3 Tips for Implementing Restorative Justice on School Campus
I don’t like to make assumptions…
However, I think it’s fair that I can assume that if you have found this blog post in a google search or have been sent this particular article, you are likely interested in the topic of restorative justice practices.
Perhaps, your school or district is adopting it and you’d like to learn more about it. To that end, I would suggest you take a look at any of these links or books:
Circle Forward Supplement: Moving Toward Racial Equity in Schools —Starting with the Adults
Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice
The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education: Fostering Responsibility, Healing, and Hope in Schools
The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation
Justice on Both Sides: Transforming Education Through Restorative Justice
Perhaps you are just sick of the overwhelming amount of BIPOC students taking up space on the suspension data and you’d like to do something about that (Skiba et al., 2011). Maybe you notice the absurdity of suspending students and then expecting them to be able to catch up on the lessons and classwork (for each of their subjects) that they missed at school (Morris & Perry, 2016). Maybe you recognize that sending students home for misbehavior does not benefit those students long-term, or perhaps you hope to create a school site in which all students (especially BIPOC students) wish to be a part (Anyon et al., 2016; Hughes et al., 2017).
If you, your school, or your district is considering adopting Restorative Justice Practices, I commend you. This blog post is not about the nuts and bolts of Restorative Justice. I am not going to break down the finer details of community circles, talking pieces, etc., as there simply is not enough space to break down what several books, hours of training, and websites can support.
This blog post is meant to help you implement a system of restorative justice on campus with success both short-term and long-term. So without further ado, let’s get into the tips.
Tip #1: Structure and Policy
When switching from a more punitive system to a more restorative system, there will need to be some intentional work at the beginning of the year; not just for the students, but for staff as well. Teachers will need to know what to do when things go wrong, and someone will need to provide the necessary support for them when they need it. For example, they could encounter issues that need to be diffused in class; this could mean someone comes and continues the lesson or helps mediate a situation between two or more students. Teachers will need to have an arsenal of positive behavior interventions to use instead of sending students to the office, detention, etc. It’s a good idea to not only provide a list of options to teachers but to also give them a chance to practice with other teachers. Practice makes purpose.
School leaders will need to create a data tracking system of what teachers will use to track what interventions are successful and to what degree of success those interventions have. Repurposing your referral system to focus on strategies and interventions, rather than a running list of offenses is one way to address this. School leaders will need to determine which staff members will be available to help students and teachers repair their relationships should they become fractured. Schools can be relatively stressful environments with humans who bring their outside traumatic experiences into it, regardless of whether or not they wish to do so. There will be times throughout the year when emotions will get tense and ultimately a neutral party will need to mediate student-teacher conflicts; that person cannot be an administrator because to everyone else in the building, administrators represent power. Because of this, it will likely be difficult for the folx involved to show their authentic selves, in the sort of manner needed to repair harm. It’s a really good idea to train multiple folx to hold that position, so students and teachers have more options of people to good to in order to fix issues.
Tip #2 Bias and Triggers
Whether we like to admit it or not, countless books, authors, and researchers have agreed that the American culture is one based on white supremacy (Seabrook & Wyatt-Nichol, 2016). Does this mean that everyone who lives in this country is a bigot? No, of course not; however, we are all affected by it in various ways. Staff will need to be grounded in their individual intersectionalities as they show up in the world. What’s important is to get staff thinking about what societal powers they possess in certain situations. Some examples are:
Statistically, black men are pulled over by police officers in higher percentages than white men;
AAPI folx, women, and the elderly are more likely to be attacked than younger folx, men, and non-AAPI folx
Schools and workspaces are more likely to offer holiday pay for important days associated with the Christian calendar than important days associated with Jewish, Muslim, and Buddist calendars.
Staff will need to become aware of their triggers and work to try to manage those when interacting with students. If their triggers are based on their culture, they will need to keep in mind that students from different cultures may not understand why the staff member in question may be triggered (Hammond, 2015). Staff will need to do research on the culture of students that they serve. This could look like teachers going to places/events/celebrations that their students go to, watching TV shows/movies/videos that the students watch, and/or listening to music they listen to (Hammond, 2015). This understanding of themselves and their students will be paramount in making and sustaining relationships.
In addition, you will need to make sure that the cultures of the families are represented in and around the school. This could look like throwing events highlighting important community days, hosting pot lucks, and encouraging your teachers to lead clubs on campus that represent different affinities.
Tip #3 Stakeholder Buy-in
In my experiences, I have had instances in which I’ve needed to convince parents and students that mediation was the way to go. I’ve also had students come to me to resolve issues, after talking to friends who have had their previous issues mediated. In both situations, folx needed to understand and buy into the process.
At some point, students will need to know what resources are available and who to go to for support. This person will likely need to be the person(s) I talked about earlier, who will hold this particular piece. Parents and community members will need to have an understanding of what is happening, and why it’s happening. You will need to communicate this very well; a singular letter home will not suffice. I suggest you make this information available everywhere that you can, including (but not limited to) places like:
your school website,
Basically, you will need to make sure that everyone knows what you are doing. Again, we have been raised in a culture founded in racism, so you will likely face pushback about any changes that you make to the previous system.
The tips above will go along toward bringing your site success, but remember my tips are not all that you need. Make sure that your staff is trained and has educational resources to make all of this work. Make sure that your staff includes members from the various cultures represented in the student body. Also, remember this is a process, short-term process, and long-term success look different. If you believe that this is best for students, then it’s worth sticking through the lumps.