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New directions in whole-school restorative justice implementation



Research on school‐based restorative justice demonstrates that whole‐school interventions are the most effective for improving student outcomes. Despite rapid growth of restorative justice, few studies capture more than the first stage of implementation. This article aims to fill this gap by presenting a multiyear case study of a small urban high school (2011–2018). The whole‐school model explores new directions for the field by placing theory and practice directly into academic curriculum. Further, it democratizes restorative justice as students assume lead roles as practitioners, a departure from the dominant model in schools where restorative approaches are developed and led by adults.
New directions in whole-school restorative justice
Thalia González
| Heather Sattler
| Annalise J. Buth
Politics Department, Occidental College, Los
Angeles, CA
Center on Poverty and Inequality, Georgetown
University Law Center, Washington, DC
The Alliance Schools, Milwaukee Public Schools,
Milwaukee, WI
Center on Negotiation and Mediation,
Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Chicago, IL
Thalia González, 1600 Campus Road,
Los Angeles, CA, 90041.
Research on school-based restorative justice demonstrates
that whole-school interventions are the most effective for
improving student outcomes. Despite rapid growth of
restorative justice, few studies capture more than the first
stage of implementation. This article aims to fill this gap
by presenting a multiyear case study of a small urban high
school (20112018). The whole-school model explores
new directions for the field by placing theory and practice
directly into academic curriculum. Further, it democratizes
restorative justice as students assume lead roles as practi-
tioners, a departure from the dominant model in schools
where restorative approaches are developed and led by
Since the 1990s school-based restorative justice in the United States has been rapidly evolving
(González, 2016). Restorative justice, once characterized by a handful of pilot programs, has become
a comprehensive theory and diverse set of practices that has moved from the margins to the main-
stream of education policy. For example, a 2016 national survey found that schools in more than half
the states and the District of Columbia were in some stage of implementing restorative justice
(González, 2016). As the number of schools using various models of restorative justice has increased,
so have the terms linked to both theory and applied practices. Presently, the most commonly used
terms for school-based restorative justice include: restorative interventions (Anyon et al., 2016),
restorative practices (Jain, Bassey, Brown, & Karla, 2014; Kidde, 2017; Schumacher, 2014), restor-
ative measures (Minnesota Department of Education, 2011), restorative approaches (Fronius, Pers-
son, Guckenburg, Hurley, & Petrosino, 2016), restorative discipline (Amstutz & Mullet, 2014;
Armour, 2016), and restorative justice (González, 2012). For purposes of this article, we adopt the
term restorative approachesused in the Alliance School (Alliance) to describe its whole-school
model (Blood & Thorsborne, 2006; Morrison, 2007; Morrison & Vaandering, 2012) of restorative
Received: 31 May 2018 Revised and accepted: 9 August 2018
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21236
© 2018 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2018;114. 1
The swift rise of restorative approaches in schools has transformed the field. Restorative
approaches have been adapted, adopted, and interpreted in a diverse set of ways to respond to the
needs of the individual school community. While there is no universal definition of restorative
approaches in schools, there is scholarly consensus that it is grounded in Indigenous traditions that
emphasize interconnectedness and relationality to promote the well-being of all its community mem-
bers (Amstutz & Mullet, 2014; Lockhart & Zammit, 2005; Morrison, 2007; Zehr, 2005). While
school policy statements, training content, and adopted models (i.e., single-incident, continuum, or
whole-school) reflect variations based on the localized context, a set of core values and frameworks
exists (Hopkins, 2011; Kidde, 2017; Morrison, 2007; Pranis, 2007). Morrison and Vaandering's
(2012, p. 140) research articulates this idea clearly:
The broad aim of RJ is for educational policy and practice to be more responsive and
restorative to the needs and concerns of the school community Thus, what has
evolved in schools adopting a restorative justice frame-work is a clearer awareness of
the social and emotional foundation of the paradigm, specifically that human beings are
relational and justice is understood broadly as honoring the inherent worth of all and is
enacted through relationship.
Presently, three main strands of applied research of restorative approaches exist. The first has
sought to examine restorative approaches quantitatively as a theory and set of practices aimed at
being responsive to discipline. Researchers have explored how restorative approaches can reduce reli-
ance on punitive practices (Armour, 2016; Campbell, Wilson, Chapman, & McCord, 2013; Gregory,
Bell, & Pollock, 2014; Morrison & Vaandering, 2012; Stinchcomb, Bazemore, & Riestenberg,
2006), replace zero tolerance policies (González, 2012; Jain et al., 2014; Sumner, Silverman, &
Frampton, 2010), impact the school-to-prison pipeline (González, 2012, 2015; Jain et al., 2014;
Schiff, 2018), address high rates of disproportionality in school discipline (Karp & Breslin, 2001;
Payne & Welch, 2010, 2015; Stinchcomb et al., 2006), and mitigate the far-reaching collateral conse-
quences of exclusionary discipline (Fabelo et al., 2011; Gardella, 2015; Skiba & Rausch, 2006;
Wald & Losen, 2003). The most common metrics and measurements are quantitative assessments of
discipline outcomes reflecting positive trends and shifts in such areas as office referrals (González,
2015; Jain et al., 2014; Riestenberg, 2013; Stinchcomb et al., 2006), suspensions and expulsions
(Armour, 2014; Lewis, 2009; Riestenberg, 2013; Schiff, 2013; von der Embse, von der Embse, von
der Embse, & Levine, 2009), classroom behavior (Gregory et al., 2014), and misbehavior and inci-
dents (Karp & Frank, 2016; McMorris, Beckman, Shea, Baumgartner, & Eggert, 2013; Rideout,
Roland, Salinitri, & Frey, 2010). For example, Riestenberg's (2003) analysis of restorative
approaches in Minnesota schools showed reductions in behavior-related referrals and suspensions of
45% and 63%, respectively. In Colorado over a 5-year period, the use of restorative approaches in
Denver Public Schools decreased the overall risk for suspensions by five points, and for African-
American students specifically, the risk dropped by more than 7%, for Latinos approximately 6%,
and for whites by nearly 3% (González, 2015). Researchers in Denver also found that while individ-
ual student racial background was a risk factor for suspensions, participation in restorative interven-
tions was a protective factor for students of color from experiencing out-of-school suspensions
(Anyon et al., 2014).
