How does the typical education system support students when they make poor decisions? It’s a simple question with a complex answer that goes all the way back to when the education system was created. The current education system was developed in the early 20th century and has changed surprisingly little since it began. Traditional discipline practices focus on punitive action and sometimes, removal from the classroom environment. At Center School, we have modernized, research-based approaches to support students’ long-term development both during and after their time at Center School.
The approach we’ve adopted is called Restorative Justice (RJ). This approach has been used in many different contexts, both educational and otherwise, to strengthen communities and empower individuals to right their wrongs. It’s built on the premise that, in situations where someone or a group of people is affected by others’ actions, addressing their needs is the top priority. For this reason, the goal of RJ is to help the individual(s) understand why their decisions were hurtful and what they can do to make it up to those impacted. Restorative Justice is carried out through various restorative practices. For example, a common practice is to have everyone who was involved in or witnessed the situation come together to determine, by consensus, how to make things right. This leads to a number of restorative sanctions, which are the actions the individual(s) at fault will take so that everyone can move forward positively.
Here at Center School, we have started to apply the RJ approach in classrooms and beyond as an extension of Responsive Classroom® strategies. While Responsive Classroom® focuses on building community and relationships within the classroom, RJ goes a step further in providing additional support for students to understand their actions if they wronged an individual. The process often begins with the question: “Who was harmed by your actions, and what can you do to make things right?” This can result in a number of responses that provide closure to those affected and an opportunity for those responsible to learn from and change their actions.
Although we are in the early stages of incorporating restorative justice practices, we have already seen positive results from students and their families, as well as our teachers. As restorative justice practices continue to grow at Center School, we look forward to it becoming one of our core approaches to strengthening our community and helping students be their best selves.