The Power of Perspective: Restorative Practices

Last night I had the Honor of meeting with an amazing group of people at the University of Michigan Dearborn, (Dr. Tracey Hall, Brendan Gallagher, Jessica Camp and Henry McClendon) we were there to discuss the upcoming year in Detroit Schools and Osborn High School. Then we had the privilege of listening to an amazing man and speaker on Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice, Mr. Henry McClendon. He shared with us and Dr. Hall’s class on how we can begin to use Restorative Practices, which will be the second part of this article.

We are working on developing a new way to view the problems occurring in our inner city schools, not just in Detroit, but across the country and maybe the world. People are beginning to understand that the low test scores, poor attendance, behavior issues, violence, and so many other issues are not due to poor teaching, bad kids, dumb kids, or even a lack of physical resources; but due to where our kids are thinking from….their Limbic Brain.

What does that mean? Their Limbic Brain? This theory is called the 3 brain model, consisting of the 3 brains: 1) The most basic R-Complex Brain, 2)the Limbic or Mammalian Brain, to the higher functioning thinking brain or Neo-Cortex.

Fig 1.1 Simple 3 Brain Model

3 Brian simple

Figure 1.2 3 Brain Model

3 Brain

Ok so how does this 3 Brain Model apply in education? Since working in the Detroit Public Schools I have watched how this along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see figure 2.1 below) plays into a persons ability to learn and think. I am seeing that many of the students I work with are functioning primarily from their Mammalian Brain (Limbic) which means they are in SURVIVAL mode. When someone is in this state, they are ready to fight, flight, or freeze. Emotions are heightened, and people react rather than respond, meaning they are acting on instincts rather than thought. In the animal kingdom and in prehistoric days this was a very valuable tool in surviving, as it is today. Except when that traumatic event is either never resolved or is continuous. When this occurs the person is always in a state of survival and functioning from this middle brain, not from the thinking brain. It is this part of our brain that separates humans from all other species, it is our higher order brain, problem solving, critical thinking, and learning.

Figure 2.1 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Figure 2.2 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Updated

maslow described

What I have been looking at is the similarities between the 3 Brain Model and Maslow’s Pyramid and what I am seeing is there is a lot of correlation between the two. For instance, when a student does not have their most basic needs being met (Physiological Needs, Food, Water, Shelter) they are going to be functioning from their Limbic Brain. Their thoughts will be much more focused on finding food, water and shelter, rather than on learning and growing. This is also the case when kids do not feel safe (Step 2 on the Pyramid) when they are feeling generally unsafe their focus is on survival and safety.  They are always ready to fight or run, or in some cases they freeze. I have seen this play out in many classrooms, a teacher places their hand on a student, trying to make a positive connection, yet the reaction of the student is anything but positive. The student flinches, jumps up and yells a the teacher to get their god damn hands off of them. The teacher in response, calls security, who then detains and many times retains and handcuff the student. Removing them from the situation, but also further traumatizing this young person. What no one understood at the time of the incident, is that this young person was sexually molested by his mother’s boyfriends, and hates to be touched because of the feelings that touch triggers. He was reacting to that and not trying to be disrespectful, and our reaction simply added to his fears. PERSPECTIVE IS POWERFUL!


Truth is for most of us our perspective is our prison. As Henry McClendon said, the movie that plays in our minds feels right, sounds, right, and looks right, until we share it and our movie unravels. If we never share it, it will always remain our prison.

The last of the 3 needs that must be met in order for effective learning to occur is that of Love and Belonging. Having a family that loves, supports, and you feel apart of is crucial to life. In a recent study done by Harvard University, that followed a group of men for 75 years, found that true happiness in life has little to do with how much money you make, or how successful you are in your careers, it actually has more to do with having love in your life. When you have Love, happiness finds you. (The Secrets of Happiness Revealed by Harvard Study, By George Brandt). The power of a loving and safe relationship is so powerful, and I believe it is here where we as educators and support people can over come the first two. By creating a space where people feel supported, cared for and loved, they are more capable of dealing with the lack of their Physiological and safety needs.