The second strand of research aims to understand qualitatively the associated outcomes and bene-
fits of restorative approaches in such areas as improved school climate and safety (González, 2012;
Jain et al., 2014; Knight & Wadhwa, 2014; Morrison, Blood, & Thorsborne, 2005; Riestenberg,
2012; Schumacher, 2014), increased school connectedness (Armour, 2014; Hopkins, 2004; Sumner
et al., 2010), relationship building (Tolefree, 2017), conflict resolution skills development (Penny,
2015; Schumacher, 2014), improved academic performance (Armour, 2014; Jain et al., 2014), and
social emotional learning (Jain et al., 2014; Schumacher, 2014). For example, Knight and Wadhwa
(2014) utilized qualitative methodology to examine restorative circles in response to fights, misbe-
haviors, and gang violence, finding that in addition to addressing school safety, the circles served an
important school-level resilience-building strategy for both educators and students. As their analysis
revealed, restorative approaches aimed to build resilience to counter the negative impacts of zero tol-
erance policies by building supportive relationships and to create spaces for students to productively
express their thoughts and emotions (Knight & Wadhwa, 2014). Similarly, Schumacher's (2014)
2-year ethnographic study of weekly talking circles with adolescent girls in a public urban high
school illustrated how restorative approaches provided a safe space for peers helping peers, and that
the girls improved their listening, anger management, and empathic skills, which led to greater self-
efficacy(p. 1). The key findings of her work were twofold: First, circle participants felt a sense of
safety within the school community, and second, the circles promoted refined anger management,
active listening, and interpersonal sensitivity, all key aspects of prosocial behavior
(Schumacher, 2014).
The third strand focuses on the processes and associated stages of implementation. This body of
research includes both theoretical typologies and empirical studies of restorative approaches as disci-
plinary responses (González, 2012; Hopkins, 2004; Morrison & Vaandering, 2012). It also addresses
the shift to continuum models (McCold & Watchel, 2001; Stinchcomb et al., 2006) and ultimately
whole-school approaches (Morrison et al., 2005). While significant variation in the use of restorative
approaches exists in schools across the country (dependent on individual goals and available
resources) whole-school approaches are widely accepted as the most successful interventions.
Aligned with public health (Morrison & Vaandering, 2012) and ecological (McLeroy, Bibeau,
Steckler, & Glanz, 1988) models of interconnected relationships, whole-school models seek to
improve relationships among students, teachers, and staff (Morrison, 2007, 2011), strengthen school
climate (Blood & Thorsborne, 2006; Campbell et al., 2013), strengthen equity and culturally sensitive
practices (Kidde, 2017; Knight & Wadhwa, 2014), and support social emotional leaning (Bickmore,
2014; Jain et al., 2014; McCluskey et al., 2008). Rather than view restorative practices as isolated
and responsive to singular issues or incidents, they incorporate a multilevel system of primary, sec-
ondary, and tertiary interventions (Kidde & Alfred, 2011; Morrison et al., 2005; Morrison, 2007;
Morrison & Vaandering, 2012; Riestenberg, 2012). Whole-school approaches seek to develop and
enhance relational ecology at each level of the model. Thus, whole-school relational approaches
address not only serious instances of harm and aggression, but also the necessary relationships inside
and outside the classroom to facilitate normative change (Morrison, 2007).
In practice, the use of primary, secondary, and tertiary tiers establish[es] a nonauthoritarian cul-
ture of high expectations with high levels of support that emphasizes doing things with someone as
opposed to doing things to or for someone(Armour, 2016). The primary tier of intervention engages
all members of the school community and focuses on developing skills to build and nurture relation-
ships (Morrison et al., 2005). These interventions support shared social and emotional competencies
and understanding, which are necessary to creating a restorative culture grounded in shared values
and skills (Morrison et al., 2005). The secondary tier of intervention applies to specific individuals in
the community and repairing harms (Morrison et al., 2005). Finally, the tertiary tier involves inter-
vening with those who have chronic behavioral problems and need the most intensive intervention;
this involves a wider cross section of the school community (Morrison et al., 2005).
Our case study is positioned within this third body of literature. This article presents a descriptive
case study of whole-school implementation from 2011 to 2018. The case study not only identifies a
model of restorative approaches, it expands the field by presenting a new directionthe inclusion of
restorative approaches directly into the academic curriculum. Further, it represents an innovative and
underexplored model of restorative approaches. The Alliance model democratizes restorative
approaches, as students assume the roles of practitioners. This is a departure from the dominant
model in schools across the country where restorative approaches are developed by and led by adults,
often, professional practitioners. While we recognize that restorative approaches must be adapted and
adopted to fit with the internal needs of a school community, we assert there is applicability of the
Alliance model to achieve multiple educational goals. However, we do not suggest that the Alliance
model is one size fits allas each educational community and school culture is unique. For example,
where a preexisting culture relies heavily on punitive discipline the transition to a whole-school
restorative model may present a different set of institutional barriers. Thus, the trajectory of time to
adopt a similar set of practices and curriculum to Alliance could be protracted or shortened based on
the social capital of early adopters, buy-in from the larger school community, presence of formalized
policies (e.g., district-wide discipline matrices), and so on. Nor do we believe this case study should
serve as a step-by-step implementation guide for other schools. Instead, we position this case study
within the growing whole-school implementation field with specific attention on two distinct, and
arguably transferrable, features: (a) student-led practices and (b) curriculum integration. In what fol-
lows we trace the development of Alliance's model from initial implementation (2011) to the end of
the current academic year (2018) and conclude with lessons learned to help guide the field.
Alliance is a small, democratically run instrumentality charter high school (i.e., a public school autho-
rized by the Milwaukee Public Schools [MPS]) founded in 2005 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by Tina
Owen as the first antibullying institution in the United States. Alliance is an early start school
grounded in shared, democratic governance between teachers, students, and community members.
The mission of Alliance is to be a safe environment where students are treated fairly regardless of
sexuality, ability, appearance, or beliefs, and are academically challenged to become compassionate
agents of change. Since its inception, Alliance has been viewed as an innovator in providing a safe
educational space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Alli-
ance is a local and national leader in gender inclusive practices, trauma-informed care, student-led
learning, and restorative practices.
