Growing Fairness is a short documentary film and companion guide for educators and community members looking to change their school climate for the better. Featuring teachers and students, Growing Fairness will tell a story about school climate, restorative practices and their real impact on young people in New York.
We're so excited about this project that we've already started filming interviews, and before this Indiegogo campaign is through, we will have developed a storyboard for the documentary and outlined the companion toolkit, which will provide concrete resources developed by teachers for school communities to use in making a transformational shift away from suspensions and policing and toward student leadership and community empowerment.
The success of this Indiegogo campaign will determine the quality, scope and impact of Growing Fairness. Your donation will give us the ability to gather more interviews and resources from across the country to give an inspiring look at how whole school districts have taken action and introduced restorative justice to public education. Your donation will also enable us to host screenings and teacher-led workshops with communities across the country, expanding our distribution as well as the impact of the project.
Please help us make our vision a reality. Teachers Unite is a 501(c)(3) organization, so your donations will be tax deductible.
Why tell a story about school climate and culture?
Research shows that punitive school discipline policies, like suspensions, do not reduce conflict, but instead increase the likelihood that students will fall behind, drop out and/or become incarcerated. Growing Fairness will explore the impact of this phenomenon in New York City, where the number of student suspensions in public schools spiked dramatically over the past decade while the length of suspensions grew longer--a phenomenon disproportionately affecting Black students, according to a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Student Safety Coalition. Analyzing 10 years of previously undisclosed suspension data, the report shows that black students, who comprise 33 percent of the student body, served 53 percent of suspensions. Black students also served longer suspensions on average and were more likely to be suspended for subjective misconduct, like profanity and insubordination. A key factor contributing to this educational crisis is the negative climate for learning that exists in many schools serving low-income youth of color.
How can schools try to stop this trend?
Growing Fairness will take an in depth look at the use of restorative practices in New York City schools. Restorative justice describes a broad range of practices and strategies to promote community accountability in response to harm and violence in our communities, and restorative practices are a positive alternative to punitive and zero tolerance approaches to the most common discipline issues that arise in schools. The documentary will focus on two common forms of restorative practices practiced in schools:
Restorative Circles: Group circles where students work together to set academic goals, explore curriculum, develop core values for the classroom community, and address tensions within the school community.
Fairness Committees: Peer committees or peer/teacher committees that address disciplinary issues by talking with students involved about the causes of the issues and identify positive solutions to repair the harm done to the community. Common positive solutions include mediation, community service, conflict resolution, etc.
These practices are proactive measures that emphasize accountability and allow minor conflicts to act as learning opportunities rather than destructive moments in the lives of young people. Growing Fairness will feature the stories of educators and students who use these practices every day in their schools to inspiring ends.
Building a Movement
Since 2009, Teachers Unite has been working with youth partners in the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York to reduce suspensions and other harsh policies that violate students' human right to education. As the only educator membership organization actively involved in a campaign promoting restorative practices in schools, we get more requests for resources than we can handle from organizers, youth activists, advocates and educators across the country.
Growing Fairness will serve as a response to the requests made to Teachers Unite from organizations across the country for resources developed and used by educators that help schools create a safe community for all.
(Some of) What we do...
Teachers Unite is an independent membership organization of New York City public school educators supporting collaborations between youth, parents and educators fighting for social justice. Teachers Unite organizes educators around human rights issues that impact school communities, and offers collaborative leadership training for youth, parents and educators. We believe that schools can only be transformed when educators work with and learn from parents and youth to achieve social and economic justice.
Teachers Unite coordinates regular meetings and trainings for teachers that build and support the practical implementation of restorative justice practices. We also organize educators throughout NYC to promote model approaches to positive discipline.
We plan to make the Growing Fairness film and resource available for sale on our website with proceeds going to the ongoing work of Teachers Unite in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline and development of student-teacher-parent collaboration for justice.
"Growing Fairness would be an invaluable resource to Make the Road New York in our work with our partner high schools. The teachers and administration we work closely with are eager and anxious to implement restorative practices with their students, as they can see clearly the impact of zero tolerance and punitive discipline policies on their students. However, with limited time and funding for training, it has been difficult to get anything off the ground. A documentary and toolkit would allow our partner high schools to train themselves at their schools, rather than trying to find time and money to travel to expensive trainings." -Jessica Taube, Schools Partnership Coordinator, Make the Road New York
"Teachers and students who are trying to change a whole school culture away from zero-tolerance discipline policies, really need a "how-to" guide to make it happen." -Roksana Mun, Organizer, Desis Rising Up and Moving
"We at the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC) are very excited to have Growing Fairness as a resource and tool for developing restorative justice practices and shifting discipline policies in our schools. NYC students have had enough with the ineffective school discipline policies that push us out of school. Growing Fairness will ensure that we are working in collaboration with educators and school administrations in shifting school culture. UYC member organizations currently implementing restorative justice practices in pilot schools hope to use this tool to implement similar practices in other local schools." -Maria Fernandez, Senior Coordinator, Urban Youth Collaborative
The big picture
Teachers Unite has organized several highly praised trainings for educators and allies about restorative practices in schools. Most recently, we held a training this summer called Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline: Bringing Restorative Justice to Our Schools. Participants discussed the history of schools in our country, from Puritanical views of children as evil, to the genocidal 'Indian boarding schools', to Reagan-era introduction of zero tolerance. Restorative justice is more than a conflict resolution strategy, it is a form of resistance against institutions that have criminalized and incarcerated communities of color for centuries.
You are the solution
You may not work in schools, but you can be part of the struggle against the school-to-prison pipeline. You might not know how to lead a restorative practice, but you can help others learn about them. You might not know anything about how schools can start to transform their cultures from punitive to positive, but you can still help schools and communities across the country exchange ideas about how to do so.
You can do this by pledging today and spreading the word about Growing Fairness, and our Indiegogo campaign.
We thank you thank you thank you from the bottoms of our hearts!
Student Circle image from SparkAction in New Orleans
Handcuffs image from NEA Today
Growing Fairness logo design by Michi Osato
School-to-Prison Pipeline and Student Scanning images from the youth and families of the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles, whose wisdom and experiences gave rise to this work; justice movements throughout the world who have inspired and guided us; and the community elders and ancestors who have laid the groundwork. As the Yoruba proverb says, “If we stand tall, it’s because we stand on the backs ofthose who went before us.”
Risks and Challenges
Like many nonprofits committed to social justice, we are too small to take on everything we want to do. Teachers Unite has two staff members and a very thin budget. We are more inspired than ever to carry out this vision, but it's going to take everything we got. Luckily, our Organizer, Anna Bean, is a filmmaker! Co-writer and Producer of the short Obvious Child, Anna is a skilled storyteller who also happens to coordinate our amazing members in the work of promoting restorative practices in schools while fighting alongside students for educational justice. Anna is the principal filmmaker on Growing Fairness. Check out Anna's other film work here.
Our other main challenge is more heady. There are plenty of ways to distribute canned ideas to schools and call it "restorative justice". But of course, strategies are framed by social values that can be patriarchal or individualistic. Teachers Unite members and staff are thinking deeply about how to reach more educators and communities with trainings that provoke thought about equity and action. Rather than dispense a narrow plan or a "How-To", our documentary is designed to inspire thought and conversation about the big issues concerning schools, safety, and human rights. The companion toolkit will offer tools developed and used by educators to make real changes, while offering a reading list for any community to use and explore the issues further.