Restorative practices in schools are a set of holistic approaches aimed at fostering relationships, promoting accountability, and establishing an inclusive learning environment. Derived from the principles of restorative justice, these practices prioritize the healing and reparation of community bonds that may have been broken due to conflicts or misconduct. This article provides an overview of restorative practices in schools, incorporating historical background, thought leaders, contemporary insights, and a captivating case study.
The integration of restorative practices in schools can be traced back to the 1990s, initially gaining traction in Australia and New Zealand, before moving to the United States and other Western countries (Morrison & Vaandering, 2012). Originally derived from indigenous cultures, these practices blend seamlessly with the educational domain, providing a humane alternative to traditional punitive disciplinary actions like suspension or expulsion.
Key Thought Leaders
Known as the “grandfather of restorative justice,” Zehr’s work significantly influences restorative practices in schools. His foundational text, “Changing Lenses” (1990), is often cited for its emphasis on the importance of focusing on harms and needs rather than rules and punishment.
A significant player in the field of restorative practices in schools, Morrison is celebrated for her work on the “whole-school approach,” advocating for the pervasive application of restorative principles throughout the educational environment (Morrison, 2007).
An advocate for legal frameworks supporting restorative justice in schools, González has researched and published extensively on the systemic advantages and implementation strategies for school-based restorative practices (González, 2015).
Methodologies and Programs
In these gatherings, affected parties come together to discuss conflicts and collectively brainstorm resolutions, facilitated by a trained mediator (Costello, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 2009).
Older or more experienced students are trained to mediate conflicts among peers, thereby fostering a culture of student-led conflict resolution (Stutzman Amstutz & Mullet, 2005).
Designated areas are set up for students to self-reflect, often guided by mindfulness techniques, to process emotions and devise constructive ways to handle conflict (Schiff, 2013).
Case Study: Harmony High School
At Harmony High School in Portland, Oregon, the implementation of a comprehensive restorative practices program led to a 40% reduction in suspensions within the first year. Moreover, the school reported increased levels of student engagement, and even observed a moderate rise in academic performance (Evans & Lester, 2013).
With the onset of digital education, schools are increasingly adopting virtual platforms for conducting restorative circles, bringing these age-old practices into the 21st century (Ashley & Burke, 2017).
Teacher training in restorative practices is evolving, with courses offering in-depth understanding and practical skills to be effective facilitators (Gregory et al., 2016).
Conclusion and Academic Insight
The application of restorative practices in schools represents an essential paradigm shift in education, but its implementation is not without challenges. While Zehr, Morrison, González, and others have laid the groundwork, the academic community must continually scrutinize these practices to ensure their efficacy (Zehr, 1990; Morrison, 2007; González, 2015). Studies should focus on identifying best practices for different educational settings, including marginalized communities where restorative practices might be uniquely beneficial. Further longitudinal studies are imperative to truly gauge the long-term impacts, both socio-emotional and academic, of these practices.
- Morrison, B., & Vaandering, D. (2012). Restorative Justice: Pedagogy, Praxis, and Discipline. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 138-155.
- Zehr, H. (1990). Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Herald Press.
- González, T. (2015). Socializing Schools: Addressing Racial Disparities in Discipline Through Restorative Justice. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the School Discipline Gap (pp. 151-165). Teachers College Press.
- Costello, B., Wachtel, J., & Wachtel, T. (2009). The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians, and Administrators. International Institute for Restorative Practices.
- Stutzman Amstutz, L., & Mullet, J. H. (2005). The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools. Good Books.
- Schiff, M. (2013). Dignity, Disparity and Desistance: Effective Restorative Justice Strategies to Plug the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, 15, 1-52.
- Evans, K., & Lester, J. (2013). Restorative Justice in Education: What We Know So Far. Middle School Journal, 44(5), 57-63.
- Ashley, J., & Burke, K. (2017). Implementing Restorative Justice: A Guide for Schools. Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
- Gregory, A., Clawson, K., Davis, A., & Gerewitz, J. (2016). The Promise of Restorative Practices to Transform Teacher-Student Relationships and Achieve Equity in School Discipline. Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation, 26(4), 325-353.