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Making amends through restorative justice

| Categories: Curriculum & Learning

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Guest writer Rene Joiner joins us this week to discuss the restorative justice training she attended. Joiner is one of the new Safe and Caring Schools Liaisons whose role is geared towards prevention, support and connection for high school youth.

Earlier this school year, I along with Safe and Caring Schools colleagues took part in the District’s first restorative justice workshop. 

What is Restorative Justice? 

Unlike traditional justice responses, restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing harm between those harmed and those who have caused harm through one to one and group discussions. In a school setting, restorative justice can be used when a student goes against the code of conduct. This approach is rooted in Indigenous world views and perspectives on justice, concerned primarily with repairing harm and transforming conflict. 

In schools, restorative justice helps a student or students to own what they have done, make it right for those hurt and affected, and involves community (class, school or greater community) in helping both, as restorative justice acknowledges that those who have done harm also need help. This is so important for students and youth because allowing acknowledgement of harms done while having the opportunity to redeem oneself can have a transformative positive impact on everyone involved.

Biggest takeaways

One of the most enlightening things I learned was the understanding that restorative justice doesn’t force a meeting or discussion between those harmed and those who have done harm. People may not be ready for that step, or it may not be appropriate given the situation. Any meeting that does take place doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about forgiveness, but about finding a way forward that can restore both parties to a sense of wholeness; restorative justice allows for forgiveness but doesn’t demand it.

One way I would like to implement restorative justice is through circles in schools. Circles work to create a just and equitable learning environment while responding to harm and conflict. This can look like a regularly scheduled class meeting where the class, teacher and facilitator all sit in a circle. Often a talking piece is used to give every speaker the chance to be heard and speak without being interrupted.

In the circle, everyone is equal, everyone is respected, and participants are encouraged to speak from the heart. Creating a positive environment where the class regularly feels connected and heard, outside of academics. This can lay the foundation for pro-active problem solving when issues do occur.

One challenge of restorative justice is that it takes work and time. Punitive measures like suspension might seem easier or more convenient but often don’t resolve underlying issues nor do they give those who have harmed the chance for redemption. Restorative justice is a new way to solve conflicts between students and while it can be tough to introduce something new, I think there is an openness for a fresh take.

As a Safe and Caring School Liaison, I know there will be situations when restorative justice will need to be implemented. I am appreciative to have received this training to expand my professional toolbox and help students with conflict resolution.  

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