Restorative practices have been increasing over the last decade, but some schools remain hesitant to implement them. I believe that this is due to the many misconceptions about restorative practices in the classroom.
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Restorative justice isn’t…

  • Just a conversation
  • An easy way out
  • Without consequences

On the flip side, restorative justice also isn’t…

  • Punitive
  • Illogical consequences
  • One-and-done events

Restorative practices are not an easy way out. While it is true that conversations occur, they dig deep into the ‘why’ behind the behaviors. Simply punishing a kid without a conversation, or a one-sided conversation, does not enact long-lasting change. 

Students must understand why what they did was wrong, build empathy for others that were affected by their actions, and repair the harm of their actions. 

Let’s take the following two scenarios that might occur for the same action, a kid throwing food in the cafeteria:

Scenario 1 (traditional punishment): The kid gets sent to the office. The principal tells them that throwing food is not appropriate, potentially in a stern voice. The principal tells the kid their punishment--that they will be in detention after school. 

Result...the kid might not do it again...maybe. Or, maybe they will do better at not getting caught.

Scenario 2 (restorative practices): The kid gets sent to the office. The school custodian and a cafeteria worker are there with an administrator, in a circle. The administrator welcomes the student and the other stakeholders. 

First, the administrator asks the student why they did what they did. The student states that they were just trying to be silly and make their friends laugh. The administrator asks the others. The student states that maybe it impacted people that will have to clean it up. The administrator acknowledges the student’s statement. 

Then, the administrator asks the cafeteria worker and custodian how they are affected by the kid throwing food. The custodian talks about how he spends the entire day trying to keep the school clean and looking nice for the students and staff in the building, and when extra things are added to his plate, other parts of the building do not get the proper maintenance that they need. And worse yet, he might have to take away time from his family and stay after school because he couldn’t get everything done during the school day. 

The cafeteria worker goes next and states that she works really hard to prepare food for hundreds of kids each day. She also knows that many students in the school really value food because they do not get enough at home and school might provide their only real meal of the day. She states that it probably makes the students that do not get much food at home upset because throwing food is wasting it. She also talks about respecting their workspace and the school environment is important and asks what would happen if all of the kids in the cafeteria decided to throw food.

Next, the administrator allows the student to respond to the statements made by the cafeteria worker and custodian. The student states that he didn’t realize how much his action impacted them and apologized. 

Next, the administrator asks the student what he can do to repair the harm that was caused and make it right. The student offers to help clean the cafeteria the next day. 

Everyone agrees that this would repair the harm and all stakeholders are dismissed. While some reading this will see time as a limiting factor to restorative practices, you are right. It does make more time, but what we did with this student is build the social and emotional skills of empathy and respect. The chance of this student doing this same behavior again has been drastically reduced. 

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Restorative Practices DO Include Accountability Measures was authored by:
Brad Weinstein

Brad Weinstein is the primary content creator for TeacherGoals and oversees the organization's strategic vision. Brad is passionate about fostering equitable teaching and learning practices that help all students succeed.

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