Harms for All Involved – Restorative processes aim to 'make things right'; to address harms, but also causes behind those harms. This means identifying the very important needs of those harmed and looking at what were the conditions (both individually but especially in community or society) that lead to people committing the harms that they did.

By Duke Duchscherer, Adapted from Howard Zehr, 2020.

Why am I suggesting it is important to start thinking on a restorative systems level and have students begin to engage and be aware of systems? It helps students to understand context and accountability on a larger scale. Once someone has that context, it brings awareness to be inclusive of all within that system. Furthermore, social systems are not optional. If we don't choose our systems for ourselves, we inherit the existing dominant one, and that impacts individual behavior. While systems change seems like a daunting task, in reality, it is quicker and more effective because we become stronger when we organize and work together. Whether we care to realize it or not, the increase in violence in the AAPI community does affect us all. We have a choice in whether we engage in changing this system or not.

If you want to learn more about restorative systems, I can not say enough great things about Duke Duchscherer, a Restorative Dialogue Facilitator and Center for Nonviolent Communication Certified Trainer. Check out his website

or contact Duke directly at:; 1 585 503 3567.


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