According to 20162017 district data, there are 200 enrolled students representing the following
demographics: American Indian or Alaskan Native (3%), Asian (4%), black or African American
(54%), Hispanic/Latino (17%), native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (0.5%), white (19%), and
two or more races (2.5%). Female students represent 60% of the population and 40% are male. More
than 75% of students at Alliance fall within the category of economically disadvantaged. Approxi-
mately 50% of the students at Alliance self-identify as LGBTQ and over 30% of students at Alliance
are students with disabilities. As research studies suggest (Berlan, Corliss, Field, Goodman, & Aus-
tin, 2010; Blake, Lund, Zhou, Kwok, & Benz, 2012), these two student groups in MPS have a
higher-than-average risk of victimization in traditional school settings. Recognizing that the majority
of students who come to Alliance have experienced victimization based on their identity, it has
sought to address the unique educational challenges, as well as the emotional delays created by trau-
matic histories and victimization, through restorative approaches.
The school views its founding mission and restorative approaches as facilitating twin, and
inseparable, aims. First, restorative approaches promote the development of healthy and trusting
relationships within the school, that is, school connectedness. As a large body of literature has
shown, school connectedness is a critical protective factor for vulnerable and marginalized youth
(Anderman & Freeman, 2004; CDC, 2009; McNeely & Falci, 2004). Second, the whole-school
approach not only supports positive school culture and equitable school climate, but also fosters
improved academic outcomes and provides students with opportunities to develop improved
socialemotional capacities, and listening and conflict resolution skills. Further, in the Alliance
model, students develop high-level leadership skills and professional capacities. Alliance's mission
of equity and inclusion has been instrumental in building a restorative approaches model that inte-
grates a social justice lens.
Whole-school implementation of restorative approaches at Alliance occurred in several stages,
building on both an existing foundation in MPS and the larger Milwaukee community. In May
2000, Assistant District Attorney David Lerman established a collaborative relationship between
MPS and the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office to train MPS teachers and social
workers, and facilitate classroom circles. A year after its founding (20062007), Alliance staff
was introduced to restorative approaches by the MPS collaborative. This close proximity in tim-
ing between the founding and implementation of restorative approaches allowed Alliance to avoid
some of the commonly experienced challenges faced by school communities transitioning from a
punitive to restorative culture. In the interim years, staff and students explored different models.
In 2011, Alliance made a commitment to move forward with a whole-school model of restorative
approaches and chose circles as the primary applied practice within the school. This decision was
grounded in a shared belief that circles provide a critical entry into the continuum of practices,
formal and informal (e.g., restorative dialogues or conversations) described in the literature
(González, 2012).
3.1 |Year 1 (20112012)
In 20112012, five key changes occurred that supported development of the Alliance whole-school
model of restorative approaches. First, the leadership of the preexisting pilot experiential restorative
justice course transitioned from an outside practitioner to an Alliance teacher. Second, the size of the
pilot course was evaluated and staff approved a reduction in course seats to ensure fidelity and sus-
tainability. Third, with support from school leadership, the teacher drafted a new English course cur-
riculum with the intent of bridging English learning outcomes, project-based pedagogy and the
principles of restorative approaches. The course design established the following as core areas: hon-
oring the sacred origins, living the wayof the circle, listening to self and others, sharing stories to
support one's healing and the healing of others, and facilitating circles to support healing,
community-building, and conflict resolution. Fourth, staff and students developed a plan for path-
ways (flow) of primary, secondary, and tertiary restorative interventions. Fifth, all staff participated
in restorative approachesprofessional development and began preliminary circle practice with each
3.2 |Year 2 (20122013)
During Year 2, the updated curriculum was introduced to a new cohort of students. Throughout the
year, students engaged deeply with restorative approaches inside and outside the classroom. This led
to increased leadership roles within the school and collective decision-making about whole-school
implementation. For example, after experiencing positive community responses to student-led circles,
supporting a school-wide project with a local organization on adolescent health, students recom-
mended implementation of quarterly student-led whole-school circles to staff. The proposal was
enthusiastically accepted and marked the beginning of the current practice. The students also served
as practitioners outside Alliance, facilitating circles at a conference, leading circles at other schools,
and hosting young people and adults from other communities. Staff continued to integrate circles in
their everyday work with each other and students; the frequency of practice helped establish restor-
ative norms and shared values.
3.3 |Year 3 (20132014)
In 20132014, the course was introduced to another new student cohort. This supported an increas-
ingly cohesive continuum of practices at the primary, secondary, and tertiary tiers. Recognizing an
opportunity for cross-curriculum collaboration, the course teacher partnered with the art teacher to
develop a capstone project where students crafted ceramic talking pieces and facilitated circles at a
national conference for artists and art teachers. During Year 3, the students also participated in a
statewide conference for educators, where they facilitated a restorative approaches workshop, and
they consulted on a district-level youth court for MPS. As a result of the growing work, one student
proposed another course to better meet the needs of the Alliance community and the increasing lead-
ership opportunities for students. A proposal for this idea was received and approved by staff. Fol-
lowing this, the teacher and students began to design an advancedcourse. Similar to other whole-
school models, the students voiced the importance of teaching the restorative school culture to new
students and their parents to promote greater social cohesion and shared norms. This idea was pre-
sented to staff who were in strong support, and new student and parent circles were introduced into
orientation. A commitment to the mission and desire to promote increased engagement and connec-
tion among staff led to new staff circles, professional development, and collaboration opportunities
(including a staff retreat) to expand the whole-school model.
3.4 |Year 4 (20142015)
Year 4 was marked by a clear transition from the initial stages of exploration, installation, and initial
implementation (Kidde, 2017) to full implementation. The two main goals were maintaining staff and
student practice, and developing the advanced restorative practices course. Staff, school-wide, repair-
harm, and community building, and new student and parent orientation circles continued and flour-
ished with shared responsibilities between students and staff.
Building on the curriculum developed in 2012, a rubric was codeveloped by students in the
course. Engaging in a collaborative, iterative writing activity based in analytical reflection, they
answered the following question: What does a wise and experienced circle keeper need to under-
stand, know, and be able to do? From this, a rubric was formed and the following areas were delin-
eated: listening (to one's self and others), storytelling (to support one's growth and healing and to
support the growth and healing of others), holding the circle (honoring the sacredness of the circle,
its origin, the guidelines, and facilitating in a way that supports the flow and creates space for all
voices), teaching and learning (the circle process), and growth (focusing on how what is learned in
class translates to one's life and way of being). The students also mapped out course goals for the
year and determined what projects they would embrace. One key project was the implementation of
the new peer justice council. The peer justice council was developed following a review and evalua-
tion of the existing MPS peer jury model during the prior year. In Year 3, students were asked to par-
ticipate in a mock peer jury and determined it did not align with the values of Alliance or restorative
justice, more broadly. They provided this evaluation to the peer jury program and their assessment
was integrated to create the new model. The current iteration of the peer justice council at Alliance is
a multidimensional process aimed at engaging those students who need additional supports to under-
stand why they continue to engage in harmful behaviors, and what steps they might take to change
behavior. In addition to restorative approaches, the peer justice model includes a needs assessments
and the integration of professional services. The goal of the peer justice council is to keep students
within the Alliance community rather than using exclusionary processes. The students also chose to
partner with a local nonprofit organization that works with homeless youth. After deconstructing their
knowledge of the circle process and deciding upon outcomes, content, pedagogy, and assessment,
they created and facilitated a 5-day, 90 min per session, training for the organization. The organiza-
tion continues to employ the circle process that was taught in Year 4.
