Social Work // 8 Takeaways From The International Institute for Restorative Practices World Conference

On October 24th - 26th, we were able to attend an international conference on restorative practices. Conferences run by the International Institute for Restorative Practices have been held all over the world, we were lucky enough to have this years occur here in Detroit. Participants came from far and wide, representing nearly every state and over 25 countries!

Breakout sessions ranging from “The Critical Role of Youth in Building Restorative Cultures at Schools” to “Using Restorative Practices and Mindfulness to Build Relationships and Heal Trauma” to “Bridging ‘Behavior’ Gaps: Strategies and Interventions for Challenging Students” informed and enlightened us along the way.

We had 8 big takeaways from our time at the conference:

1. Restorative Practices work!

Nearly every session began with data. Schools across the nation are reporting a reduction in serious infractions, a reduction in recurrent problematic behaviors, a reduction in suspensions and an increase in prosocial behaviors. Furthermore, Restorative Practices is equitable. It has been proven to reduce racial gap in defiance and misconduct referrals. In an educational climate where Black students are 3x more likely to be suspended as their White counterparts, the importance in making our practices more equitable is paramount. If you’d like to see more data surrounding Restorative Practices, follow this link.

2. Restorative Practices is one piece of the puzzle.

Restorative Practices are best utilized in schools alongside Positive Behavior  Interventions and Supports, as well as social-emotional learning. In the school setting restorative practices do not live in a silo. They interact with other systems to help manage and respond to behaviors. Allowing Restorative Practices to interact and be a part of other systems of the school are when it becomes most effective.

3. Proactive Practices are key.

A common theme throughout the conference was the importance of establishing norms and relationships with those you work with. Proactive circles are key in building community. Building trust and getting to know those in your class before you need a responsive circle increases the effectiveness of the circle.

4. Data collection is an integral part of the process.

How do you know if something is working? How can we replicate our success year after year? Data collection! Not just outcomes, but collecting information on the fidelity of the implementation of programs. As we continually refine our restorative practices data collection will be an integral part of knowing what adjustments need to be made.

5. Restorative Practices should live in every inch of the school.

Restorative Practices in a school does not work unless it is present in the very fiber of the culture of the building. All community members must buy into it. It cannot only be the way that student off-culture behavior is addressed, but it has to also be what guides staff to student relationships, informs staff to staff interactions, as well as the way that schools engage families and the community as a whole. It is when (and only when) schools adopt restorative practices school-wide that one will see a genuinely restorative community.  

6. Restorative Practices take time, reflection and patience.

The ideas of restorative practices are not a new concept for various communities historically and abroad. However, the movement to fully incorporate such practices into schools has been the buzz in the educational sectors more recently than not. As a result, the implementation thereof doesn’t come without both unintentional and intentional resistance. Traditional educational systems are innately punitive in their response to off-culture behaviors, therefore, the transition to a more restorative environment takes time, thoughtful reflection, and patience from all stakeholders in each school community.    

7. We are doing a lot right!

The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) conference was    very informative, engaging, and thoughtful in its execution. As we participated in the various discussions and breakout sessions, it was clear that the work that we have already done at DAA aligns well with the best practices globally. We learned a lot, and we contributed a lot as well. We were able to again several very tactical restorative strategies to bring back to the DAA community. We also found it interesting that we were able to add value to the diverse conversations in many ways during the conference because we have already been doing this type of work at DAA. It confirmed that we as a school community are not perfect, but, in the restorative community, we are doing a lot right! For that, we are extremely proud! :-)

8. Our work is never done!

Similar to the way that professionals in the medical field consider themselves practitioners of medicine- the very essence of becoming a restorative community is rooted in the idea that it’s an ever growing a developing process. It takes constant reviewing, reflection, readjusting to meet the specific needs of the community. This is why it is said to be Restorative Practices. It embodies the thought that “our work is never done!” Because this philosophy is human relationship focused, it is innately a journey- a commitment, and a process that never ends. But the potential outcomes of a completely restorative community is worth it all.

Special Education // Disabilities vs. Differences

A Habit of Character at our school I absolutely love is compassion. We intentionally put time and effort into teaching and demonstrating how compassion looks, feels, and sounds. We find amazing ways to celebrate each other’s differences! Not one student is the same, not even twins! The same goes for students who qualify for extra support under the special education umbrella.


