By Mary Skillings M.ED
Like many school districts across the country, the philosophy and practices of Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) have been introduced to you during the past few years. For purposes of communication, we have had to attach labels and definitions to something that essentially is simply a healthy way for human beings to be in relationship with one another. Restorative Justice recognizes two core, fundamental truths about human beings. First of all that we all have worth and value simply because we exist. We are beings who hold within us the spark of the Divine. Secondly, we are all interconnected – we are wired to be in relationship with others –we are connected to all that exists. Therefore, Restorative Justice also recognizes our shared human values for living well together – Respect, Kindness, Courage, Love, Compassion, Forgiveness.
If we accept these core truths, and if we explore together our shared values, we also become more keenly aware of how much we struggle to consistently live in accordance with our shared values. We can see how out of balance we become in terms of honoring the inherent dignity not only of others, but even of ourselves. We mess up all those interconnections we have with others. The Restorative Justice philosophy provides tools to help us restore balance within ourselves, and with those with whom we are connected.
Bringing Restorative Practices into the schools is like bringing in the ingredients that will balance the soil in a garden. Seeds and plants do not automatically thrive just because we stick them in the dirt. The soil has to hold the nutrients the plants need. The soil has to be aerated and hold moisture. When the soil is depleted, compacted, or dry as dust… we must tend to it. We do so, and then the plants grow. The heathier the soil, the stronger and healthier the plants, ones that will bear an abundance of sweet smelling flowers and delicious fruit and vegetables.
What we have labeled Restorative Practices is simply a term attached to information and skills to aid you in creating a healthy culture in your classroom – “soil” in which you, your colleagues and your students will thrive. RJE is about adjusting our attitudes. It’s about bringing our hearts fully online with our heads. It’s about loving and respecting ourselves – because we teach who we are. It’s about loving these noisy children spilling into the halls and classrooms – loving them first before we try to teach them reading and math, science or art.