3.5 |Year 5 (20152016)
In 20152016, the central focus remained on maintenance of the whole-school model and refinement
of the two-course sequence. There was an abrupt change in disciplinary processes because MPS
placed a new assistant principal at Alliance. Her prior experience was grounded in punitive practices.
In order to uphold the existing whole-school model, the community worked with the new administra-
tor to maintain the restorative disciplinary interventions including student leadership, and integrated
her into the school culture.
In addition to their leadership within Alliance, students in the courses also supported implementa-
tion of restorative approaches at a Montessori school, facilitated a workshop for staff and students at
an out-of-state university and a circle for staff at the university's partner secondary school, with a
population similar to their own (students who were at risk of dropping out of school). The creation of
a two-sequence model increased opportunities for peer-to-peer mentorship and skills development
emerged. For example, after observing the work of the advanced students, the introductory course
students created a two-session, 90-min training for a Waldorf school. Specifically, they taught Wal-
dorf students how to facilitate community-building and repair-harm circles. While staff had been pre-
viously trained, and a teacher was holding circles, there had not been student trainings.
3.6 |Year 6 (20162017)
Alliance community faced many changes and challenges in this academic year. The founder and
school leader left to pursue higher education and a new leader was chosen. With this change, the
school transitioned from a teacher-led to an administratively led and democratically governed model.
The challenges faced by staff manifested in students' grappling with their place in leading in the
school and exercising their agency. As a result, the students determined deepening and expanding the
work of the courses was the best way to support the school community. This included increased cir-
cles to respond to conflict and tensions, support positive school climate, and reinforce the well-
established restorative culture.
In both courses, students also assumed leadership and teaching roles outside of Alliance. For
example, students in the introductory course led a listening circle aimed at understanding how
restorative approaches can be responsive to rebuild community and repair relationships following
incidents of extreme violence. Participants in the circle were from a diverse range of communities,
including Milwaukee Police Department captain, Milwaukee Police Department chaplain, members
of the Milwaukee community, and police officers from the Middle East impacted by violent extrem-
ism. The advanced students pursued three capstone projects: (a) teaching the circle process to stu-
dents at a local school; (b) developing a preliminary framework for a new sophomore introductory
course; and (c) presenting on the positive the outcomes of the Alliance model to MPS assistant princi-
pals and staff from other schools. Additionally, the advanced students presented at and facilitated cir-
cles at an education conference at Harvard University.
Staff continued the use of circles to reflect on the challenges the community faced, address ten-
sions, and adopt a plan for the following year. Restorative approaches remained central in the plan
and it was determined that increased engagement in individual teachers' practice, by embedding
restorative approaches in more curriculum design, was a priority to support positive school climate
and increase school connectedness.
3.7 |Year 7 (20172018)
The focus of Year 7 was on achieving the following objectives. First, a primary objective was contin-
ued staff attention on the leadership transition through mapping new practices and ensuring policies
aligned with restorative values and approaches. This included further development of professional
development opportunities and evaluation processes at multiple levels. Second, Alliance concentrated
on the design and implementation of a successive three-course curriculum (sophomore, junior, and
senior). The sophomore course was designed as a coteaching model to support whole-school integra-
tion. Third, the intermediate and advanced courses supported the school through multitier interven-
tion circles. It should be noted that there had been a significant decline in repair-harm circles
requested when the administration initially assumed a greater role in addressing student conflict. This
became unsustainable as the year progressed and two important decisions resulted: (a) reassessment
of the 2011 discipline flow and (b) creation of trainings for parents interested in restorative
approaches. Fourth, Alliance developed a formal mentoring process for students in the sophomore
and junior courses. For example, senior students served as teaching assistants for the intermediate
course. Fifth, student collaboration with outside communities expanded. For example, senior students
collaborated with faculty from two institutions to cocreate and cofacilitate a workshop at Northwest-
ern University Pritzker School of Law.
4.1 |Sophomore year foundational course (entering the circle)
The foundational course is one semester and a requirement for all sophomores. Within the context of
whole-school implementation the course serves as an introduction to restorative principles, values,
and practices. Establishing both curricular and experiential foundations, it seeks to cultivate social
responsibility and connectedness within the Alliance and larger Milwaukee communities. The course
is an English Language Arts Elective and incorporates standards of Reading Literature, Reading
Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language. The course provides students
with practice in the writing process in such areas as prewriting, drafting, peer editing and responding,
and revising and editing.
The course follows a linear sequence. Students first explore texts of the Indigenous origins of
restorative practice, for example, Touching Spirit Bear (Mikaelsen, 2002), as well as seminal work
on circle practices (Pranis, 2007). Following English curriculum standards, students develop writing
skills, through synthesis of texts and drafting circle questions for first student community-building
circles. The sophomore students develop these circles based on first-year curriculum literary themes.
The course is taught using high-impact experiential frameworks, including circle processes. The cap-
stone project is centered on a social-justice issue of importance to them. The curricular goal of the
project is to bridge reflection and social action. To complete the project, students use a rubric and
project process codesigned with their teacher. This model facilitates authentic assessment of self and
others and teaches constructive feedback skills to promote academic growth.
4.2 |Junior year intermediate course (keeping the circle)
The second course is a 1-year elective. The prerequisites for admission are successful completion of
the introductory class, a willingness to participate fully, and recommendation by staff. The course is
capped at 15 students. The course is an English elective and incorporates the standards of Reading
Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language.