There’s always an initial shock when schools or outside services tell a parent their little one qualifies for special education under a specific disability (learning disability, autism, emotional impairment, etc). We understand the anxiety these words may cause due what most of us have experienced in education. Disability is defined as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities”  but the special education world is constantly evolving towards the student and how we can help them be successful as we support them through their school journey. At our school, we believe every student can achieve beyond what they think they are capable of and our students are capable of doing their best and more- there are no limitations of what they can do and our students are always surprising us! Which is why we use the term differences instead of disabilities. This may be a shift for a lot of educators and our community as special education has grown so much over the past few years, but we still have a ways to go.


In the mid-18th century, people with disabilities were seen as a liability in social and economic participation but in the early 19th century, the French brought pioneers on special education to the US and Canada and soon enough, institutions began developing new ways to help people with disabilities, in other words,  exceptional individuals. In those days, however, the goal of these institutions was to protect the “vulnerable” children with needs from the world, which in a way, was very limiting. Move forward to the 1900’s and we see the development of special classes in which many of us grew up seeing in schools. Then in the 1980’s, education was going under major waves of reform and special education began to shift from special education classes to mainstreaming and inclusiveness which is where we are today.

Although those special classes still exist in some schools, the beauty of what we do here is that we are helping our special friends be in the least restrictive environment. We help them be part of their community without hindering their talents and special abilities. Together, we are making our world a more inclusive one that celebrates each other instead of ostracizing those who are different than most of us.

Kinder Crew // Brain Breaks

Throughout the school day, there are a lot of active and engaging activities incorporated into lessons to support student learning. Even with engaging and fun stories, movement, and games in lessons, there are times when students need to just let some wiggles out and unwind. We call those times of the day brain breaks! A brain break can look different from crew to crew. Some brain breaks can be a short sing-a-long or dance, like the Hokey Pokey, while others may be more of a game, like Pop!

Brain breaks are not only a great way to incorporate movement and fun on a daily basis, they can also be used to reinforce the habits of character and academic standards in a fun way. If students are working on responsibility, by actively listening when others are speaking, a game of Simon Says would be a great brain break to practice listening carefully to the person being Simon. Another game like Pop could be used to incorporate the math skill of counting, but still give students a chance to have a break.

A great resource for brain breaks that can be used at home as well is the website There are many interactive games, songs, and dances to choose from. The best part is that once students become familiar with the songs and motions, they are able to do it anywhere and at anytime without the video to guide them!

Art // The Psychology Behind Curiosity & Creativity

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At Detroit Prep, we talk, teach and learn about Habits of Character daily! Compassion, Cooperation, Integrity, Responsibility, Curiosity and Creativity, and Perseverance are the core concepts we build our days around. As a newer member to the Detroit Prep Crew and an art teacher, one of the biggest joys of coming to DP is seeing Curiosity and Creativity being a priority for the community.

This habit of character, Curiosity and Creativity are the bases for making art. Often art can be a challenge for children and adults alike, especially if you feel that you are not naturally talented at it. It can feel overwhelming and scary to adults because we might feel nervous about what others may think. For students, the fear of not getting it perfect can stop them before they even start. One of the things I’ve heard the most over the years is “But I’m not good at art.”

Since the start of this school year, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this and how to cultivate an environment of courageous creativity. Two things said by noted psychological researcher and teacher, Brene’ Brown, have really stuck with me as the bases for courageous creativity:

“If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure.”

So how do we start to help students understand that in order to create, failure matters? In one key way, we’ve already started. We’ve made perseverance part of our Habits of Character and our school culture. It’s something we talk about everyday with students. We give examples. We analyze what it looks like, feels like and sounds like. We give appreciations for students and other members of our crew for exhibiting it. We do the same for Curiosity and Creativity.

As the school year goes on, my goal is to find a way to celebrate our failures in the art room. I want it to be specific--failure from trying is very different then failure from not starting. I want the celebration of failure to lead to more creative outcomes and higher quality work. I want it to encourage students to try things that might be difficult. I want to inspire myself to embrace failure as a lesson well learned and I am so excited to figure it all out.

3rd Grade Crew // Building Culture Through Initiatives

At the start of each Detroit Prep day, crew members circle around to hold Morning Crew. Morning Crew is an essential part of each day where crew members participate in greetings, shares, and initiatives. Crews focus on showing six habits of character that are intentionally immersed in language and activities throughout the day. This is a time where crew members can learn about themselves and each other while embracing their differences. 

