As an Italian woman who loves to cook, one of Meagan Novara’s favorite things to do is have a big, crowded house with lots of people eating good food. Large gatherings are not a problem for Meagan as she is a Restorative Practice Coach for District 21 and trained on strengthening relationships and building positive cultures. She truly enjoys the work, but it wasn’t always on her career path. In fact, after graduating from Michigan State University, she started her career working at a prominent ad agency in Chicago doing media buys – a job in which she didn’t have a strong passion.
So, she took off to live in Spain to try her hand at teaching. Her time in Spain made her realize she loved being in the classroom and decided to return to the states to earn her teaching license. Stints at Chicago Public School and Evanston/Skokie School District led her to a training on Restorative Justice at the Evanston Police Department. In looking for a way to bring Restorative Practices to the classroom, Meagan helped launch the Proactive Sharing Circle Program in District 65 where teachers across the district were trained in how to build classroom community, strengthen social-emotional skills and practice empathetic listening.
Then came COVID. Meagan’s 3rd grade class went remote and much of the work to implement Restorative Practices in the district was abandoned. Meagan went looking for a district that truly embraced Restorative Practices and came to District 21. “District 21 already had the restorative mindset. It’s been truly a wonderful experience and a joy to do the work here,” said Meagan.
“I’m working with all grades, even kindergarteners. The middle school students have had the toughest time coming back from remote learning. I have seen them struggling with social skills, exhibiting negative behaviors and difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings,” said Meagan. “So I’ve worked with students to build a positive culture by hosting proactive sharing circles. I did over 400 last year and in the process, coached teachers on how to facilitate them,” said Meagan.
Tools used in the sharing circle include only speaking when holding the talking piece, speaking from the heart, using “I” statements and keeping conversations in the circle private. If there is a conflict, she conducts a Restorative Conversation, which involves five basic questions (from the International Institute for Restorative Practices):
- What happened?
- What were you thinking or feeling at the time? What have you thought about since? How are you feeling now?
- Who do you think was affected by this?
- What do you think needs to happen to make this right/repair the harm?
- What can you do next time to prevent this from happening again?
Students become very aware of the impact they are making on others when faced with answering these questions. They also learn to identify their triggers and be accountable for their behavior.
Being aware of one’s behavior and repairing relationships is not simply about reducing discipline problems. “Restorative Practices are not just for students.” Meagan said. “They are for everyone: staff members, teachers, student-parent relationships.” The tools guide in getting one’s needs met and teaches how to care for one another or grow together – whether in a one-to-one relationship or a large Italian gathering.
Thank you, Meagan, for the important work you are doing for District 21. Salute!
See Meagan’s work here: https://www.wevideo.com/view/2476151193
Restorative Conversation (with follow-up questions)
Restorative Practices Presentation-School Board
CCSD 21 Parent Ed_ Restorative Parenting