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McCammon brings justice, care into education

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When Becky McCammon went to college, there wasn’t a major for doing what is right by people, so she majored in English and teaching instead.

But in her teaching, McCammon has always brought an intention and thoughtfulness to her work, making sure her actions and words impact others in a positive way.

That mentality and her advocacy for Saint Paul Public School’s restorative practices program is why McCammon is this year’s Education Minnesota Human Rights Award winner.

Becky McCammon (second from left) with her restorative practices colleagues, daughter and other Saint Paul Federation of Educators members and supporters during the union’s strike in early March.

“We need to speak with a reverence for self and students and education,” she said. “Because we have that empathy, the hard work is still hard, but it’s supported. I believe in the infinite possibilities and goodness of educators. Restorative practices has a way of nurturing habits and practices in wellness.”

McCammon helped bargain for the program as a negotiator with the Saint Paul Federation of Educators, and found her calling in the restorative practices work.

“When we were bargaining, union leadership got us together and we met with circle keepers,” she said. “One said, ‘Restorative practices is a way of being.’ And it just felt right.”

And with McCammon at the helm, it has been a successful district program.

“There’s a lot of ways that RP work could have gone after we won contract language around it. Even though we had worked with practitioners in town to craft the language, to make it actually happen was a risk. And it didn’t go bad, because of Becky,” said SPFE President Nick Faber, who nominated McCammon. “This isn’t how we ‘handle behaviors’ in our buildings, but decolonize our buildings. It’s been inspirational to watch.”

“People view RP too much as an alternative discipline thing. But Becky has really changed the work in such a way that we’re able to address some of the disparities through RP. We all have an opportunity to grow as humans and connect better with our students in a really positive way.”

In her four years in the role, McCammon has gone from coordinating a few schools to 12. The district won a federal grant to expand the program.

“I go where I can to be of help, and I don’t go where I can’t be of help,” she said. “We try and create as thoughtful a space as possible. RP has supported a way for people to ask something that isn’t an answer and to ask for opportunity and space and time to sit with what they’re holding.”

McCammon works with the restorative practice coordinators at the building sites. They get together once a month and do coaching sessions and circle.

“When we are all together as RP leads, she makes sure that she shows you she respects you as a leader,” said Fallon Henderson, the RP coordinator at Maxfield Elementary. “She is always encouraging everyone around her, seeing something in them that they might not see.”

Lifting up the educators who do this work is very important to McCammon.

“(RP coordinator) is now a job title and classification that have been filled mostly by our education support professionals,” she said. “I’m always called to be respectful of a history of harm how our non-licensed staff have been treated by our institutions. They are the heart and compass of our buildings to transform and make change.”

While her work is mostly with adults, McCammon’s care for others is felt by students, too.

“Becky puts students first by centering the personal narrative, well-being and growth of the educators she works with,” said Kurt RuKim, another RP coordinator in the district. “Becky models how we might imagine what leadership, collaboration and the restorative impulse may look like in our respective selves and decision-making processes.”

McCammon has put so much of herself into this work, it was noticed by publishers.

McCammon’s book, “Restorative Practices at School: An Educator’s Guided Workbook to Nurture Professional Wellness, Support Student Growth, and Build Engaged Classroom Communities,” was released this spring.

“I’m not an expert, but I’m doing my best every day to be as trustful and soaked in my values and with other people in their journeys,” she said.

McCammon is someone everyone always remembers, said Henderson.

“She’s not the flower, but the grass,” she said. “She leaves a piece of her everywhere she goes, but she still stays whole.”

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