Initiatives are where crew members play games and participate in activities where they display compassion, perseverance, integrity, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, and responsibility. Detroit Prep’s habits of character are at the core of the work crew leaders and crew members do each day.

The crew builds relationships and trust through morning crew. They look forward to being able to greet their friends and other crew members. Some mornings, crew members are greeted by the entire crew and sometimes, it is their choice of who they greet. It is amazing to see so many crew members greet people they don’t usually play and work with.

Through the daily share, crew members get to think about personal choices, reflect, and share personal information. The crew learns so much from and about one another through  these shares.

The initiative is where the crew has a lot of fun! Playing games like Headbandz and minute-to win-its, allows crew members to play in cooperative groups, use compassionate words and actions, and persevere through obstacles. It really builds a sense of crew when members feel successful as a team.

Morning Crew is the most important 20-30 minutes of the day. Building emotional and social supports with one another and creating a sense of CREW.

Social Work // Teaching Empathy

Empathy is a fundamental component of teaching kids how to be caring and compassionate individuals. It is an elusive characteristic that is difficult to define and a challenge for young minds to comprehend. Empathy drives connection and makes it possible for children to act on the behalf of others. Teaching empathy begins with illuminating shared emotional experiences. It is hard to feel detached or apathetic when you get to know the other person.   

Building a Web of Connections
The Habit of Character group is a club for students in grades 1-3rd that are new to Detroit prep. Each week, the students meet and do a fun activity that is connected to a Habit of Character. During week that we learned about the HOC of Compassion, the group did an activity called Building a Web of Connections. This activity is easy to follow and implement. The main idea of the Building a Web of Connections is for students to exercise empathetic communication through recognizing shared experiences.

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  1. The students begin by standing in a circle.

  2. Students are asked to share a challenge they had that day. It could be a challenge on an assignment, or with a peer.

  3. At the end of sharing, students are asked to think about someone that had a similar experience as them (someone that is not a close friend).  

  4. The leader starts the ball of string by holding one end in their hand, and passing the ball to a person that shared an experience that resonates with their own.

  5. When the student has passed the string, they also share a kind or encouraging comment to the receiver. (Ex: One student shares that they had a difficult time today because hey felt homesick...the kind word could be “we are so happy to have you here at school”)

  6. When each student gets a piece of string, the group is asked to look down at the web they created. The student’s are asked “how does it feel to hear that someone else felt a similar way as you did? Did you learn something about someone that you didn't know? How did it feel to say something kind? How did it feel to hear a kind words?

Students are asked to look at their creation, and see how their end of the string connects to others in the circle. Students can see the interconnectedness of their stories, and experience giving encouragement and kindness through the purview is a shared emotional experience.     

1st Grade Crew // Creating an Authentic Final Product

In first grade, we know that students learn best when their learning serves an authentic purpose, and they know what that authentic purpose is. So, for each of our four Modules throughout the year, we plan our work toward a final product that responds to a genuine need within our school or our within the broader Detroit community.

When Ms. Jackie and I saw a huge shipment of disassembled desks arrive to furnish our new Detroit Prep building, we had an idea.

During our first unit of study in first grade, we learn all about tools. We thought-- it definitely takes some tools to assemble a desk!  What if students used their expertise on tools to assemble these desks for the new building- the very desks they themselves might be writing on in second grade? Assembling desks for the new school would serve an authentic purpose and allow students to do some hands-on work, but we had to ask ourselves, “How will assembling these desks help students achieve the writing skills we need them to by this November? How will this task allow students to expand their understanding on non-fiction texts?” When we opened the boxes and saw the lack of directions, we knew what our final products could be-- student- written and illustrated How-To books explaining the steps in detail to assembling desks. This way, anyone who might help assemble desks for the new school could use our directions. Students could  do hands- on work assembling desks, as well as pushing their cognitive writing abilities while making their how-to books.


Students were thrilled to learn that their help was required with this task. We added further urgency and excitement to their mission by asking our Facilities Manager, Mr. Bobby, to write a letter to first graders explaining the problem and asking for their assistance. During the days we spend writing, revising, and rewriting our How-To books, we continued to write notes to Mr. Bobby updating him on our progress. We cannot wait to see the looks on our students’ faces when they get to present him with their final products!

Each module provides an exciting opportunity for students to build their reading and writing skills and to contribute to their school community by fulfilling an authentic need. We love planning Modules where students serve as experts. We find that students can always do more than they (and we!)  think they can. As one of my first graders said, “I never thought I’d be an author and illustrator already!”


