The restorative justice process allows all parties to be heard and to help decide what needs to happen next so they can move on from the conflict situation. It empowers the participants to be part of the decision-making and the solution.
Our school’s restorative justice programme was developed in 2013 with the help of Youth Justice Lawyer and Restorative Justice Facilitator Helen Bowen.
A restorative approach asks four key questions:
1. What has happened?
The teacher draws a circle within a circle, and asks all involved to name the problem. The teacher writes the problem (for example, X wouldn’t let Y join in a game) in the inner circle, emphasising the problem, not the person. The teacher asks the students how the problem they voiced makes them feel. Victim/s are asked to contribute first, then others. Feelings are written outside the circle.
2. Who has been affected?
The names of all people affected are recorded on the sheet. There may be a number and it will include the name of the teacher undertaking the restorative chat. When all the effects have been explored the teacher draws another circle beside the first circle and asks “What else do we know about X that does not involve this problem?” (for example, X is a good rugby player…). X is asked which circle he prefers to see himself in, and chooses the circle with his positive qualities listed.
3. How can we help those affected to find a way forward? What can we do to address the harm?
Teacher asks the harmed/victims what they would like to see happen (consequences for X). These are noted on the paper. Teacher asks X if he agrees or has other ideas. These are recorded, along with how X can be supported with making amends, who will supervise this process and what the timeframe should be.
4. How can we do things differently next time?
The teacher asks all the participants what changes they are going to make in their behaviour so that the incident is not repeated. This ensures the students learn from the experience. The recorded details are then shown to everyone, and when everyone is satisfied they are a true and correct record, they are signed by all participants. The teacher keeps this document for future reference.
This process has been highly successful within many classes. The students are listened to and heard, it is problem-focussed not person-focussed and the students come up with their own solutions and ways forward. It is empowering for all participants and ensures students are taking responsibility for themselves. These are skills that build life-long learners and great citizens.