Heptagon.png The Tools for Restorative Justice Practices

Heptagon.png Description

These videos show how restorative practices are being used in Oakland schools to foster an equitable, respectful, and positive school community. Restorative practices, an outgrowth of restorative justice, provide a set of processes and approaches to prevent and/or constructively address conflict and harmful behavior. Restorative processes are intended to build community and maintain healthy relationships. Since all learning is social by nature, strong relationships fostered by restorative practices play a powerful gatekeeping role. They help educators and an entire learning community understand each student’s individual needs in order to create a more equitable experience and set of outcomes.

These videos take the viewer inside the school to observe the processes in action and hear from students and teachers. You will observe students owning, leading, and participating in processes such as fostering shared values and utilizing positive communication in face-to-face discussion.  

Heptagon.png Purpose

Part of designing more equitable school models includes shifting away from traditional disciplinary practices and “command and control” school cultures to embrace intentional community, co-created values, and accountability for upholding shared ideals. There’s no evidence that punitive measures make schools more safe. What’s more, they’re often disproportionately used with students of color and those from low-income families with serious negative consequences for those students. Zero tolerance-style policies push out and further disadvantage the very kids who need learning and community connections the most. (See, for example, Closing the School Discipline Gap.)

Oakland Unified School District has made a commitment to use restorative practices to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. As a district, Oakland has prioritized keeping more students of color, students from low-income families, and students from challenging circumstances enrolled, progressing toward graduation, and out of local detention centers. They view restorative practices as essential to realizing the spirit and goals expressed in their equity pledge.

Restorative practices focus on resolving conflict and healing harm. Restorative justice seeks the root cause behind individual and group behaviors instead of treating the behavior as an isolated symptom or judging students as good or bad based on isolated incidents. These practices assume that all students are worthy and deserving (a fundamental equity assumption), that behavior is learned, and that a specific incident is an extension of some other issue needing resolution. Below is an illustration of how restorative justice reframes traditional assumptions or questions around discipline and wrongdoing, adapted from a 20 minute talk by Sujatha Baliga, Director of the Restorative Justice Project at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. From the 2013 Workshop on Mindfulness in Legal Education at Berkeley Law.

What rule was broken?   What harm occurred and how has it impacted our relationships?
Who broke it?   What needs and obligations have arisen from that harm?
How do we punish them?   Who among the people involved can help to heal and how?

Restorative justice utilizes talking circles and honors distributed power among students and the sharing of power between adults and students. Students practice agency and engage in a form of self-governance as part of their shared identity in community. In addition to building an equitable and productive community, these practices help students acquire valuable social and emotional skills. Students practice listening with empathy; constructively communicating needs; honoring and embracing differences in opinion, perspective, and experience; and taking responsibility for personal feelings and actions. With regular engagement in ongoing dialogue and reflection, students also build leadership, facilitation, and critical thinking skills. 

Heptagon.png Use

Use these videos to help your team members better understand what restorative practices are, why they’re important to equity in education, and what it could look like in your school. Engage your school team in a review of the research on restorative practices, such as WestEd’s Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: A Research Review.  

Next, examine the data in your community about disciplinary actions, from referrals to suspensions and expulsions to see if the national trends are repeated locally. Then, invite your team to unpack assumptions behind discipline procedures to reflect upon the extent to which they support and motivate equitable learning. Bolster or accelerate this inquiry using the discussion protocols and design principles found in this toolkit.

Abundant resources exist to help you make the case for restorative practices as a key component of a next gen school design for equity. Once your school team or district commits to the effort, as Oakland did with its equity pledge, build restorative practices into the curriculum and classroom practices so they become part of regular school operations and contribute to an overall safe, respectful and productive culture. The shift away from rules to strengthening relationships in Oakland has resulted in better attendance, fewer suspensions, and more positive and productive culture in these schools.

Heptagon.png Considerations

  • Do you have community partners already engaged in this work? If so, could they be an ally or resource to your school? Many urban areas have community organizations (e.g., Oakland’s Community Works) that can lend expertise, training, facilitation, and parent communication support.
  • Your school may want to couple restorative practices with other student supports, such as mindfulness practices, to create powerful synergies in the school culture and climate, as discussed in the Breathing love into communities TEDx talk from Holistic Life Foundation.  
  • Attending to culture pays dividends. If you don’t already, survey students to find out how they feel about your school’s climate and culture. Do they feel safe? Respected? Heard? Valued by other students and adults? Dig into their responses. Listen. Then try out something new. Instead of using punishments and rewards to influence the way students behave, try a restorative approach to uncover underlying reasons for students’ hurtful behavior or to nurture their intrinsic desire to treat others with care and respect. Use listening circles in your classroom to host constructive racial and cultural communication among students (and teachers). The listening circles create a safe space to model how we all make mistakes, how mistakes can be healed and overcome, and how to practice empathy for and with one another. 

Heptagon.png Extended Resources

  • Repairing our schools through restorative justice, Jean Klasovsky at TEDxWellsStreetED. Jean makes connections between classroom and school restorative practices that benefited kids in her Chicago public school. Don’t miss her powerful “what if” questions (12:00 min). Is it time to redesign old school discipline and control measures (that don’t work anyway) in your school?