Why you should be using restorative justice in your classroom

Zero tolerance policies of the past have proven ineffective in curbing bad behavior. Ask the people who work with children in the juvenile justice system about the repercussions that came from doling out consequences instead of restoring justice.

As an alternative to zero tolerance consequences, restorative justice is proving to be a viable replacement for punishing students with suspensions and expulsions.

The essence of restorative justice

Restorative justice is about atoning for transgressions. Anyone who commits wrongdoing against another person gets an opportunity to make amends publicly. The transgressor makes the situation right, restoring things to the way they were.

The child who tears the strap off someone else’s backpack would have to either fix it or replace it after offering an apology. The victim can accept or refuse the apology. What’s important is that both parties are talking about the misdeed.

Restorative justice focuses more on restoring relationships and less on behavioral consequences. The goal is to get students reintegrating as contributing members of their communities, whether that’s a class, a school, or the neighborhood.

Why it works so well

Restorative justice reduces recidivism, and it may constrict the school to prison pipeline. Students spend more time in class because they are learning to self-discipline.

Students also exhibit fewer symptoms of anxiousness about their actions. Victims are less likely to exact revenge because the matter has been resolved by both parties involved in the crime.

Restorative justice is a lifelong skill that students can take with them far beyond the walls of the classroom.

How to implement it

Your school might not need restorative justice if your suspensions and expulsions are low, but you won’t know until you analyze your behavior data. High absentee rates due to bad behavior indicates that you need a new approach to campus discipline.

When you’re ready to launch a restorative justice program in your school, try these steps:

  • Work with service providers to learn about more about restorative justice and understand how it works. Include teachers, counselors, and administrators in the process. The more people who have ownership in adopting a new approach to discipline, the more likely it will succeed.
  • Train with mentors who can guide you through the implementation process. Look for trainers who can be your “guide on the side” and coach you through the transition to using restorative justice at your school.
  • Involve teachers and students in authentic learning situations.
  • Build a community based on trust. That can require a paradigm shift for kids and adults. Kids tend to be skeptical at first, but you can win them over if you’re consistent and keep your word.
  • Establish procedures that everyone will follow, like sitting in a circle to discuss wrongdoings. The discussion circle is a natural setting for communicating, especially listening.
  • Implementing restorative justice is an ongoing process, honed over time. Evaluate your progress, making revision and tweaks as necessary. Tell students and faculty members of the changes before they occur.

When implemented consistently, restorative justice creates healthy relationships between people.

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