ACE // We Are Yoga!


Character development is ingrained within our culture at Detroit Prep. It is one of the things that first captivated my interest about our school and something that makes me feel so fortunate to be a part of this learning community.

Prior to my time at Detroit Prep, I taught yoga and mindfulness in the Detroit Public School System with Danialle Karmanos Work it Out as well as taught yoga for an after school program for child and teens in Huaycan, Peru. I feel so fortunate that I am able to bring this passion of mine to our Detroit Prep crew.


13 students this fall, grades K-3, signed up to participate in a 10 week yoga after school program. Our 10 week program together stated by reading I Am Yoga by Susan Verde and created an anchor chart titled “We Are Yoga” that we added to each week. We discussed what it meant to embody our yoga practice through different socio-emotional skills and competencies. We discussed things like: ‘being’ yoga meant that in order for peace to happen in our world, peace needed to begin with us. We learned how we can feel peace in our bodies and minds by naming how we feel when we feel strong emotions, taking 10 calming ocean breaths and eventually our strong emotion will pass.

2nd Grade Crew // Mindfulness

Walking into a Detroit Prep classroom after lunch you’ll see and hear students taking full advantage of a time of day called mindfulness.  Detroit Prep students create, explore, and research daily to learn ways they can make an impact on the world around them each day. This imagination, dedication and hard work is no joke!  That’s why it is important to teach the balance of hard work with self care. Teachers at Detroit Prep spend purposeful time with students teaching and modeling different ways we can all be mindful in a busy world.  


You may wonder why we would carve out a time for this during the day when there is so much to learn and do during the school day!  Well, Detroit Prep staff would say that teaching students strategy for mindfulness is preparing them for success. Take a moment to think about your day.  Think about all of the things [your mental checklist] that you have to do. Children at school have just as much on their minds; between learning to read, to write, to add, to subtract, to multiply, to tell time, and cooperate kindly with peers.  Children are juggling all of these new concepts without a plan of what to do when they feel overwhelmed, stressed, scared, nervous, or even excited. We believe it is our job as adults to model and teach mindfulness because let’s face it, we ALL need it!

Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.  It helps us create a space for joy and gratitude. Students are asked to take a mindfulness break after lunch each day and they are encouraged to take mindfulness throughout the day as they begin to experience emotions they aren’t sure what to do with.  Every Monday morning we begin with community crew where all students at Detroit Prep sit together to greet each other, share ideas and stories, play, and then we learn a new yoga breath. Yoga is one of the many strategies teachers are using to teach mindfulness.  

We believe in enjoying the moments we have with students each day.  In order to truly enjoy the moments, we have to take time to be mindful of the joy.  We have to stop ourselves from running on autopilot, take a deep breath, and observe the magic and joy around us.


1st Grade Crew // ALL the Habits of Character!

If you have ever visited Detroit Prep, and had the pleasure to step into one of our incredible crew rooms, you may have been surprised to hear our students (some as young as five years old) using some pretty impressive language to appreciate friends, discuss how lessons went, or set goals for themselves or their crews. Words like perseverance, integrity, compassion, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, and responsibility are common language used by all of our students and staff because these words represent our six Habits of Character.

At Detroit Prep, our Habits of Character are just as an important as any academic subject. We teach each of them separately and they are integrated through every part of our school today. We focus on developing the habits that will ensure our students meet our mission of being ready to succeed in life and positively change the world in any way they choose!

Every day in our first grade crew, we meet together for our morning crew meeting to develop and strengthen our relationships and practice our Habits of Character. One activity we worked on recently together at crew can be seen in the below photograph. Our crew greeted each while simultaneously creating a spider web with a ball of yarn.

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At the end of the activity, students reflected on how much perseverance this took to keep going even if the yarn was dropped or tangled. Another friend added on that we would not have been able to create our special web without curiosity and creativity and compassion to help each other continue on. Debrief conversations like this one are very common in all crews at Detroit Prep. Students as young as kindergarteners learn to intertwine the world of academics and our habits of character because we place such an important focus on both!

Teachers and staff at our school are passionate about providing opportunities for students to use and practice all six of the habits of character. We want students to be able to dig deep and push themselves beyond what they think is capable. The students at our school are so enthusiastic about utilizing and showcasing their knowledge of these habits and I’m excited to see how much they are able to do with them this year!  

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