Restorative Justice in Education

I am not insane. This means that I can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. “Punishment is used to help decrease the probability that a specific undesired behavior will occur with the delivery of a consequence immediately after the undesired response/behavior is exhibited.” (link) This isn’t working. Some of our students are still exhibiting that undesirable behavior. We keep punishing our students for their behavior even though it hasn’t changed it. This means that the consequences aren’t doing their intended jobs. How can we change this?

One of the ways to change this is to look at using restorative justice in our classes and schools.

Restorative justice (RJ) is a powerful approach to discipline that focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that engage all stakeholders. Implemented well, RJ shifts the focus of discipline from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community. However, it is often misperceived and misapplied. (link)

What a fantastic idea! Have the students repair the harm that their decisions caused. Right now our education system looks very similar to the prison system. If you make a decision you get penalized. Too many poor decisions and you are removed from your surroundings. This system is not working. It isn’t working for society and it isn’t working for education.

You may be asking yourself how this looks. I would recommend watching this interview I did With Victor Small Jr. and Jerod Phillips. This padlet was created by Victor and the Restorative Justice Voxer group. If you want to join the Voxer group click this link. One of the main ideas of Restorative Justice is the use of circles.

When we sit in a circle we experience a stronger sense of community. Every person in the circle shares responsibility for its functioning. Circle culture is more “yes-and” than “either-or.” Yes, there is a leader, and each person takes the lead in turn, each time it is their turn to speak. Yes, some guidelines are given and the group makes its own agreements. Decisions are made, but by consensus of the whole group, and sometimes this means decisions come slowly or take unexpected forms. Thus, one of the main purposes of circle dialogue is building community. Another purpose is supporting the kinds of honest, authentic dialogue that is necessary to effectively respond to challenging behavior and circumstances. These two intentions for circles take shape as two different types of circle: community building and responsive. A premise that runs throughout this manual is that responsive circles (for responding to misbehavior and harm) work best in classrooms where a foundation has been developed through community building circles.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to Restorative Justice.  It is an alternative to quick and uncaring suspensions and penalties that simply don’t work. If you want to engage in a conversation about RJ come join the slowchatpe voxer group this week while we discuss the pros and cons and work our way through this new way to solve disputes and create a climate where students don’t fear the teacher while simultaneously learning how to deal with conflict in a way that will benefit them in the long-term as well as the present.



One thought on “Restorative Justice in Education

  1. cflexon

    Hey Justin. I’m not sure if you have mentioned this before in your Voxer group or the Padlet, but Touching Spirit Bear is a fabulous book that discusses these principles, especially Circles. I always read it with my 6th graders. Nice post!



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