Restorative justice is about more than just reducing suspensions

Jul 25, 2018 by

With just two words, a classroom can be thrown into chaos. Anne Gregory, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University, recalls just such a scenario when an angry high school student shouted an expletive (“F— off!”) at his teacher, bringing class to a halt.

Gregory, who studies school discipline, wasn’t present for the outburst itself but she saw its aftermath. At many schools, she explains, the response would be simple: send the student straight to an administrator to mete out punishment, probably a suspension.

Instead, the vice principal came to the classroom. He dismissed most students for their lunch break while inviting anyone who felt personally affected by the incident to remain in the room with the teacher and the outspoken student. Then that smaller group, under the vice principal’s guidance, discussed what had just happened.

Gregory was witnessing a restorative circle. It’s a practice derived from a movement in education known as restorative justice, an approach to discipline that replaces punishment with repairing harm. And it is sweeping across schools nationwide.

In the classroom Gregory observed, all those gathered shared their perspective. The teacher expressed remorse for reacting to the student’s outburst with so much frustration. Another student reflected on her own struggles with anger management. And the young man whose words sparked the incident apologized and described how the stress of a difficult morning had boiled over in his behavior. He then agreed to help his teacher set up her Powerpoint and distribute textbooks at the beginning of each class as a way of compensating his classmates’ lost instructional time.

 

continue: Restorative justice is about more than just reducing suspensions

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