When Brandon Proctor (Oklahoma ’14) joined Lorain City Schools’ Longfellow Middle School as the Dean of Scholar & Family Engagement, a piece of data caught his attention. The previous school year, over 100 middle school students were suspended for fighting. Upon taking this position, Brandon knew that getting this number down had to be a priority. By the end of the 2018-19 school year, the number of students suspended for fighting declined by over 75%, with only 26 students facing suspensions for fighting. What was the key to this outcome? According to Brandon, it all boils down to one thing- strong relationship building.
“Relationship building happened every day, from day one. I was never in my office- my door was always open for kids.”
Throughout the year, Brandon modeled the relationship building skills he wished for his students to develop themselves. Not only did he consistently engage them in dialogue to build connection, but he also taught them how to disagree with one another through the use of restorative circles. This practice provided students and faculty with a structural framework to build relationships and to address conflict within their school community. When conflict arose, the involved parties were called into a circle, and the focus of the discussion centered around understanding the root of the conflict rather than identifying who was in the wrong. “More times than not, after engaging in a structured dialogue, students realized that the conflict was simply a product of a misunderstanding,” and was resolved without further incident. Brandon attributes the reduction in suspensions this year to the emphasis on repairing student-student relationships, rather than just doling out punishments.
While used as a tool to avoid punitive forms of discipline, restorative circles proved to be equally important in proactively building the relationship building skills that students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face.
Getting students to buy into restorative circles didn’t happen overnight, but through consistent modeling and support from faculty and the school’s safety team, by the end of the year students were proactively calling for circles without staff prompting.
Looking ahead to the upcoming school year, Brandon acknowledges that there is still much more work to be done, but he is excited to continue to help foster a safe learning environment through community building and constructive conflict resolution. “The ability to learn from and understand one another is so important. Demonstrating strong relationship building skills is the real art of teaching. Positive school culture is the key to having students get the most out of the academic content in front of them.”