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Restorative Justice in Schools
I am very excited to have this opportunity to write about my on-going experiences with working with Restorative Justice (RJ) in schools. I was first introduced to RJ more than eight years ago while working as a vice-principal at the Brookside Secondary School – housed in a Youth Detention Facility in Cobourg, Ontario. From there, I continued my interest in the philosophy in secondary schools in Bowmanville, North Bay and now as Principal in a grade 7 and 8 school in Burk’s Falls, Ontario. What is most interesting to me in practicing RJ in schools is the struggle that people have – adults in the school, students and parents have with coming to understand that the status quo reaction of punishment when challenging behavior is a moot point in the process.
For most – when asked why punishment works, they are unable to articulate the foundation upon which this theory of supporting students works. For a few – and very adamant in their fervor, give a clear example of how they were punished in the past and the long lasting impact this made on their schooling, family life and experience in the world. They explain that ‘fear’ motivates, that this keeps everyone in line and a school without such measures will breed an unruly school where the students will wreak havoc on each other and the teachers. My personal experience as an administrator in a number of schools in Ontario differs from this notion and supports the idea that students already know what is right and wrong and while they make errors in judgment – we need to allow them to stumble along maturing with our guidance and support – understanding that our modeling of the manner in which we (as adults) exercise our authority speaks great volume and to invite their voices in the process of building their self-esteem and characters. While this takes time and a willingness to give over power – the results are positive and rewarding.
Principal Senior Elementary School
Burks Falls, Ontario