WALNUT CREEK -- The Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center's second annual "Creating a Peaceful School Conference" on Feb. 2 set out to stretch the minds -- and bodies -- of Bay Area educators.
Reaching out to Fresno Pacific University Professor Ron Claassen to lead the call for restorative justice in the classroom, the Walnut Creek-based organization offered a daylong series of workshops ranging from peacemaking alternatives to athleticism.
Keynote speaker Claassen began the day introducing the award-winning concepts he and his wife and co-author Roxanne have included in their recent book "Discipline That Restores."
Based on work he has performed as a director of numerous social justice and offender reconciliation programs, Claassen said classrooms aren't working in a systemic way to deal with violence and disputes. Core restorative discipline values begin with "safety for all members of the community," he said, displaying the phrase on an overhead screen.
"The only word that is controversial is the word 'all,' " he said.
Recalling a man who approached him after a lecture and suggested, "Some students don't deserve respect," Claassen disagreed. Peace achieved without the use of fear or oppression and decision-making by all involved are universally restorative, he advocated. Punitive processes rarely result in bringing people together, but schools resort to it out of habit.
"Restorative justice is a new role for people who are used to being in authority," he acknowledged.
Displaying a Chinese word on the screen, Claassen said it translated into a construct he adheres to -- that every conflict has a possibility of danger, or opportunity.
As a mathematician, he thinks in models and pressing the remote control, he caused a roar of laughter from the audience.
A flow chart, cluttered with boxes and zigzagging arrows, did everything but flow.
"That's why I didn't start with this one," he laughed.
An explanation from his co-author helped.
"It's a map; a way to keep ourselves on task in emotional circumstances," Roxanne explained.
A retired teacher and peer mediation coach, Roxanne said students as young as those in kindergarten can understand and contemplate power issues and problem solving. She posted large sheets of paper, on which a kindergarten class had created "Respect Agreement Papers."
Under "Students respect Students," it read, "play together" and "no name calling."
Teacher-to-student respect meant being kind and providing fun time. Respecting the school meant "staying out of each other's things."
Roxanne has teachers and administrators at the schools she visits implement the program systemwide.
"We do what our structure tells us to do. We have the skills to work directly on conflict, but we only use those for a short time. We then go into the more formal structure, which unfortunately is like a mini criminal justice system," she said.
Restorative justice might sound like a fuzzy, feel-good theory, except for the numbers the Claassen's have collected.
Cases referred to their Community Justice Conference resulted in $11,000 -- doubling the amount of restitution collected from juvenile offenders in one year.
And at Oakland Unified School District's Ralph Bunche High, a November 2012 Fresno Bee article reported their restorative justice approach to conflict management reduced suspensions by nearly 50 percent.
"With 42 percent of all suspensions attributed to "willful defiance," Ron said educators are contacting him in large numbers. Calming classrooms is of primary interest to educators, who find the environment increasingly disruptive.
"We have a false hope that if we are very good teachers, we will never have conflict," Roxanne interjected. "I don't think that's a good goal, because conflict leads to learning.
Subsequent workshops throughout the day Saturday further explored restorative justice, cyberbullying, brain function and behavior, school safety, and yoga for the classroom.