What is Restorative Justice in Education?

Defining Restorative Justice in Education (RJE)

The following concepts articulated by Katharine Evans and Dorothy Vaandering in The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education.

The phrase restorative justice in education encompasses a variety of terms including restorative practices, restorative measures, restorative culture and restorative discipline. But if we look at the definitions of justice, restorative, and education, we can see how this phrase incorporates all of these terms and clarifies the concept.

Justice includes the idea of fairness and genuine respect for people, honoring the inherent worth of all. Social justice is all about equity: respecting the dignity and the rights of all people. Judicial justice is understood mainly as a response to harm or crime, which ultimately is about the harm caused to people and their relationships to one another and to their community.

Restorative in connection to both social and judicial justice, describes how an individual’s or group’s dignity, worth, and interconnectedness will be nurtured, protected, or reestablished in ways that will allow people to be fully contributing members of their communities.

Education, from the Latin word educare meaning “to lead out, to draw out,” includes learning in all contexts—from the classroom to the streets, from our experiences in life to nature to the books and movies that shape our perspectives. It seeks to empower learners of all ages to live to their full capacity and potential.

Creating Restorative Culture

To create a restorative culture in schools and classrooms in accordance with the philosophy of RJE means to:

“intentionally work at facilitating learning communities that nurture the capacity of people to engage with one another and their environment in a manner that supports and respects the inherent dignity and worth of everyone.” ¹

The culture of a school is created by people according to their beliefs and values. The core beliefs of restorative justice are that all human beings are worthy and interconnected. People need to belong and desire to be connected to others in a good way. Evans and Vaandering have identified that these core beliefs are supported by three key universal values:

  • Respect: (re: again; spect: to look): “To look again” from the point of view of the other; to put one’s self in the other’s shoes and then respond.
  • Dignity: Worth that cannot be substituted. People have dignity because the essence of who they are cannot be replaced.
  • Mutual concern: Much more than a common concern, mutual concern is reciprocal, interconnected caring.²

Contained within these three are a variety of other values that people will identify depending on their needs and experience. Trust, honesty, open-mindedness, courage and kindness to name a few, but all contained within the deeper core values of treating others with respect, recognizing and honoring one another’s dignity, and being connected to one another through mutual concern. To create a restorative culture is about creating just and equitable learning environments where all students and staff are acknowledged and accepted for who they are.

¹ The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education. Katherine Evans and Dorothy Vaandering. Published by Good Books, 2016. p. 8

² The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education. Katherine Evans and Dorothy Vaandering. Published by Good Books, 2016. p. 32-33