It’s always interesting to read reactions when I blog a piece and share around the internet and social media. You won’t find direct comments on this blog, but the gist is that the ‘teacher’s lounge’ shared some conversation in various groups about how restorative practices failed at their school.

Here’s the first piece: Restorative Practices.

Let’s hear from Howard Zehr (The Little Book of Restorative Justice) about what restorative practices (RP) are not:

  • RP is not seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Hopefully, that will take place, but it is not the primary focus or else victims and offenders will feel coerced into a process that they do not agree with and will not follow through on whatever is decided.
  • RP is not a return to the past environment. That is not possible. What has happened cannot be undone. We cannot pretend that an offense did not happen. What we can do is move forward into a transformation that will bring about a better world.
  • RP is not mediation. It is not about bringing the offender and victim together to work out their problem. Sometimes that is not welcome to one or the other; in severe cases, it can be detrimental.
  • RP is not about reducing the chances that the offender will do it again. RP often does reduce the rate of new offenses taking place, but that is not a goal. RP is about acknowledging the harm done and putting that harm right.
  • RP is not a prescribed set of programs. Good guggamugga, aren’t we tired of the next, best panacea in education? We are told to do the program because some high muckety-muck got an all-expenses-paid vacation to a nice resort and they have to justify the expense. RP is a set of principles that guide each setting to fashion practices that are culturally relevant.
  • RP is not restricted to low-level offenses. That is not to say that a careful construction of RP and expert supervision is not needed in the worst cases, but RP should not be seen as something for only minor offenses.
  • RP are found in cultures around the world. They are not a Western or U.S. innovation.
  • RP does not subvert traditional discipline systems. It will not solve everything and there will be a need for traditional discipline, most likely in cases where the offender will not acknowledge the harm caused, will not take responsibility, and will refuse to be accountable.
  • RP is not a cure-all.

Restorative practices are often condemned along the lines of “we tried that and it didn’t work.” Yet I know of no case where RP failed of its own merits. The cases cited are those where it was not sufficiently supported by school administration/the school district or it was not implemented appropriately. The comments I have read fall along those lines.

It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes fortitude to get it right. Not only for the adults to shift their mindset, but for students as well.

First and foremost, restorative practices depend upon building community: that we all belong to one another and harm to one is harm to all.

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