The course objective is to deepen understanding of the self and others, develop social conscious-
ness, connectedness, and emotional literacy skills. It also offers students the opportunity for leader-
ship skills development inside and outside the Alliance community. The course builds on
foundational knowledge gained in the introductory course. Writing assignments are designed to culti-
vate understanding of the necessary elements of a restorative school culture, using texts such as Life
Comes from It: Navajo Justice Concepts(Yazzie, 2005). Students actively participate in shaping
Alliance culture, by creating and facilitating community-building and repair-harm circles, circles for
new students, and quarterly school-wide circles based on themes relevant to the school community.
Further, they engage with the outside community by leading circle in schools, organizations, and at
conferences. By the end of the first semester, students are expected to collaboratively design and
implement projects that directly impact the school and local community. These projects incorporate
self and peer assessment, and revising and editing. This builds student awareness of personal respon-
sibility and agency.
4.3 |Senior year advanced course (continuing the work of the circle)
The third course is also a 1-year elective. The prerequisites for admission are successful completion
of the intermediate course, commitment to whole-school integration, a passion for teaching restor-
ative approaches, and recommendation by staff. The course is capped at 12 students. The course is a
Social Studies elective (with English Language Arts standards) and incorporates the standards for
Culture, Citizenship, Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening.
The advanced course emphasizes integrating student's reading, writing, and communication skills.
Similar to the introductory and intermediate courses the curriculum incorporates student-led projects.
During the design, implementation, and evaluation phases of the projects, students engage in self and
peer assessment. Additionally, students engage in prewriting, drafting, sharing, revising, and evalua-
tion, as well as develop analytical skills as a means to deconstruct language and communication. The
course structure is aimed at developing increased self-awareness, empathy, leadership skills, school
connectedness, and academic preparedness at three levels: teaching, mentorship, and applied practice.
The advanced students are core Alliance community leaders who facilitate complex, repair-harm cir-
cles, assume responsibility for development and facilitation of tier 3 student supports, and provide
assessment of the whole-school model. Additionally, they teach restorative approaches to other
young people and adults.
The Alliance case study affirms principle recommendations regarding the stages of implementation
(Kidde, 2017; Morrison et al., 2005) and reflects consistency with recommended investments, for
example, social capital, human resources, and financial support, necessary for whole-school uptake
(González, 2012; Morrison, 2007). However, the case study is not limited to affirming current theo-
retical understandings. Instead it fills a gap in the literature by presenting a 7-year descriptive analysis
of the diverse processes and outcomes of whole-school implementation, with special attention on a
new modelcurricular integration.
Consistent with other studies of whole-school implementation, the development of a restorative
culture at Alliance would not have been possible without commitment from the entire school commu-
nity, but in particular school leadership. The founder and lead teacher's trust in the members of the
community gave them the necessary freedom and resources to build a new model of restorative
approaches. She exemplified the ethos of leadership leads to empowerment, and empowerment leads
to leadership(Morrison et al., 2005, p. 341).
In the exploratory stage, this was marked by staff professional development, collaboration
between an outside practitioner and an Alliance teacher, alignment between the school's mission and
restorative approaches, development of a restorative discipline plan, student reflection and feedback,
and support for an integrated and credit-bearing course within the traditional curriculum. Further-
more, the designation of a teacher as the restorative school facilitator signaled the importance of and
commitment to a sustained and effective practice. The capacity of this teacher to embed restorative
approaches within Alliance cannot be overstated. She was essential to the initial development of Alli-
ance's model and its transition to whole-school implementation. She envisions her position in the
community through the lens of a circle keeper, assisting the group in maintaining a collective space,
rather than asserting expertise or gatekeeping over the community.
Considering the needs of multiple stakeholders and engaging them in exploration and develop-
ment of the whole-school model was also pivotal to cultivating the necessary community commit-
ment in moving forward. Given Alliance's mission of nonhierarchical leadership, staff and students
are continuously invited to engage in cocreation and participatory decision-making processes. This is
reflected in both practice and values. Alliance's long-term and ongoing commitment to restorative
approaches has been instrumental as normative change occurs gradually. Rather than designing a
programto fix a specific issue or create a singular outcome, Alliance has sought to develop a model
that plants restorative approaches at all levels of community. As such, there is no one central leader
or ownerof restorative approaches at Alliance. Instead, staff in the hallways, teachers in the class-
rooms, and students leading circles all represent leaders in the Alliance community. The decentraliza-
tion of power at Alliance aims to protect against restorative approaches ultimately replicating
oppression and marginalization by privileging some over others. It also alleviates pressures felt in
other models of whole-school implementation where practices are designated to a subset of teachers,
paraprofessionals or other staff becoming an add-onto existing professional requirements. In the
case of Alliance, student leadership of restorative approaches not only supported culture change, but
it also increased human capacity by adding practitioners within the school. Furthermore, at Alliance
restorative approaches are utilized to support individual and/or collective needs of teachers. By creat-
ing pathways for increased communication and healthier relationships among each other, not simply
applying restorative approaches in classroom management or discipline contexts, teachers at Alliance
are increasingly able to respond to the contemporary demands of teaching.
Alliance developed responsive and effective practices through three distinct ways: consistent
community-wide education about restorative values, skills, and practices; multitiered systems; and
the democratization of restorative approaches. As the case study indicates, Alliance's community-
wide education helped to establish shared grounding values and a normative conceptualization of
restorative approaches as a philosophy, a way of beingrather than a program or process (Kidde,
2017). The Alliance model is best characterized as consistent experiential learning inside and outside
the classroom. Whether reflected in regularized professional development opportunities for staff or
the sequenced courses, Alliance has adopted an adaptive model of circle practices aimed at engaging
community members at multiple levels. For example, rather than dictate how staff are to participate
with restorative approaches, Alliance leadership has respected individual needs and interests, and
supported individual growth. This has fostered organic growth of formal circle practice and informal
restorative approaches. Similarly, the content, project-based learning, and sequence and scope of the
courses have facilitated dynamic student and institutional learning. Alliance's mission, shared values,
and pedagogical philosophy have equipped it to more effectively respond to challenges and to adapt
in response to community needs.
Since 2011, Alliance has developed and refined the restorative approaches associated with pri-
mary, secondary, and tertiary interventions to address diverse levels of need. Primary tier interven-
tions include quarterly school-wide, community-building, classroom, and new student and parent
orientation circles. We submit that while not examined in other contexts, the integration of restorative
approaches directly into curriculum falls under the traditional definitions or frameworks associated
with primary tier interventions. Specifically, outcomes of the case study indicated the courses, inde-
pendently and in sequence, strengthen and affirm relationships, foster increased connectedness and
belonging, enhance agency and resilience, and promote positive social and emotional competencies.
