Using Restorative Justice as a Classroom Management Model

Restorative justice involves “bringing together all parties affected by harm or wrongdoing (e.g., offenders and their families, victims and their families, other members of the community, and professionals), discussing what happened and how they were affected, and agreeing on what should be performed to right any wrongs suffered” (Johnson & Johnson, 2012, p. 7). This model reflects a strong belief social justice and constructivist teaching in the way that it engages students in conversations where they contribute to their own learning and build new knowledge into their own perspective. The emphasis on reconciliation reflects beliefs that student learning must involve both a growth mindset and 21st century skills. Restorative justice promotes a growth mindset by engaging students in the process of reflection on and understanding of their mistakes, but more importantly the knowledge of how to treat others and act appropriately moving forward. This process carries over into the development of 21st century skills by improving students’ interpersonal skills, ranging from social and cross-cultural interactions to conflict management.

As a result of these beliefs, restorative justice creates a nurturing, positive, and effective learning environment by emphasizing the value of a class being a community of learners. This model cultivates a sense of value for each student’s beliefs, experiences, feelings, thoughts, and identity through its open, respectful, and engaged communication style. The greatest student growth from restorative justice occurs socially. By directly involving students in individual, small group, or whole-class settings discussing relevant issues or conflicts that impact members of the class, students not only develop confidence in sharing about themselves but they also practice essential skills for engaging in productive discussions. Moreover, students learn to take responsibility for their own actions and their own change in response to learning about offensive actions. The impact of this growth is a stronger, more connected classroom dynamic that values forgiveness, reconciliation, and restored relationships. The impact of restorative justice on students’ academic growth is slightly more indirect than the social growth because it results from the increase in learning that occurs in a collaborative and effectively managed classroom. As a result of restorative justice’s ability to reach individualized solutions, students also grow academically by taking ownership of their habits, work ethic, and learning.

Overall, this model aligns exactly with my personal teaching philosophy and my passion for social justice. Additionally, it involves concrete strategies for handling conflict that support my value of creating a positive community of learners. Though there are limits to this model as not all situations reflect a deeply rooted injustice and can take this much time to address, I strongly believe that teachers must equip students to be agents of social change and this model formally engages students in that process using real class issues as the context for these discussions.

Though the models serve different purposes, conflict resolution’s approach and impact on students aligns closely to that of restorative justice. Conflict resolution involves finding a peaceful solution to a disagreement using verbal communication. The process occurs in a relatively linear order, beginning with students’ removal from the situation (i.e. calming down), then an explanation of the situation to the teacher or mediator, a discussion with all people involved that acknowledges both sides of the situation, and finally a resolution agreed upon by all involved. Similar to restorative justice, this model’s greatest strengths are that it creates a positive learning environment and promotes students’ social growth. Common strategies with conflict resolution involve the use of “I feel…” statements, peer mediation sessions or programs, and meetings with the guidance counselor or other school administrator. Conflict resolution also emphasizes the importance of relationships, and develops students’ mediation skills. As a result of its more surface-level approach to conflict, this model is more effective in minimizing behavior that interferes with and disrupts student learning. In this way, student learning and instruction time is increased and peer collaboration is well supported.

Like restorative justice, conflict resolution aligns with my personal teaching philosophy that students grow best when they take ownership of their own mistakes and develop their own commitment to positive behavior and any agreed upon changes. Though neither model involves a top-down discipline approach, conflict resolution is more reasonable when the teacher can objectively facilitate a solution between students and the scope of the situation is narrow (if not one-on-one). Additionally, it creates the space to validate the feelings of the students involved without involving a greater number of students for discussion. Overall, I see myself using both of these models within my classroom as an incredible way to create strong peer relationships and interpersonal skills.

 

 

References:

Evertson, C. M., & Emmer, E. T. (2013). Classroom management for elementary teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2012). Restorative justice in the classroom: necessary roles of cooperative context, constructive conflict, and civic values. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 5(1).

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