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Will Restorative Justice Improve Your School? - Principal Tribe

Will Restorative Justice Improve Your School?

Restorative-Practices-Balboa-HS-SanFrancisco-1-1200

Desmond Tutu says, “Restorative justice says “No, the offense affected a relationship” and what you are seeking for is to restore the relationship, to heal the relationship.”

What is Restorative Justice?

It’s a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

Main principles of restorative justice include:

  • Behavior can cause harm to relationships.
  • Voices of victims are important.
  • Taking responsibility for actions also means making amends.


There are growing numbers of studies establishing the effectiveness of school-based restorative justice in reducing suspensions, expulsions, and police referrals, while improving academic outcomes and decreasing violence.

Graduation RatesReading ScoresDropout Rates
School w/Restorative Discipline+60%+128%-56%
School w/out Restorative Discipline+7%+11%-17%

*2015 implementation study of whole-school restorative justice in Oakland. 

What Are the Benefits of Restorative Discipline?

In theory restorative practices have many benefits. Some of them include:

  • It provides both victims and offenders with satisfaction that justice had been done.
  • It reduces stress symptoms.
  • It reduces the desire for aggression against those in authority.
  • It allows students to see the real impact of their actions.

Restorative practice is a strategy that seeks to repair relationships that have been damaged, including those damaged through bullying.  – Dept of Edu, Victoria

Guides for Restorative Practices in Schools

Here are a few helpful guides for implementing or exploring restorative practices in schools.

Implementing Restorative Justice: A Guide for Schools – Produced by the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, this comprehensive guide focuses on:

  • Introduce to school personnel the concepts of restorative justice and restorative discipline.
  • Offer new tools that can reduce the need for school exclusion and juvenile justice system involvement in school misconduct.
  • Offer ways to enhance the school environment to prevent conflict and restore relationships
  • after conflict arises.

Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools – This is an up-to-date, research-based guide that focuses on three areas of restorative practices:

  • Reducing and preventing harmful behavior.
  • Restoring positive relationships.
  • Resolving conflict and holding individuals accountable.
Source: http://schottfoundation.org

Books for Restorative Practices in Schools

*These links go to the book preview page at Amazon via Principal Tribe’s Affiliation.

Examples of Restorative Practices

There are many practices that follow a restorative justice approach to teaching social and emotional well-being.

In Chicago Public Schools, one student said,

In my freshman year, there were lots and lots of fights. I couldn’t learn anything, cause you know, students in class would basically disturb the peace…

Here’s how the school changed the climate using restorative practices.


From the Office of Social & Emotional Learning at Chicago Public Schools

What does restorative practice look like in elementary schools?

In dialogue circles, students sit facing each other to facilitate open dialogue. Glenview uses these gatherings to check-in, to settle disputes, and for academic interventions.

Dialogue Circles in Glenview Elementary

Can Restorative Justice Keep Schools Safe?

More than two decades of research points to the correlation that kids who are suspended from school are more likely to drop out of school.

Is the suspension the cause? Or is it simply a symptom or predictor?

One school system in San Francisco used restorative discipline to cut suspension rates over 30% and cut expulsion by 60%.

Instead of being kicked out for fighting, stealing, talking back, or other disruptive behavior, public school students in San Francisco are being asked to listen to each other, write letters of apology, work out solutions with the help of parents and educators, or engage in community service. All these practices fall under the umbrella of “restorative justice”—asking wrongdoers to make amends before resorting to punishment. Greater Good Magazine

However, much of the improvements they initially saw are reversing due to lack of funding for programs and lack of coherence between schools.

Yet, in one school, restorative practices took center stage: Balboa High School.

In the past, we defaulted to the most expedient thing…Student behavior is incorrect, student gets suspended—not really fully thinking through the process and asking whether this is a good educational decision for this particular student. –
Kevin Kerr, principal of Balboa High School in San Francisco.

After implementing restorative practices Balboa High School also saw decreases in suspension rates. That said, their discipline data is on par with the rest of California, which has a disparity for black students.

Suspension RatesState Average
All Students2%4%
Asian
1%2%
Hispanic2%4%
Black14%13%
White2%4%

Source: greatschools.org

And their academics?

Test scores for low-income students at this school are about the same as the state average, though still below the top-performing schools in the state for all students.

The Jury’s Out, But Principles Are In

As far as impact on learning, the jury’s still out for restorative practices. There are some success and some failures – as with most school-wide initiatives.

But I’m sure most educators can agree, the principles behind restorative justice are a great fit for schools:

  • Hold students accountable.
  • Make amends when something goes wrong.
  • Restore relationships that are harmed by negative actions.

What are your thoughts?

Is restorative justice another name for the same good sense behavior management? Is restorative practice a good idea for school?

About the author

Matt Foster

Matt is an educator and creator of the Mafost Mashup school leadership podcast. He's also a writer, curriculum designer, and certified teacher/k-12 principal. Most importantly he's a dad.

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