• Lindsay Mangold

"Can I have a restorative option?"

In our post Mapping Decisions, we discussed the importance of training both citizens and advocates. There are so many societal problems that we will be looking to the next generation to improve. If students simply follow the rules without also being critical of the system that created those rules, there will be no desire to change deeply rooted problems. This lesson really gets into the thick of coaching young advocates.

Restorative justice is a disciplinary system where people are held accountable for their actions, learn the impact of their choices, and work to restore the harm done. In traditional exclusionary practice, there is very little actual social-emotional education happening. Additionally, students learn that it is important not to “break the rules” rather than it is important not to harm others and damage the community. The challenge with implementing restorative justice is the time it takes to hold a meeting, get to the root of the problem, and collaborate on a solution with the parties involved. Issuing a disciplinary slip, detention, or suspension is much faster. Circle practices give teachers a safe space with rituals they can access quickly to handle conflicts in a restorative way. Keep in mind the rituals can be used as a whole group or in a small group scenario. Below, consider the basic differences between a punitive system and a restorative system.


- Only deal with the wrong-doer

- Focus on the rule that was broken

Crime as a violation of law

- Punish the wrong-doer

- Exclude wrong-doers through suspension, expulsion, etc…


- Include those who are affected by the incident in the response

- Understand how people were affected and what harms occurred

Crime as a violation of relationships

- Agree on actions to make things right

- Get “right” with and re-enter community

The key for success when looking at a restorative justice system in school is community buy-in. If the student does not feel invested in the school community or does not feel like the school is serving him, then it is impossible to motivate a change in behavior. The job of the school administrators and teachers is to run the community in a way that values the positive and necessary role that education plays in the lives and opportunities for young people. Fear-based discipline practices lean on power and compliance. When a student truly does not trust the school community, the need for power is increasingly necessary. This power struggle between students and administrators and teachers can very easily end in a suspension or expulsion. Once the child is told to leave the community, buying back in is nearly impossible.

This is why restorative work is so critical! Teach students to request a restorative option rather than a punitive one. Part of the agreement includes following through with all the aspects of the restorative option in order to not receive the punitive consequence. Focus on teaching - teach appropriate behavior, teach how to make things right, teach how to improve reputation, and teach forgiveness and follow-through.

The poster below can be displayed in your classroom to coach you and your students through designing a restorative consequence. All components need to be met in order to be considered truly handled. Ensure that relationships were spoken for, feelings were expressed, a plan was developed to do positive work, and there is a plan for how to move on.

We want children to remind us to think creatively with restoration in mind when trouble arises. Teach them to say, "I need a restorative option" so we can work harder towards solutions that are better for all.

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