Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Restorative Justice in the Schools

Restorative practice in the schools includes the basic principles of restorative justice in combination with knowledge of school climate and classroom management. In criminal justice settings, restorative justice is focused on law breakers. In some school settings, the infractions and the participants may both be small. The principles are implemented with children as young as five.

The focus in school settings is on building a community where fewer infractions incur as well as on resolving them when they do incur. A crucial element is relationship. When students are part of a community, they are more vested in righting wrongs and repairing relationships. Restorative justice is sometimes associated with attempts to reduce suspensions – an ‘include vs. exclude’ approach – but the focus can be much broader. Some prefer the term restorative practices over restorative justice when describing applications in school settings.

There are jobs in school-based restorative practice. School systems are looking for professionals, from mental health professionals to intervention specialists, who can implement restorative justice principles. In some cases, they are hiring professionals who will have this as a main focus. They want people who can reach everyone, whatever their life circumstances, cognitive or emotional status, or language of proficiency. They like previous experience with at-risk populations. Bilingual skills are often valued. So are communication finesse and relationship building.

There is also a place for well-educated professionals in academic classrooms. It’s one of many areas where teachers can pursue graduate education, moving up the salary scale as well as developing their skill set and employability.

The Restorative Justice Movement

Under restorative justice, there is a focus on understanding how one’s behaviors have impacted others and taking steps to mend harm. Experts stress that educators can’t expect buy-in from students after infractions; the groundwork has to be laid beforehand. Schools combine community building with conferences and circles to address wrongs. They go deep to create environments where community members know each other well enough to empathize, where they can speak honestly about how they were affected by others’ actions, and were they believe they have an ongoing place in the community despite wrongs committed.

Many schools implement some components of restorative justice. Schools that commit to specific programs, meanwhile, may not implement them as intended. This contributes to making restorative practice – like many school reform efforts – difficult to evaluate.

Many state codes address restorative justice in school settings. The focus may be narrow in scope. A common focus: attempting alternatives to suspension. New Jersey has addressed the conditions under which elementary students can be deprived of recess; it has also addressed the type of activities that must be provided during the missed recess.

Restorative justice may be implemented alongside other management systems such as Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.

In some geographic areas, restorative justice is long established. In others, grants are funding new projects. New Jersey, for example, solicited grant proposals in early 2021.

Graduates Programs in Restorative Justice

School professionals can pursue certificate programs in restorative justice. There are even master’s options. Restorative justice is a relatively broad discipline, with application across settings. Students can opt for programs focused on education or youth settings.

Eastern Mennonite University offers certificate and master’s options in restorative justice in education. They are available online and hybrid. The five courses that make up the certificate program are also included in the master’s; among them are Analyzing Conflict in Educational Settings, Facilitating Circle Processes, and Foundations of Restorative Justice in Education. The master’s program includes additional required courses, including two courses of action research. Master’s students also select several elective courses with advisor assistance. Trauma, Restoration and Resilience in Educational Environments and Analysis: Understanding Conflict are among the options.

The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) Graduate School also certificate and master’s programs; elective coursework allows students to focus their inquiries on classroom settings. Required courses are online. All students have a foundations course and a hands-on action course. Master’s students have additional requirements such as Evaluation of Research. Among the electives are Social and Emotional Learning in the Restorative Classroom and A Restorative Approach to Educating the High-Risk and High-Need Student. The school is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The IIRP also offers short professional development courses; at least one Michigan employer recently referenced IIRP trainings in job postings.

Saint Michael’s College offers a four-course certificate program in Holistic Restorative Education. Guiding principles include mindfulness and equity. The program includes a one-week in-person summer residency; the rest is online.

Jobs in Restorative Justice

The following are among the positions recently advertised:

A Connecticut school system sought a restorative practices specialist who could implement principles of restorative justice along with other supports such as trauma-informed care and wrap-around services. The district could accept a bachelor’s degree in any field if the person also had the requisite experience. It sought someone with a minimum of three years in a related field; qualifying experience might be in education, health, or substance abuse, among other disciplines. The candidate would need experience engaging youth who were receiving services.

A Colorado district sought an ‘Educational Counselor, Restorative Justice’ who would work collaboratively with many stakeholders. Any major could be considered if the person had experience in the appropriate education- and youth-centered practice areas. The professional would need several years of experience working collaboratively on instructional improvement. He or she would also need experience with at-risk youth. This position was also bachelor’s level.

A Michigan organization sought a restorative practices facilitator for developmental kindergarten. The individual would, ideally, have had training in peace circles and transformative conferencing. The organization sought a bachelor’s degree or equivalency.