The Importance of Restorative Justice Practices

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Restorative Justice (RJ) practices are not new. Though America has only been instituting RJ practices in schools and justice systems for the past few decades, indigenous people across the world have been using RJ practices for much longer. The basis of RJ practices is understanding the need for relationships in addressing negative behavior and promoting group harmony. Rather than punishing negative behavior, RJ practices seek to repair the harm caused by the behavior and repair the relationships that were damaged in the process.


At Gateway High School, we believe that students deserve to attend a school with faculty who focus on them and help them grow. During the 2019-2020 school year, the Gateway High leadership team shifted the focus from punishing negative behavior to helping students learn from their negative choices. Now, we focus on building relationships that foster a positive school environment. Teachers get to know their students, and the relationships formed encourage productive conversations amongst the classes. Studies have found that students in schools using RJ practices reported feeling that their teachers were more respectful towards them than their teachers at previous schools. This helped the students become more open to learning new conflict resolution techniques. At Gateway High School, we pride ourselves on treating our students with the respect they deserve and teaching them to treat others in the same way.


Two goals of restorative justice practices:


Developing empathy

  • By implementing RJ practices, we have shifted our focus from calling out negative behavior to building relationships between students. As relationships strengthen, students are encouraged to think through their actions and develop empathy for their peers. Students learn that seeing things from someone else’s perspective is key to understanding the implications of their actions. By developing empathy, students think through the impact of their actions and the ways that they can repair the harm that they may have caused.


Developing ownership

  • Rather than focus on punishing negative behavior, we use restorative practices to bring the victim and the aggressor together along with supportive peers to address the underlying issues and form solutions. Students learn to take ownership for their actions without placing blame on others. They also get the chance to take ownership of their feelings. Students are encouraged to own their actions, own their feelings, and own their role in rectifying the situation.


Studies have shown that strict methods of school disciple, such as the out-of-school suspension policies that were previously in effect at Gateway High school, are ineffective in promoting student success. According to the American Psychological Association, there is no clear evidence that such zero-tolerance policies positively affect student outcomes. Instead, they found that those policies often conflict with the current best practices regarding student development.

When students are sent home on suspension, they miss valuable time at school, and their grades suffer. In-school suspensions create a negative school culture and underutilize school staff. In either situation, punishing negative behavior without addressing the issues directly does not benefit our students or our school. When our students are not successful, our school is not successful.


When our students have a supportive place to make mistakes and learn, they are more likely to flourish both in the classroom and at home. This does not mean that negative behaviors are swept under the rug or left unaddressed. It means that those behaviors are addressed with a proven approach that shows respect to everyone involved in the situation and that looks to a community-based solution. At Gateway High School, we are proud of the strides that we have taken to improve our students’ success over the past two years, and we are looking forward to continuing that work in the future.

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