|Restorative Justice and Safer Learning Environments|
|posted by: Larisa | June 22, 2012, 07:29 PM|
Every teacher knows that Rule #1 of running your classroom is to ensure that your students feel safe in their learning environment. Schools today aren’t the little slivers of utopia that they were once upon a time, when discipline problems were rare and abruptly handled. If we look at the schools of today through our “Negative Nancy” lenses, some might see bullies, repeat offenders of the school handbook, and, even, petty criminals lurking around every corner. What can a teacher do to foster a safer learning environment?
As schools confront offensive student behavior, the application of restorative justice has become increasingly popular as a means of keeping schools safe. Restorative justice is rooted in the principle that individuals who are most impacted by the harm should have an opportunity to be actively involved in resolution of the conflict. By using restorative justice, schools are hoping to steer “bad kids” away from the criminal justice system and to give students the opportunity to learn positive conflict resolution skills.
Naysayers of restorative justice posit that “bad kids” need to be punished and should be an example to other students about what not to do. Supporters of restorative justice, however, believe that school is a place of learning for all students and that a tremendous learning opportunity is missed if “bad kids” are just thoughtlessly suspended. The restorative justice framework shifts the attention away from discipline of the offender for his or her misbehavior to restoration of the victim and the school community that was damaged—and, also, redemption of the offender. In this way, students are taught valuable lessons in responsibility, community, and problem solving.
All this philosophical mumbo-jumbo is nice, but what’s the concrete explanation of restorative justice? How can it be used in your classroom?
First of all, “bad kids” are already at a disadvantage because they have been labeled. Labeling a child risks that the child will be lost behind the label, and, in the case of a “bad kid,” this label can send a strong message that he or she is a lost cause—unworthy of redemption. Remove the label from the student and focus on the positive behaviors that a formerly labeled “bad kid” exhibits.
After rediscovering the student behind the label, application of restorative justice becomes collaborative. The student that engaged in the misconduct should be asked to explain what happened and be mentored, not given “a stern talking-to.” Peer mediation can also be a good way to instruct all students on positive peer conflict resolution. The involved parties–victims, offenders, teachers, families, administrators–need to be involved in assessing the situation, talking over the issues, and arriving at a solution that will restore everyone in the community.
Once the parties have collaborated and all agreed on an appropriate solution the parties get to act. Practically speaking, this phase of restorative justice can involve writing letters of apology, doing community service, and asking students to listen to one another. Where other models of justice would simply punish a student, restorative justice gives offenders the opportunity to restore the individual and community that he or she offended. Because this action phase was discussed and agreed on by all the parties the restorative act fosters healing and safety.
Finally, restorative justice concludes with a follow-up. The parties might meet again to discuss the process, administrators might provide more mentorship to the offender, and the victim might receive mentoring from a teacher about how to avoid being victimized in the future. Restorative justice is a learning opportunity, therefore, follow-ups are a necessary component of assessing student learning.
The great news is that restorative justice has been found to be extremely effective. Schools that employ a restorative justice framework report that suspension rates have dropped by as much as 80%, absenteeism has decreased by as much as 50%, and tardiness has dropped by as much as 60%. Also, nearly all students who engage in restorative justice practices are satisfied with the outcomes and fairness of the restorative process.
Schools might not be the icons of perfection they once were, but one thing is for sure: all students come to school to learn. By employing principles of restorative justice, teachers can create a safer learning environment for all students and cultivate a respect for others and the community.
Teachers, what do you think about restorative justice? Does your school use restorative justice as a means of curtailing bad behavior?