At the secondary tier, interventions include repair-harm circles and circles to address specific con-
flicts, and circles for reintegration and individualized support represent the tertiary tier. Reliance on a
multitiered system has fostered an accepted whole-school community understanding, or value, that
everyone has access to and can participate in the restorative approaches best suited for them.
The multitier system has also institutionalized practices of deep community listening, enabling
the school to better respond to challenges, incidents, and needs as they arise since a supporting and
caring culture is already in existence. Further, Alliance has embraced conflict and feedback as key
instruments to advance positive change grounded in compassionate accountability. For example, in
Year 6, Alliance learned the importance of engaging in shared value assessment, positioning restor-
ative approaches as central to growth and transformation, and shifting systemic responses to best
adapt to environmental changes and community needs. In particular, Alliance found it critical to be
willing to challenge organizational structures that failed to align with core restorative values and
A distinctive feature of Alliance's model is the democratization of its restorative approach.
Restorative justice is characterized by the values of democracy and inclusion, which are exemplified
in practice (Pranis, 2007), yet often not realized in policy or practice. At Alliance, adults are not
viewed as the experts of restorative approaches. Instead, students assume significant leadership roles
in community building, repairing harm, teaching, and mentoring. The model of student-led restor-
ative approaches contributes to shared school norms, values, and expectations that support students
feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe. This is particularly important for the Alliance com-
munity given the student population. Further, this form of democratization of restorative justice
respects student autonomy and skills, allowing them to take responsibility for advancing the school's
restorative approaches. It also builds social capital and promotes positive school climate. At Alliance,
students, staff, and families work together to develop, live, and contribute to a shared school vision.
Student-led restorative approaches stand in sharp contrast to the dominant models where adults exclu-
sively monopolize facilitation and decision-making. A key lesson learned from Alliance is that the
democratization of the whole-school model not only embodies the restorative belief that values that
are modeled and nurtured in the process allow participants to access the best in themselves, to experi-
ence their inner strength(Pranis, 2007), but gives rise to stronger, healthier, and more responsive
school communities.
Alliance's innovative whole-school model of restorative approaches offers important insights into an
underexplored area in the field. As the case study illustrates, restorative approaches, curriculum, and
pedagogical practices are not mutually exclusive. In fact, at Alliance alignment of all three has led to
significant positive outcomes ranging from improved relationships to social emotional learning to
leadership and professional skills development. We posit, similar to Morrison and Vaandering
(2012), that Alliance's integration of restorative values, skills, and practices has established an institu-
tional environment that responds not only to incidents of aggression and harm, but also to all relation-
ships that occur in schools, including administrator interactions, policy decisions, teacher pedagogy
and curriculum, and professional and institutional development. From this perspective, we argue that
Alliance's model of restorative approaches fits squarely within an ecological framework aimed at
building new, and strengthening existing, relational capacities of all members of the community. We
believe it is important to emphasize that change at Alliance was not immediate. As the case study
indicates, shifting to a restorative and relational framework that occupies space at all levels of a
school community requires careful attention, consistent reflection, and a willingness to examine sys-
temic and individual practices that do, or do not, serve the needs of the community. As described in
other case studies, Alliance faced resistance to implementation. The process of overcoming such
challenges is iterative and the Alliance community continues to grow with each other.
Rather than focusing on particular rules to respond to discrete situations of dispute, the Alliance
model has reconceived ideas of relationality, healing, and justice. At a fundamental level, this article
challenges deeper exploration into the architecture of school-based restorative approaches. Given the
rapid rise of restorative approaches, new perspectives on the potential of whole-school approaches
are imperative. There are fresh questions to be asked by academics, educators, and practitioners alike
about how restorative justice, as a theory and a set of practices, can help to transform schools. In par-
ticular, we must examine how the interventions and systems put in place to support students do not
operate in a way that replicates structural oppression and marginalization.
Thalia González
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... Because RJ is grounded in the specific needs of communities, there is no single model for what RJ looks like in practice (Gardner, 2016;Lodi et al., 2021). In general, elements of RJ are rooted in indigenous practices that seek to repair harm to an interconnected community, instead of to punish and exclude harm doers (González et al., 2018;Ortega et al., 2016). In indigenous communities around the globe, RJ emerged as a way to prioritize the voices and experiences of those impacted by harm, and to make determinations about how to address that harm as a community (Dickson- Gilmore & La Prairie, 2005). ...
... Planning and using community circles as a classroom practice follows the recommendations of RJ scholars who call for elements of RJ to be incorporated into classroom curriculum (Gardner, 2016;González et al., 2018). The early and consistent use of circles can also mitigate the frustrations of teachers who are frustrated with RJ for its top-down implementation and its surface-level dealing with conflict (Livingston, 2021). ...
... To establish the value of the ritual space of community circles, circles should be run consistently and proactively, as a Tier 1 intervention (Raveche Garnett et al., 2020). To disrupt hierarchies of power and to develop student voice and agency, students should also be trained in how to lead circles as the process develops in the classroom (Gardner, 2016;González et al., 2018;Johnson & Johnson, 2012;Katic et al, 2020;Lustick, 2021). Edber, 2022 Purpose of the Paper The purpose of this paper is to guide teachers on how to implement circles effectively-from planning to leading-and on how to move from leading circles themselves, as adult facilitators, to training students to do so themselves. ...
Zero-tolerance discipline in schools has resulted in disproportionate referrals, suspensions, and expulsions for Black students, students with disabilities, and low-income students of color. Restorative Justice (RJ) seeks to intervene in these patterns by emphasizing community interconnectedness and a discourse of harm, accountability, and repair. Although RJ has been shown to increase school connectedness and decrease suspensions and expulsions, teachers and students using RJ (as a response to discipline issues) report varying degrees of satisfaction with the framework. Frustrations can include limited time and limited depth of conversations with students who have caused harm, so that root causes of behavior are not addressed or explored. Ultimately, if there is no sense of community or accountability established prior to harmful interactions, there is no justice to be restored. Community circles (a practice of ritualized egalitarian discussion) can establish the interconnectedness needed for RJ to be effectively practiced in schools. This paper instructs teachers and school staff how to plan, run, and train students to facilitate community circles in their classrooms.
