Restorative Justice (RJ) is a powerful approach to discipline that focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that engage all stakeholders. Implemented well, RJ shifts the focus of discipline from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community.
-Education Week Teacher, Feb 6, 2016
I grew up in a time where children were routinely punished both verbally and even physically for the smallest infraction – like a whisper to a friend at the drinking fountain. Luckily, today’s educators realize punishment and shame aren’t effective tools to use with students.
As the Director of the Lower School at the International School of Denver, one of my primary responsibilities is to enforce discipline. ISDenver uses an approach known as Restorative Justice (RJ). RJ was originally developed to use with adults that committed an offense requiring legal intervention. RJ emphasizes the importance of the offender taking responsibility for his/her actions, and making restitution to the one harmed and the community.
So, what does RJ look like in the Lower School? When students are sent to me with a discipline issue, I interview each child about what happened, asking the following questions:
- What happened, and what were you thinking at the time of the incident?
- What have you been thinking about since?
- Who has been affected by what happened, and how?
- What about this has been hardest for you?
- What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?
Students must act on what they decide to do in their response to question 5. I also contact each child’s parents/guardians about the incident, and send them a copy of questions 1 -5 with their child’s responses.
If you would like to learn more about RJ, I suggest the following articles:
- Restorative Justice: Resources for Schools
- Response: How to Practice Restorative Justice in Schools
- Tutorial: Introduction to Restorative Justice
- Restorative Practices in Schools
- Colorado Restorative Practices in Schools Guidelines Principles, Practices, Implementation and Training
- Restorative Justice