Restorative justice (RJ) is a powerful approach to discipline that focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that engage all stakeholders. Implemented well, RJ shifts the focus of discipline from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community. RJ helps deal with the root causes of behavior issues, including the absence of strong relationships and emotional safety at school.
To implement restorative justice with fidelity, HLA does these four things:
• First, intentionally create a community that is anchored in shared values. Higher Learning Academy creates a learning community which provides support to parents and families, while holding high expectations and standards.
- HLA will take a holistic approach to serving the school community. HLA will strive to improve the greater community that will in turn improve student outcomes. HLA will provide educational, cultural, and recreational programs for the greater community. HLA will work closely with the community to help create a community where they feel empowered and united in their mission to help the community thrive.
- Students learn best when they are at their optimal health. HLA will strive to have all children develop healthy life-long habits through nutrition education, fitness, and mental health strategies.
- The strength of the partnership between parents and the schools is a primary determinant of student success.
- Students will rise to meet our expectations.
- Students learn more and retain more when the curriculum is meaning centered, has real life applications, and integrates the arts.
- Challenging curriculum and corresponding high learning expectations for all students will maximize academic outcomes.
- Students learn better and teachers teach better in an environment where students are self-motivated, self-disciplined and where behavior unfavorable to the learning process is minimized.
This provides a common language for students, parents, and teachers to understand what is expected of all members of the school community.
• Second, make participation in the community a requirement, not an option. Lots of things are required in schools: Number 2 pencils, backpacks, binders. HLA is a special place where we all want to belong. Requiring students to participate in the community means a couple of things. First, they must do their best to practice its values in word and deed. Second, they commit to engage in restorative processes if they have harmed the community or been harmed by another member. There is a reciprocal principle implied here: We will keep you safe, but in return you need to keep others safe too.
• Third, model and teach your community values. We know that it takes students four to 40 exposures to learn a new vocabulary word. We want the HLA values to live beyond a slogan or poster. We take the time to teach them in interactive ways like role-playing, reading and writing stories about the values in action, and asking students to recall their life experiences related to the values. We leverage our most personalized school structures to explicitly teach the values of our beloved HLA community.
• Finally, enforce the values and be willing to hold students accountable. There's no cookie cutter approach to restorative justice. We are asking students to make a commitment to stay in relationship with each other and their community. By extension, if they violate or harm that relationship, they need to make amends. Accountability might look like a verbal "talking-to," having to reflect on their choices in a restorative circle, engaging in a restorative conference with the harmed party, or perhaps even being suspended. There must be real, felt consequences along with opportunities to make amends and learn from mistakes. A helpful guiding principle is that consequences should always be educational in nature rather than punitive. When discussing and reflecting on mistakes, all students must, "Own it, fix it, and learn from it".
Remember the bottom line of restorative justice is this: You have to first invest in building an authentic community that is worth restoring.