What is Restorative Justice/Restorative Practices?


Tyler E. Brewster + Shana Loullen | JUNE 2016


What Are Schools Meant For?
Can schools operate in a way where parents are represented, staff feel supported and every student feels heard and/or connected to the community? Yes.
Can we create schools that are free of conflict? No.

And we shouldn't try to.



That’s right. Simply put, conflict is a part of life. We at Peer Connect feel that schools should instead strive to create environments equipped to effectively de-escalate and resolve conflict. It’s not difficult emotions or conversations that set the tone of a school community. Rather, it is the way community members respond to conflict that makes all of the difference in how voices are heard.

We believe that schools should be spaces where young people are empowered with tools to navigate the “real world” and effect change within their communities through restorative practices.

Similarly, many schools are turning to restorative justice to develop both community building skills between stakeholders and a positive school climate.

The Basics — Restorative Justice vs. Restorative Practices
Restorative Justice (RJ) is a community-based approach to building, repairing and restoring relationships. At its best, RJ provides a space for community members to be held accountable while participating in creating pathways to repair. It encourages stakeholders to reflect upon how their values and beliefs impact the greater community.

Restorative practices, often used interchangeably with RJ, refer to specific responses within a community that aim to build capacity for members to discuss, dissect and challenge individual perspectives.

Through the use of practices such as Circles, participants have a chance to voice concerns and feelings around a particular social topic or incident that affects the community-at-large. This is done to foster a sense of community, establish relationships and build capacity for trust and/or reconciliation.

While a restorative justice-based model may seem like a new or progressive idea, its use is part of a larger and longer history of indigenous practices such as peacekeeping, healing and daily community building.



How Can Schools Use Restorative Practices?


Bedrock: Theory & Philosophical Education
In order to effectively implement restorative practices, it is important to start with the foundations of RJ theory and philosophy. This informs the daily work done in schools and communities at large. Schools can create opportunities for ongoing RJ education by offering student elective courses/workshops, collaborating with the Parent Teacher Association and facilitating staff professional development modules with discourses.

Tier I: Community Building
This is the most important tier! It is very difficult to engage in discussion around repairing a community, if members don’t feel connected to or represented by it. Community building is largely conducted through Circle-keeping protocols.This space can be used to surface student issues, discuss current events, and other expressive forms of student voice. Similarly, staff and PTA meetings can also use community Circle protocols to build trust and develop relationships.

Tier II: Harm & Healing
When harm takes place, it has the potential to impact multiple members within the community. Tier II practices are specifically used to address harm, unearth what happened and develop a plan for how relationships can be repaired. Schools use structures such as Peer Mediation and Fairness Committees to discuss harm and engage impacted members around pathways for collective healing. More advanced models of Restorative Justice encourage teachers to also participate in harm and conflict circles with each other to repair and rebuild fractured staff.

Tier III: Re-Integration
Unfortunately, sometimes students and families experience an extended period of time away from school (ie. out-of-school suspensions, arrests, moving away briefly etc.). Tier III practices, such as parent conferences or re-entry Circles, aim to reintegrate community members in a manner that is both humane and sets the groundwork for a productive return.

Peer Connect’s Mission in This Work
Peer Connect works to bring greater healing to school communities as a whole.

We train youth on the tenets of restorative justice, circle-keeping and violence prevention so they can be active peer leaders both locally and globally— after all, they are the largest stakeholder in their school communities. We also train the adult stakeholders to utilize restorative practices to collaboratively shape their school environment. In this manner, both students and adults can work to effectively de-escalate and resolve conflict together.

At Peer Connect, Restorative Justice is not simply a set of protocols; it’s a way of life.