- Restorative justice, an alternative to traditional discipline that is gaining popularity in schools, is seen as a shift in school culture that emphasizes reparation over retribution, described KQED News.
- Noted for a restorative circle, around which the offender and victims sit and exchange feelings, remorse, and their individual perspectives, the approach shows people respect and understanding, which tends to elicit an emotional investment in the community and thus greater desire to follow the rules.
- While initial observations and surveys are largely positive, more research is needed to fully determine restorative justice's effects. One area that needs further exploration is how it can reduce the racial disparity in discipline. Regardless, this mindset shift takes energy and commitment, and not all schools will be able to embrace it quickly.
Students like restorative justice circles so much that some are using them when personal conflicts crop up outside of school. School leaders who'd like to introduce the concept into their school community might first consider teacher training. One study showed that even just a short empathy training program for middle school teachers changed their behavior — and their students' — for the better. Another survey of 29 classrooms showed that when teachers undertook restorative justice training, students reported stronger relationships with them, which translated into fewer disciplinary issues.
Other guidelines for school leaders to consider include: showing reluctant stakeholders the scientific evidence about how punitive discipline shuts down a child's ability to learn, while restorative responses create a state of relaxed alertness and assigning a point person. A full-time restorative justice coordinator is ideal, but barring a new hire, a motivated vice principal, dean, or counselor can likely manage school-wide implementation of restorative justice practices. Once restorative justice has been established, students can be trained to facilitate circles.
It's also important to prioritize follow-up. Students who have been suspended or expelled can be welcomed back to the school community in a reentry circle, perhaps including parents. Others leading circles can check in with participants a few weeks later to see how things are going. Finally, keep good records. Revise the school discipline manual and referral forms to reflect restorative justice tenets and maintain a database to document interventions and outcomes.