A Restorative Approach to a Pandemic

Nicodemus Ford, Pivot Learning May 15, 2020
Expanding Multi-Tiered System of Supports in California

Given Everything Has Changed, What Values Guide Our Work Now?

Far too many schools and districts are implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) or Restorative Justice (RJ) program in isolation which often do not align both essential elements for student success. Thanks to the generous funding by the California Endowment and in partnership with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), Pivot Learning is leading a two-year grant focused on convening a design team to develop an MTSS framework anchored in restorative practices.

The design team is a group of state-wide educators, RJ practitioners, healers, and warriors committed to integrating academic support systems and restorative practices so that all students can live full and strong. Design team members were selected to represent a wide range of geographic areas in California and based on their level of expertise, commitment, and, perhaps most importantly, their passion for the work and community.

The benefits of this project allow us to use the Change Design Process to deeply examine data and innovate solutions in our three partner school districts in Rialto, Cabrillo, and Modesto School Districts. Our final goal is to design a student and community centered Guidebook which will capture and integrate best practices and strategies so that schools and districts can better implement and sustain a MTSS framework grounded in restorative justice principles.

In light of the current pandemic, members expressed the need to dismantle antiquated, outdated systems, practices, and policies that no longer serve students. During our most recent virtual convening, we were presented with two key questions: “Given that everything has changed, what values guide our work now?” and “How do we navigate a path forward?” Here are some of the responses members of the Design Team shared:

“Consider that students are learning right now, this is a pandemic. It’s time to revolutionize education.” ~Kai Matthews, Director, UCLA Center for Transformation

“Honoring where each person is at. No shame or judgement.” ~Melissa Rubio, PBIS Coordinator, Rialto Unified School District

“Networking with one another. We have the ability to heal ourselves.” ~Jerry Elster, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth

“We shouldn’t need a pandemic to focus on values and to be caring. We can use this to our advantage, leading with these values even when life goes back to normal, we will return as different people.” ~Lori Jonas, Principal, Hanshaw Middle School

“When we come back, my preference is for it not to go back to normal. It’s important for us to listen to students and families especially when they return to school.” ~Lizeth Bandana, Teacher, Pilarcitos High School

“[This pandemic] opens up an opportunity for restorative practices to become the new normal and think about how we use re-entry circles as a means to help students and families transition back to school.” ~Bettina Graf, School Counselor and Restorative Justice Practices Instructor, San Mateo Union High School District

We recommitted ourselves to the following values to navigate a path forward:

  • Humility: Understanding this time is for us to humble ourselves in this moment for ourselves, each other and the planet.
  • Ancient Wisdom: Restorative practices are not new. Let us re-imagine how our work is rooted in culture and ancestral wisdom.
  • Flexibility: These are uncertain times that require us to let go and adapt.
  • Connectedness: Our top priority is to connect with our families and students.
  • Love: Along with racial and social justice, it is at the center of what and how we live and work.

While our work changes, our commitment to ensure students receive restorative approaches to their education does not.


To join us in this work and to learn more about the project, please contact Nicodemus Ford, Program Manager,

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