If we match up the 3 brain model and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you will see that the first most basic needs of water, food and shelter will match up nicely with the R-Complex brain, the next two levels of safety, Love and Belonging match up with the Limbic Brain. The esteem needs and self-actualization matches up with the Neo-Cortexor higher order thinking.

Therefore when ANY person (no matter what age) is missing the basic 3 Needs in Maslow’s Pyramid their health is severely altered, their ability to learn and grow is limited and they will behave more like an animal, because that is where they are functioning from, their Mammalian Brain.

I have also been doing a lot of research on Trauma and its effects on learning. This theory of trauma effecting learning fits right in with the 3 Brain Model. When a person or student is traumatised it effects the way our bodies function (The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, and the way that we behave. We are also learning that it dramatically effects our abilities to learn effectively. When trauma goes unresolved, its energy stays within our bodies, accumulating with other unresolved traumas and creating what I call the black hole within the iceberg. In a book that I am currently writing I compare humans to icebergs…what you see on the surface is only 10% of what makes up the whole. What lies underneath the water is what truly makes us…us. All of our experiences in life, good and bad, everything we have learned, the majority of our personality, the good the bad and the ugly all lie under the surface. Then, there is what I call the black hole, which is all of the unresolved traumas and feelings. They fester there, gathering up more and more unresolved feelings until we ultimately snap and explode either internally (beating ourselves up, harming ourselves, or even suicide), or externally, with anger and rage, yelling, screaming, and throwing things about, violence and crimes, assaults and murder, rapes, and much much more). Yet, with all of the release of anger, the black hole inside of us never shrinking, and in many cases growing because new traumas of our own accord are added.

Figure 3: Exploding Pop: How we explode from too much pressure build-up

pop explode

We explode like a pop bottle that has been shaken….BOOM! It explodes and gets on everything and everyone. Life is what shakes us up and when we do not deal with the carbonation of life, we explode. Unlike a pop bottle though, we are not empty, because the only way to effectively empty that black hole is to release those feelings stored inside in their true form.

Which brings us to Restorative Practices. This is a way to deal with those traumas, the unresolved, and the black hole. As Henry McClendon said to us, we do not have a problem with crime, as crime is just a symptom, not the problem. The problem is a relationship problem, within us, and with others. When we deal with the real problem, we see positive results.


Restorative Practices builds stronger individuals, healthier communities, reduces crime, increase social involvement, increases acceptance (diversity), decreases antisocial behaviors and repairs relationships.

This along with Trauma Informed Care will change the way inner city and maybe all schools teach. Understanding that we are not robots that need a cookie cutter education, that we are individual human entities that have feelings and needs that if unfulfilled will keep us from growing and learning. Restorative Practices teaches us how to release those stored feelings free us. go to to watch restorative practices in action.

The power of Perspectives is amazing…I always try to share the story of my pet rock “ECHO”, because his ability to show us this power of perspectives is uncanny. ECHO is just an ordinary rock, but it is all how we look at him that makes the difference. So, there is ECHO, sitting in the center of my room on the floor, no one near him, is he moving? That is the question I pose to my classes…and the looks on their faces describe their uncertainty. They know that there is a trick question here, so they begin to think. Rather than react, they stop, challenge their thinking and respond….YES! Echo is moving, because the Earth is moving, it is rotating, and orbiting the sun. Correct, that is two of the many ways Echo is moving….”What about Plate Tectonics?”….”Correct Again!”…Yet there is still an way Echo is moving and it has nothing to do with external means. “HMMMM” I ask, “What is ECHO made of?” The students think and quickly answer….”molecules!” and I respond, “Yes, and what are molecules doing?” The students reply, “They are always moving.” therefore Echo is moving all by himself! Perspective….POWER!

If we apply this to everything we do, we start to see that what we thought to be true at first, is actually only partial true, that there maybe faults to what we hear, what we see, and what is. Restorative Practices teaches people how to see from multiple perspectives and allows us to see people for….people. It allows us to take the labels off, and listen and learn, not only about others, but about ourselves.

I will be adding more to this idea of Restorative Practices/Justice, Trauma Informed Care, and People in upcoming articles!



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