How Can Christian Educators Practice Restorative Justice?

May 14, 2010

Al Boerema raises the issue:

As Christian schools continue to explore ways to become places of shalom and to find means for having a larger impact on how their students live, the idea of restorative justice is moving into greater prominence. Restorative justice can be seen as an approach to discipline that is communitarian rather than individualistic, and focuses on healing and reconciliation rather than punishment and retaliation. Restorative justice can also be seen in a larger perspective of infusing the life of the school more broadly, not just in disciplinary situations. I would like us to discuss this in terms of examples of the restorative approach in practice and the barriers to its implementation in the life of a school.


May 24, 2010

Rebecca De Smith starts off:

I support using restorative justice to bring shalom into our schools classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds. It respects students as image bearers of God and promotes forgiveness, accountability, and reconciliation. It can be used with all ages of students in a variety of situations. Restorative justice also encourages students to take ownership of their actions, and if handled properly, provides students with a model for working through problems and disagreements.

But, just as with many good ideas, restorative justice can be tricky to put into practice. The steps to resolving conflict need to be carried out deliberately and consistently. It takes time to develop an understanding of the process with students, and it takes consistency to work through different and difficult situations. Everyone involved needs patience as trust is developed and restoration replaces hurt and fear. Practically, this approach seems to work better with older students, say grade 5 and above, who can understand the causes and effects of their actions. Younger students can benefit from a restorative justice approach, but they may not be developmentally ready to accept responsibility for their actions or generate ideas for reconciliation with other children. They could be ready to begin understanding the steps involved in restorative justice, becoming aware of their actions, learning to listen to others, and how to talk about their conflicts.

If done well and applied regularly, restorative justice can build a strong, mutually respectful community. If done poorly, it merely becomes another process for gaining power and producing humiliation.


May 26, 2010

Tim Leugs adds:

Well said, Rebecca. I think restorative justice is best seen as a how-to manual of building and maintaining relationships. In this perspective, its role in classroom community and in the community of God’s kingdom, it is very evident in how it values and celebrates relationships. From the very beginning, God has placed great value on relationships, giving humans the ability to know him and to know one another. God has also allowed humans the capacity to hurt one another, but thankfully, he has stepped in to heal this pain through relationships, reconciling our sin through Christ and restoring shalom to our world through the Holy Spirit.

In a similar way, schools are called to recognize discipline not as a response to breaking a rule in the book, but a response to the hurts of the community of the classroom, hurts that damage the relationships built and the trust that exists between the members of the classroom. When pain occurs through damaging this trust, it is felt by all, and the best solution involves engaging both those who have broken the trust and those who have been hurt by it.

I disagree, though, with your thought that restorative justice is practical only for older grades. I really think that the lessons on using restorative justice can be understood by anyone who has a sense of right and wrong. A second grader who is crying because of something another second grader said can be addressed by the community. Working to understand that simply saying “sorry” does not solve the larger problem the classroom faces is valuable, and is practiced by many teachers in schools today. Although developmentally there will be differences in the discussion in this area, the basics of working with relationship development are as universal as forgiveness itself. [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]