Transforming our relationship with conflict
Today we had our first T.P. meeting in school.
T.P. stands for ‘transformative practice’, and it is the way we have decided to work through & heal any conflict that comes up in our school.
Our T.P. is inspired by the Transformative Justice movement in America, which really struck a chord with me when I came across it. Since then I have been soaking up as much knowledge and insight about it as I can.
Transformative Justice was originally developed as a response to deal with very serious harm and violations within marginalized communities that felt often the criminal justice system was doing more harm than good. I believe the approaches used in T.J. could be healing and progressive towards many situations in life. Aspects such as the attempt to understand and heal the deep root of a problem which can be environmental or interpersonal, striving for accountability instead of demanding punishment, and a strong emphasis on strengthening & building a healthier community. Transformative Justice is a relatively new movement but these are age old approaches that have been used with great success in many ancient cultures and tribal communities.
Over the last couple of months Becky and I took on the task of learning about T.J. and working out ways to break it down and apply some of the concepts to the daily conflicts that may arise within our school community. I have immensely enjoyed the process and I am already feeling super inspired after our first T.P.
We structure our TP like this:
• If students or staff have a grievance they cannot sort out themselves and does not need to be addressed immediately we encourage them to write it down and put it in the TP box.
• The person affected and the person involved are invited to a TP meeting.
• Our TP committee is made up of myself, Becky, and 3 students without bias to the situation who are there to mediate. Every student gets an opportunity to participate in this committee.
• We all sit in a circle. We first hold space for the person affected to relay their experience without interruption (prompt questions may be asked by mediators).
• We then hold space for the person involved to share what was going on for them without interruption.
• We then open up a discussion, work out how to move forward and ask the person affected what they feel they need to resolve the situation or feel better. Sometimes all they need is to be heard, other times we work out an action that needs to be taken to heal the issue or to prevent it from happening again.
Using this approach opens up many opportunities and challenges to change our relationship we have with conflict. One challenge I feel our community has taken since beginning this process is to unlearn that looking at and addressing conflict equals punishment and shame.
I was very nervous beginning this process so I shared how I was feeling and opened the T.P meeting with this intro:
‘’I want to thank you all for coming to TP, I really appreciate each and every one of you being here! I know you may feel nervous as this is all so new and different but I want to remind you that you don’t need to feel afraid or worried, no one is here to be given out to or feel they are In trouble! TP is an invitation for us to come together and work together to figure out ways we can ALL feel more harmony and happiness in this community. First of all we are going to give the person affected space to speak, share their thoughts and be heard. You are already showing so much courage by coming here to work together so my next request is that you do not interrupt the person speaking while we are holding space for them. We will hold space for you to speak, share your thoughts and be heard right after without interruption also. The mediators are here to help us see a situation from lots of different perspectives. NO ONE is here to judge or take sides. We want to work together to figure out ways we can hold ourselves accountable/responsible for the ways we may have affected another person and how best to move forward.’’
I was blown away by the students ability to share, speak, and truly listen (a skill which is often lost, especially when dealing with conflict). When you change the language around conflict and hold a safe space it is amazing how much room you allow to foster growth. After our first TP meeting everyone felt heard and understood and I can already feel the relationship around addressing conflict with some students shift. There is so much more I could write about this topic and I know what I have shared is just the tip of tip of the iceberg but I think I will end it here for now.
To my knowledge we are the only school in Ireland, perhaps the only organization in Ireland, intentionally practising transformative Justice approaches. I see how much I still have to learn and unlearn about these approaches but I'm up for the challenge!
So if I can find some time in the week I will try to continue to log and share our journey and explain in more depth other aspects of this approach. I have dreams of how this approach could be developed and used outside of our little school. My gut tells me others may feel the same..but who knows?
Let’s begin where we are and see where it takes us!
For more information on Transformative Justice, the movement that inspired our TP, this article is a great place to start
If you are practising transformative justice and would like to connect or If you are feeling inspired about this and would like to learn more please reach out!
You can reach me at email@example.com