... Some institutions employ these measures as isolated tools-for example, implementing community building circles once a week at the beginning of homeroom-though there has been increasing focus on the need for more comprehensive whole-school approaches (González et al., 2019). A whole-school approach entails various other efforts that move beyond a sole focus on student behaviour and interpersonal harm: considering dynamics and relationships among staff; not just implementing isolated procedures but also building a restorative environment; prioritizing all school community members' social-emotional wellbeing. ...
... The argument in favour of this holistic approach builds on core aspects of restorative justice: restoration inherently p. 114 entails a focus on relationships and an inclusive environment with more horizontal sharing of power. Importantly, in relation to students, this dynamic plays out by prioritizing student agency and leadership in restorative practices, including serving as facilitators and mediators and socializing younger students into the processes and values (González et al., 2019;Morrison, 2007;Morrison, et al., 2005). ...
... Building on this inclusive framework, whole-school models prioritize student leadership and development in the implementation and practice of restorative justice. For some schools, this involves teaching newer students, leading circles, or even linking the school environments into the community (González et al., 2019). This focus can deepen the potential impact of restorative practices as "leadership leads to empowerment, and empowerment leads to leadership" (Morrison et al., 2005, p. 341). ...
School-based restorative justice has been touted for creating more peaceful educational communities and changing disciplinary norms and outcomes. Its rise in schools is often framed as a response to the negative impacts of punitive environments and traditional, hierarchical structures in education. A developmental framework highlights other possible connections between positive peace and school-based restorative justice. The tools, lenses, and experiences of these young people in their education have the potential to lay the groundwork for young people to become active peacebuilders in their communities. This chapter details the potential of school-based restorative justice to contribute to pro-social, identity development that is oriented towards an agentic engagement in peace building. To make this case, the chapter makes theoretical connections between pieces of literature on restorative justice, peace, and development. We then present a case study to demonstrate these connections and argue for their further study. Specifically, we detail how one author’s experience of restorative justice in his K-12 education in Milwaukee, USA, served as a bridge for working as a community peacebuilder once he graduated. Building on the theoretical grounding and this case study, the chapter ends with areas for future investigation and the development of this potential connection.
... Destaca-se ainda que, quatro intervenções relatadas nos estudos revisados obtiveram resultados significativos, porém pequenos na redução do bullying, sendo estas pautadas nas práticas restaurativas e melhoria de habilidades sociais e emocionais (Bonell et al., 2018), baseadas em mudanças nos comportamentos dos espectadores (Desmet et al., 2018), capacitação dos professores (Sultana et al., 2018) ou no aumento de risco no playground (Farmer et al., 2017). Práticas voltadas à justiça restaurativa no ambiente escolar têm se ampliado na atualidade, especialmente com vistas à redução de práticas punitivas, melhoria da segurança escolar por meio do desenvolvimento de habilidades e intervenções voltadas à escola em sua totalidade (González et al., 2019). Entretanto, essa é uma abordagem com maior efetividade quando implementada em trabalho conjunto entre professores, equipe escolar, famílias e comunidade (González et al., 2019). ...
... Práticas voltadas à justiça restaurativa no ambiente escolar têm se ampliado na atualidade, especialmente com vistas à redução de práticas punitivas, melhoria da segurança escolar por meio do desenvolvimento de habilidades e intervenções voltadas à escola em sua totalidade (González et al., 2019). Entretanto, essa é uma abordagem com maior efetividade quando implementada em trabalho conjunto entre professores, equipe escolar, famílias e comunidade (González et al., 2019). Desmet et al. (2018) focalizaram a mudança positiva no comportamento do espectador de cyberbullying. ...
Full-text available
Existem lacunas no contexto latinoamericano no que se refere à divulgação resultados de intervenções antibullying na escola, desta forma, pretendeu-se analisar os resultados de ações para prevenção ou redução da ocorrência de bullying e cyberbullying. Trata-se de uma revisão sistemática da literatura. O levantamento bibliográfico ocorreu nas bases de dados LILACS, PsycINFO, SciELO, SCOPUS e Web of Science. Foram incluídos apenas ensaios clínicos randomizados no ambiente escolar. Um total de nove estudos foram incluídos na revisão, sendo avaliados como de alta qualidade metodológica. Esta revisão sintetiza conhecimentos obtidos com estudos realizados em diversos países, esclarecendo limitações e contribuições de programas experimentais voltados a estudantes, pais e equipe escolar, o que possibilita reflexões para futuras intervenções.
This chapter develops a foundational theoretical positioning for restorative justice in education, drawing extensively on peacebuilding, democratic citizenship, and relational theories. Democratic dialogue practices offer long-term, sustainable ways of developing and transforming human relationships, promoting the well-being of communities, and enhancing social justice. Restorative justice dialogue practices in schools (such as peacemaking circles) focus on two things: (a) improving justice and responsiveness in postincident conflict management interventions and (b) using proactive dialogic pedagogies that focus on changing the language and culture of classrooms and school communities to build peaceful communities. When teachers facilitate restorative circle dialogue processes, they teach how to discern and exchange viewpoints constructively, and, at the same time, their teaching becomes a pedagogy for learning other things, and for making peace by resolving interpersonal conflicts.
The field of restorative justice in education is gaining traction—many schools and school boards have mandated its integration. While practical training is available in various contexts and settings, its implementation varies. This chapter provides a comprehensive review of various approaches to implementation, including top-down, board-mandated training, contrasted with training provided by externally funded, community-based organizations. Drawing on research observations of a restorative justice professional development session for teachers, the chapter provides a detailed account of the kind of training teachers receive and, through post-training reflections, documents how teachers experienced that training.
To understand the factors that impact classroom application of restorative practice circles, this study asks, (1) how do educators apply restorative practices? and (2) what supports and barriers emerge during the daily application of restorative practices in schools? Guided by ecological systems theory and a mixed-methods approach, we use correlation analysis, ethnographic fieldnotes and interviews to demonstrate (1) significant associations between teacher circle constructs and how it impacts student circle constructs and overall circle quality, (2) the development of multifaceted support approaches for teachers, and (3) barriers in the daily minutia of restorative practices.
