Implementing RJ: What does it Look Like? Where do you Begin?

As the current school year draws to a close, administrators are looking ahead to 2017-18.  Looming large is the new Michigan law requiring schools to consider restorative justice before imposing long-term suspensions or expelling students.  This law takes effect August 1st, so schools will need to be ready to comply before the first student walks through the door.

What does that mean to your school?  Each school community will answer that question differently.

  • Some will give RJ a cursory glance, then keep suspending and expelling students under the traditional punitive system.
  • Others will learn about the restorative philosophy and decide it makes sense to approach discipline situations asking the question “How can we heal the harm?” instead of “What rule was broken and what’s the punishment?”
  • Some schools will embrace the restorative philosophy and define accountability as making things right rather than getting kicked out. Those schools will use RJ practices to create restorative cultures—using informal restorative practices to address student misconduct or conflict when the issue is small and easy to heal.
  • Schools embracing the restorative paradigm might even run community-building and teaching circles in their classrooms, engaging students in check-ins to see how they are doing and to build stronger connections between classmates and teachers.

The variations on these pictures are endless and will evolve as personnel and cultures change over time.  But each scenario builds from leadership’s willingness to move away from Zero Tolerance’s punishment-based approach to discipline.

Administrators interested in moving toward a restorative approach need quality training for themselves and key staff-members to foster the paradigm shift and prepare their team to implement restorative justice philosophy and practices.  Schools in Colorado, Minnesota, California and other states offer resources for successfully integrating RJ into their cultures.  Once you get trained, you can follow their lead or learn from books such as Circle Forward[1], The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education[2] or Getting Classroom Management Right[3].

Schertzing Communications can help you take your first steps away from Zero Tolerance and help you implement a restorative approach to school discipline and student conduct.  Check out our upcoming training opportunities and contact us about onsite seminars in your district.

[1] Carolyn Boyes-Watson & Kay Pranis (2015) Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community. St. Paul, MN: Living Justice Press

[2] Katherine Evans & Dorothy Vaandering (2016) The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education: Fostering Responsibility, Healing and Hope in Schools. New York: Good Books

[3] Carol Miller Lieber (2009) Getting Classroom Management Right: Guided Discipline and Personalized Support in Secondary Schools. Cambridge, MA: Engaging Schools

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