A School Leader’s Reflections on Finding Community During an Unpredictable Year

Jul 13, 2022 | In Their Own Words

by Kathleen Rucker

This past Friday at the NACRJ conference in Chicago, I sat in a circle with educators grappling with a range of questions and concerns related to implementing RJ in schools: How do we understand and work with staff resistance? How do we find time in staff and student schedules for restorative conversations? How do we give time and space for students to “metabolize the harm” of a physical altercation? How do we integrate restorative justice into a range of school structures including curriculum and assessment?

Alongside three other school leaders from Colorado and New Jersey, we shared reflections on these questions and stories of our own learning after a year of remote convenings through our online critical friends group. We learned so much over our year together and to be in relation with a larger community of RJ practitioners was so inspiring.

If restorative justice is about nurturing relationships and connecting with one another, then why does the job of a school leader so often feel isolating? Our small group of principals took on this challenge this year and committed to our monthly meetings as a way to support one another and process the complexity of implementing restorative justice in public school systems. Each month we shared our stories of restorative justice practices and dilemmas in our schools starting with a simple prompt, “What are you sitting with?” Providing an intentional, supportive pause once a month to explore these issues was truly a gift for me in a school year that felt so unpredictable. I left our calls feeling centered and focused on the work ahead of me.

I wish that all school leaders could have such an opportunity to engage in this practice. When our inboxes are full of unread emails, budget deadlines are looming and central office is alerting us to all of the compliance issues that are overdue, maybe the best gift we can give ourselves is a chance to rise above the noise, put on our restorative lenses and peer over the balcony with colleagues who care deeply about the restorative work in which we are engaged.

Kathleen Rucker is the Principal at The Brooklyn International High School. Learn more about her journey via this profile at the Beam Center.