The goal of this chapter is to encourage a rapprochement between scholarship on children’s socio-moral development and the implementation of restorative initiatives in schools. To this end, we first review psychological research on children’s developing capacities that bear on their participation in restorative processes. We then review scholarship that may illuminate the potential benefits of youths’ participation in restorative initiatives towards intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of peace education. This chapter underscores children’s early receptivity to restorative justice as well as significant age-related developments in their perspectives on harm and needs, judgments of accountability, and viewpoints on the roles of authority figures and students in addressing harms. Scholarship also emphasizes that children simultaneously show orientations towards both restoration and retribution. In turn, research suggests various means whereby participation in restorative initiatives may meaningfully support children’s socio-moral development. We outline a variety of ways in which scholarship on socio-moral development can inform the design and implementation of restorative initiatives in schools, including careful attention to the context specificity of harms, as well as how children’s participation may need to be scaffolded in age-appropriate ways. Inasmuch as children are crucial actors and agents in the school community, it is important to consider the developmental capacities that may frame their engagement with restorative initiatives. In this respect, drawing on psychological scholarship can help support developmentally sensitive and child-centred approaches to restorative justice and peace education in schools.
This chapter describes three ways that restorative justice practices have been introduced in a large Midwestern urban school district in an effort to create more empathic and peaceful relationships among students and between students and teachers: (1) training teachers in restorative justice principles, (2) developing a formal class to teach students about restorative practices (RPs), and (3) integrating RPs for the whole school and teaching both students and teachers about restorative justice. The goals and potential benefits of and the obstacles to each approach and mixed-method data on program implementation and impact will be discussed. Study I surveyed teachers following training in RPs during required professional development. Study II evaluated the RP course using student self-reports, student focus groups, teacher focus groups, and classroom observations across seven schools. Study III examined RP implementation in a charter school using teacher and self-report measures and focus groups with staff and students. The data highlight the importance of administrative support for RP efforts, comprehensive training for teachers, and continuity in enrollment for successful RP implementation. Integrating restorative justice principles in schools can promote the development of trusting relationships and peaceful, supportive climates and has the potential to reduce the use of punitive forms of punishment. Diverse approaches to introducing restorative justice principles in a large urban school district underscore the potential benefits of RPs as well as the obstacles to their effective implementation.
This chapter describes the importance of restorative justice and peace education for addressing conflict and building a positive climate within schools. This approach has the potential to transform experiences for all school community members in ways that promote peace through relationship-centric social organization and end punitive systems of oppression that disproportionately disadvantage children of colour. This chapter reviews recent research on school climate and discipline to support the theoretical argument that restorative justice can promote peace by decreasing disorder and increasing equality through a culture of respect and care for all. Scholarship on the systemic impact of punitive discipline is reviewed, with a particular focus on how it deepens social injustice for youth of colour. When a whole-school approach to restorative justice is implemented, members of the school community have healthier and more harmonious experiences that are freer from oppression and conflict. Students experience greater academic success and psychological and emotional health. Additionally, their chances of being bullied or harmed are lower, and they are less likely to violate rules or laws. Given the value of equality in establishing peace and justice, it is particularly noteworthy that a restorative approach also produces fewer disparities between white students and those of colour. This chapter applies a peace-building perspective on the findings of prior research on school climate and discipline, concluding that restorative justice increases both positive and negative peace. Thus, researchers and practitioners should consider how peace education and restorative justice can be expanded in schools.
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A large urban district (N = 90,546 students, n = 180 schools) implemented restorative interventions as a response to school discipline incidents. Findings from multilevel modeling of student discipline records (n = 9,921) revealed that youth from groups that tend to be overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions (e.g., Black, Latino, and Native American youth; boys; and students in special education) had similar, if not greater, rates of participation in restorative interventions than their peers. First-semester participants in restorative interventions had lower odds of receiving office discipline referrals (OR .21, p \ .001) and suspensions (OR .07, p \ .001) in the second semester. However, the suspension gap between Black and White students persisted. Implications for reform in school discipline practices are noted.
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Gregory, Bell, and Pollock offer principles and practices to help schools move beyond punitive discipline and toward conflict prevention and intervention. They argue that eradication of disproportionate punitive disciplinary sanctions begins by engaging and motivating students before the conflict occurs. Their chapter details four guiding prevention principles and practices: culturally relevant and responsive teaching, supportive relationships, academic rigor, and respectful school environments with bias-free classrooms. Additionally, Gregory et al. suggest four equity-oriented principles and practices for conflict intervention: problem-solving approaches to discipline, inquiry into the causes of conflicts, inclusion of the student and family on causes of and solutions to conflicts, and reintegration of students post-conflict.
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The problems of mass incarceration and other criminal justice system failures in the United States—such as racial disparities, wrongful convictions, and high recidivism rates—have reached a tipping point. For the first time in decades, coalitions of politicians on the left and right are seeking criminal justice reform. What is the place of restorative justice in these efforts? What is the depth and breadth of restorative justice implementation? How familiar is the American public with restorative justice? How successful is the restorative justice movement? In this article, we seek answers to these questions as we try to assess the future of restorative justice in the United States.
The ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ now commonly refers to the impact of zero tolerance and other harsh exclusionary discipline policies on school suspensions and expulsions, especially felt among minority students of color in the United States. Abundant evidence now concludes that such students are suspended, expelled, disciplinarily referred and arrested at rates far exceeding either their representation in the population or that of their white peers. Restorative justice practices have emerged as an increasingly popular response to racial disparity in school discipline, supported by research, state and federal governmental initiatives. However, the capacity of restorative justice to limit the school-to-prison pipeline may remain unfulfilled unless it can disrupt current social-organizational structures that maintain racial inequity in institutional structures. This paper considers the effectiveness of restorative justice in schools as an alternative to overly punitive discipline policy and as a strategy for reducing racial disciplinary disparity. It then considers organizational and cultural impediments to implementing restorative justice to overcome racial disciplinary inequity for school-based youth and asserts that restorative justice must strive for more than incremental change inside existing systems.
Restorative Practices (RP) in schools is a new and emerging field. Meeting in Circles to build friendships, develop emotional literacy skills, resolve conflict, or learn interactively are some of the core components of these programs. This article describes a 2-year study of 12 weekly Talking Circles organized under the auspices of a RP program in an urban high school with 60 adolescent girls. Primary data sources included 257 hr of participant observations in Talking Circles and individual, semi-structured interviews with 31 students. The Relational Cultural model, rooted in the work of Jean Baker Miller, served as the conceptual framework for understanding teens’ interactions within the Circle’s unique set of social conditions in a school environment. Findings demonstrated that Talking Circles provided a safe space for peers helping peers, and that the girls improved their listening, anger management, and empathic skills, which led to greater self-efficacy. It appears that Talking Circles could provide another venue for developing social-emotional literacy skills and growth-fostering relationships in schools.