In the early 2000s, I had the privilege of working in schools as Restorative Justice Coordinator. In that role, I deeply admired the children and youth who worked through their conflicts in the RJ Room. I carry many of their faces and stories tenderly in my heart today.
Now, I share their stories as I train a new generation of RJ Coordinators and Circle Facilitators. Although my students are all grown up, episodes of middle school and high school turmoil like theirs play out in schools and communities throughout our world. The need for restorative discipline anchored in a restorative philosophy has only grown in the intervening decade.
Last week my heart got a bit bigger as I added new faces and stories from a Restorative Circles seminar I hosted January 31 and February 1, 2017 in Lansing. I was privileged to work and learn with dedicated professionals who brought their experiences as attorneys, educators and writers to our exploration and application of restorative justice in education at all levels.
Starting with the restorative philosophy, we considered the difference it can make in education and in our lives when we approach a situation of misconduct asking “How can we heal the harm?” instead of “What rule was broken?” We saw how this shift in perspective makes people accountable to others in their community rather than kicking them out through suspension or expulsion.
We also looked at the principles underlying the restorative justice approach. Although modern restorative practices evolved from ancient approaches to conflict resolution and justice, there are a number of academic theories from various disciplines that explain why it works today. Using those theories, we explored how we can transform discipline into opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.
Finally, we looked at and applied restorative justice practices from informal affective statements to more formal conflict resolution circles. We shared our thoughts and experiences and came to know each other and connect as colleagues through role plays and community-building circles. At the end of our two days together, we were equipped to run our own circles, but more importantly, we understood and could identify restorative opportunities for learning and healing. The current, punitive discipline paradigm too often closes off those opportunities.
I would love to have you join us for one of our upcoming trainings. See for yourself what we learned together, and get your school ready to comply with the new state laws taking effect in August. Get ready for a heartful of faces and stories from your own RJ practice!