I was reading an article for class in which the author, Sandra Pavelka, Ph.D. (2013) offered a succinct, optimistic account of the adoption of restorative practices in schools. This sounds great in theory, but the actual adoption of RJ in schools/districts is not an easy task. There are several big districts that have acknowledged the value of RJ in replacing their more traditional discipline policies, but what often ends up happening is that a district announces RJ as their new policy, bans suspensions, and then goes on to announce that RJ has led to a 300% decrease in student discipline. What happens behind the scenes is that teachers don’t buy into the practice and philosophy, and/or aren’t given the training and resources to properly implement it, and/or RJ becomes just another initiative rather than a part of the culture. RJ is such a profound concept that requires a complete mindset shift and has huge implications for a teacher’s daily practice and way of interacting with students, and that doesn’t happen through a superintendent announcing that they’re dropping suspensions by switching to RJ. Even at schools like ours, teachers have varying degrees of buy in and investment. I worry that with RJ becoming the cool new initiative, schools won’t take the time and invest the resources to actually enact change (obviously, this happens with every initiative, but RJ requires more than a more typical “let’s all write our objective on the board every day and we’ll make a box to check on your evaluations to make sure you’re doing this!” initiative). I think that to do RJ and do it well, it takes more time, resources, and support than most schools are willing to invest, and I worry that schools who take shortcuts or simply slap on the RJ label will do much more harm to the “movement” than good.
I think that to do RJ and do it well, it takes more time, resources, and support than most schools are willing to invest
I was talking with a few educators from LA Unified a few months ago, and when we started talking about RJ, they had some really interesting reflections on their district's "adoption." Their interpretation of RJ was that it meant that they couldn't send kids to the office, so they had pretty negative things to say about the approach- without having any sort of understanding of what RJ really is. Toward the end of the conversation, one of them remarked that RJ was a complete waste of time and was ruining their school. Another added that RJ was making them want to retire, and proceeded to explain that with RJ, the kids were running wild with no consequences, and adults had zero power over students. This is my concern- that teachers feel that RJ is taking away the resources they rely on without giving them anything in return, and that the implementation process doesn't allow teachers to explore the approach and get a better understanding of why the district decided to adopt this policy and how it can benefit the entire school community. I love RJ, and I believe in RJ as a means of increasing equity and giving kids what they need to succeed, but I am really, really hesitant to suggest that schools should go out and adopt restorative practices, because this isn't an initiative- it's an entire school culture, and you can't change a culture through a poorly-planned district mandate.
Knight, D., & Wadhwa, A. (2014). Expanding Opportunity through Critical Restorative Justice: Portraits of Resilience at the Individual and School Level. Schools: Studies in Education, 11(1), 11-33.
Pavelka, S. (2013). Practices and Policies for Implementing Restorative Justice within Schools. Prevention Researcher, 20(1), 15-17.