There are many school management terms floating around in the education space. Restorative Justice is, however, one of the most prominent and important ones. It is defined as “a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.” This sounds like something used in a prison (it is) but that is not its full scope. 

In a school environment, restorative justice helps a student to accept the responsibility for what they did, make it right for those that were hurt or affected, and involve the community in helping both the victim and the offender. Restorative justice acknowledges that those who do wrong need healing as well.

Restorative Justice is a process

In order to discipline someone who has done wrong, sometimes going the way of suspending someone would be too harsh a punishment. However, with the right training and support from all stakeholders in education, restorative justice can prove much more effective in building a stronger school community. Making amends for doing something wrong is far harder than just getting suspended for a few days. 

The process can be elaborated into three pillars:

1. Empathy must be towards everyone. There must be an awareness that while harm was done to a victim — and possibly a larger community — there may also have been past harm done to the offender as well and that harm may be a factor in their behavior.

2. An Obligation to put right. There must be a moderated process which helps the accused somehow right the wrong that was committed. A simple strained apology from the offender is just not enough

3. Engagement by all stakeholders towards healing. There must be a dialogue with all parties — victim, offender, and the community — in order to genuinely heal the hurts and move on to better things.

Understanding the nature of Restorative Justice 

It is a vital component to have in any large discipline plan implementation in schools. Schools must have strategies whereby they help students work out their differences and their arguments. Schools play a crucial part in helping students understand why they do the things they do and how to think beyond their emotional impulses. 

When we ask young students to make good decisions,  we have certain expectation and rules by which they must abide or face consequences. However, their brains might not yet be wired to do what we are asking of them. We must acknowledge the fact their brains are still under construction. 

For instance, the part of the brain that houses impulse control is one of the last parts of the brain to become fully formed. And it doesn’t really finish its neural-evolution until the early 20s. Poverty, hormones, poor nutrition and hunger can play a role in one’s brain development.

Simply put, we can’t assume “criminal” intentions of our students without providing the directions to help see them through the sometimes bleak maze of childhood and adolescence.

The goal of utilizing restorative justice before harsher methods of discipline is to create understanding.