Whole-School Restorative Program: It’s about Consistency

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© Copyright 2018 William A. Bledsoe, Ph.D.

One of the reasons why restorative justice has been so successful in the courts is because of programs. Programs consistently deliver restoration. They receive cases, document, coordinate, administer and facilitate restorative encounters between offenders, victims, and others impacted by a crime. Programs also conduct continuous training to maintain a team of facilitators. Over time, the practice of restorative justice becomes refined and nuanced (ideally).

Programs provide an essential service to the community that the courts are not designed to deliver – a central resource responsible for facilitating interaction between conflicted members that is necessary for reconciliation, repair, healing, and reintegration.

A restorative justice program conducts/facilitates heartfelt discussions and conversations with impacted people that the courts can’t provide.

Among many reasons why schools struggle to implement restorative practices in a consistent and meaningful way is that they don’t take a systematic approach.

Teachers typically receive some basic training in restorative practices and are expected to use them in the classroom. Administrators may receive the same training and attempt to supplement the school’s existing discipline protocols and processes. There are several limitations with this patchwork approach.

  • The burden is left to individual teachers to “do restorative justice” in their classroom.
  • The school’s application of the restorative response to misconduct can become inconsistent, reactive vs. proactive, formulaic/static and superficial.
  • The basic skills of restorative justice taught to teachers by outside consultants fade over time.
  • The nuanced skills of restorative interaction (e.g., languaging, attachment style response, trauma-responsive) are not developed, maintained, refined, or advanced.
  • There is no core group charged with ensuring timely, consistent, organized and effective restorative resolutions to conflict, incidents, or patterns of misconduct.
  • The focus is primarily on students while neglecting destructive conflict or incidents between faculty and between faculty and parents.

When schools do take a programmatic approach there are numerous benefits. Primarily, a program provides a highly organized system of processing and tracking incidents, paying particular attention to social-emotional development. A small group of staff trained in what I call “depth restoration” meet weekly to review incidents.

In these short meetings, the group identifies behavioral patterns, explores underlying issues and unmet needs in a student’s life, and strategizes to create the most effective short and long term restorative response to facilitate social-emotional growth and positive change.

Any incident is interpreted as a moment of opportunity for social-emotional development – for both students and adults.  

When a school takes a “whole-school” approach, this core group functions to continuously embed restorative thinking, principles, values and communication within the school community.

READ PART FOUR: Whole-School Restorative Practices: It’s about Depth and Breadth 

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