The concept of Restorative Practices in school isn’t new. It’s grown out of the Restorative Justice work gaining momentum in the VT justice system.
The Vermont Law School created the Center for Justice Reform in 2017 and according to Center Director, Robert Sand, it’s the “First Law School in the country to offer a combined JD and Masters Degree in Restorative Justice”
The Restorative approach shifts the way we connect with each other by using guided circle conversations to develop a strong sense of community and responsibility to each other. Circles allow each person to participate in a conversation, and time and space to honor contributions by all. For many, it’s a safe place to practice sharing, listening, and connecting.
Belief that our actions affect not only ourselves, but also others, is the core that helps to strengthen community bonds. This sense of connection also marks a path for those whose actions harmed the community. When harm is done in an academic setting, students often find themselves outside of the school community - either through removal from a class, detention assignment, or another consequence like suspension.
But many educators now believe these common responses to harmful behavior can weaken and even sever a student’s relationship with their school community.
That matters, because connection with peers, teachers, and the wider community is often the most successful re-enforcer for positive student behavior and good decision making. And unlike previous responses to unacceptable behavior where students would be removed from their peers when they’re not meeting community expectations, Restorative Practices places an emphasis on trying to understand what caused the behavior, what supports and interventions the student and the community need to heal from the event, and identify what can be done to strengthen relationships so repeat behavior is less likely to continue.
Many schools are now engaged in this work, and in the Upper Valley, a Restorative Practices Group made up of representatives from local schools and community organizations is learning more about what’s working, and how we can encourage stronger connections between schools and community to support all of our students.