In this article, Bill Hansberry reflects upon his new book to discuss the importance of restorative justice as a constructive approach to conflict resolution in schools compared to traditional punitive methods. Suitable for education settings from preschool to school, A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools explains what restorative justice is, how it can be used in schools, what it looks like in the classroom and how it can be implemented. It is an essential resource for any school or centre that is serious about reducing bad behaviour and developing safer learning communities.
Restorative Practices are not for the faint-hearted. They demand that our work in schools be less political and more human. This demands that, when things go wrong in schools, we empathise with students (and those who love them) and move into emotional spaces with them that we may not have occupied previously. Restorative practices are not a discipline from a distance. They are up close, personal and at times confronting, which is at odds with the direction that many schools are taking their disciplinary systems. As communities become increasingly disconnected and fearful of one another, responses to conflict, harm and wrongdoing that bring people and their difficult emotions face to face can seem too risky for many, yet schools who have bravely embraced restorative practices have found that this is a risk well worth taking.
In writing a book that asks teachers and school leaders to swim against the tide and take the risk of becoming more human in their work, the onus is on the author to be real with them. Being real is exactly what I have aimed to do in this book. A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools: Theory, Skills and Guidance is an account of restorative practices in schools that allows the reader inside the lives of young people, their teachers and parents through a series of case studies based on real events and real people.
I have set out A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools in four sections: Thinking Restoratively (mindsets), Feeling Restoratively (understanding the emotions involved), Working Restoratively (practice along the restorative continuum from preventative to responsive), and finally Ending Restoratively (the work that doesn’t finish once the meeting or circle is done).
Section 1, Thinking restoratively, articulates exactly what we mean when we talk about restorative practices as an approach to dealing with conflict, harm and wrongdoing, and what this means for schools. The reader is immediately thrown into a conflict (based on a real story) between two adolescent boys, Tristan and Jason that is threatening to become a protracted legal nightmare. This case study becomes the backdrop for examining a restorative headset and how it contrasts with more traditional responses to harm and wrongdoing. The Social Control Window is introduced and the four modes of being in charge (Punitive, Permissive, Neglectful and Restorative) are explored as the reader is taken to parallel universes as Jason and Tristan’s situation is addressed from the first three of these standpoints. Finally the reader is immersed in the real life events that took place to bring a successful restorative resolution to this conflict.
Section 2, Feeling Restoratively, takes the reader on a very necessary journey into the psychology of emotion (Silvan Tomkins’ Affect Script Theory) that explains why restorative practices work so well, and what is amiss when they don’t work as well as they should. A blueprint for mentally healthy schools is offered and the ways that restorative practices deliver mentally healthy schools is explained. Of particular interest to those who work with young people who struggle at school and often fall foul of teachers and peers is the shame family of emotions. Shame is explained both as a powerful regulator of social behaviour as well as a reason for much of the anti-social and violent behaviour we see in schools. The reader leaves this section of the book with a deeper understanding of the role of emotion in restorative processes, and tools for helping young people better identify and understand the emotions that course through them in moments of upset.
Section 3, Working Restoratively, takes the reader on a journey along the restorative practices continuum through a series of beautifully written case studies for each point of the continuum that illustrates the power of restorative practices to address minor to serious misconduct in schools. Characters and situations leap off the page into readers’ heads and hearts as they identify with the challenges of the young people, teachers and parents in these stories. In each of these case studies the reader is offered powerful insights into the thinking and intentions of the skilled teachers who apply restorative approaches to address a range of situations ranging from a student impulsively calling out in class, to a case of serious defamation of a student and her family on social media. Restorative scripts are provided for each of the points on the continuum for schools to use in their own restorative work, along with a chapter, co-written by Margaret Thorsborne on using restorative questioning more effectively. The power of Circles (Circle Time) as a pedagogy for building connected school communities and teaching young people how to think restoratively is explored at the end of this section.
Section 4, Ending Restoratively, looks at probably the most important, but all too often neglected part of restorative practice in schools – the follow up and follow through. The business of conference agreements, how to create them, how to communicate them and how to hold students accountable to them is investigated in great detail. Finally, some important tips for leaders on implementing restorative practices are offered in the concluding thoughts.
I hope my book inspires teachers and school leaders to take the risk of building a more human and connected school and, in turn, I hope their students grow up to become the empathetic people we cherish.
Bill Hansberry runs an education consultancy (www.hansberryec.com.au). Bill is widely recognised for his knowledge about behaviour management, restorative justice and cultural renewal in educational settings. He is also known for his passion for relational teaching, strategic community building and Circle Time, as well as his unique and engaging style in facilitating professional learning workshops for schools, school clusters and other organisations. Bill lives in Adelaide, Australia.