My Top 5 Lessons Learned at the Restorative Practices Conference in Minneapolis

Kathy Evans leading a discussion Restorative Practices for Students with Disabilities

Kathy Evans leading a discussion Restorative Practices for Students with Disabilities

Last week, I returned from the Restorative Practices International conference in St. Paul Minnesota and am frankly swamped at my office!  But I want to finish out a post before I forget about the conference, so I'm going to come up with my top five lessons learned at the conference.  It's no surprise to me that these tend to involve interaction between 


1:  We need to work harder to explain complicated legal systems to our clients.  Kathy Evans and Martha Doyle in their session on restorative practices in special education:  It was a great moment when I found myself working in a small group addressing one of the Pillars of IDEA:  Due process.  Two young women, one a school counselor and the other a teacher and a man from New Zealand who organizes programs for their school system were in my small group.  Our discussions about the things that parents understand about due process were important for me to hear, as a lawyer and mediator.  I need to work to explain complicated systems of statutory rights to clients so that they understand the framework we work with!

2:  There is a place for mindfulness in mediation.  Mark Umbreit's breakout session on mindfulness didn't really provide me with any new insight, but it served as a reminder that I can bring stillness and mindfulness into my mediation practice.  It just takes a couple of breaths!

3:  Transformative listening is transformative!  Mark's session included exercises on mindful listening. He talked about active listening and how most mediators are trained to be active listeners.  He engaged us in a deeper listening when the listener listens but doesn't confirm everything the speaker says, instead engaging with the listener.  I've heard folks in my workshops call this universal or transformational listening and I'm happy to see that it is gaining some acceptance within the restorative justice community.

4:  Music has a place in a keynote.  Something about sitting in a vast auditorium and listening to music together always makes me feel happy and connected.  The conference started off with a Lakota prayer by Jim Clairmont.  Stephanie Autumn was joined by her son, musician, rapper, and DJ, Austin Owen, for a riveting talk.  

5:  Parties can participate in legal negotiations.  A variety of people showed up for my break out session including lawyers, advocate and probation officers.  Our challenge to bring restorative lawyering practices into the mainstream is a big one, and this discussion taught me that we can still take tiny steps.    During our breakout, the probation officers described the typical scenario where a person charged with a crime is approached by his or her lawyer, often during legal proceedings at the courthouse, they are presented with two options.  The lawyer describes them as a conviction with a bad sentence or a trial with a possible conviction and a potentially worse sentence.  During our break out we talked about what we can do so that the stakeholders can participate in the discussion more fully.  How can we bring them to the negotiation table so that at least the person charged has the same information as the lawyer?  Can't the discussion occur in a location other than the courthouse where everyone can have little more time to talk about it?  This is something we need to at least consider. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I fell in love with the twin cities!   We were fortunate to have a few beautiful sunny days and I enjoyed walking between sessions at the conference (at Metropolitan State) as well as a couple delightful evening walks exploring this terrific city.  


View of St. Paul from the Bridge near the Custom House Aug 2018

A view from the bridge near our hotel taken during a walk back to the hotel from dinner.