Committee for Children Blog

Just Schools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice

by Belinda Hopkins
Reading Level: Adult

One of the most important concepts in Belinda Hopkins’s Just Schools is that any community—whether it’s a family, school, or criminal justice system—can change the way its members interact with one another so that they begin to deal with conflict in a socially inclusive manner. Hopkins believes that the same skills and values underpin all restorative practice.

In her easy-to-use handbook, she lays out the history of and foundation for the use of restorative practice, and then moves on to provide guidance to schools that aim to become “listening” schools: that is, communities where empowerment, communication, and repair are key elements to all interpersonal relationships. The final section will be particularly helpful to educators who are weary of, as Hopkins herself calls it, the “flavour of the month” in school innovations. In this section she addresses, with impeccable practicality, implementation and sustainability.

“A restorative response,” Hopkins writes, “with its focus not on blame, punishment and alienation but on repair and re-connection, encourages a wrongdoer to take responsibility for the harm they have caused, and gives them an opportunity to repair the harm. Empathy is developed, accountability is encouraged and the outcome can help both wronged and wrongdoer feel better about themselves and the other person.”

Traditional Approach

Using a traditional approach of blame and punishment, as many schools have done, the response to a situation of conflict or wrongdoing would be for the adults in charge to ask:

  • What happened?
  • Who is to blame?
  • What is the appropriate punishment?

Restorative Model

In a similar school setting using, however, the whole-school restorative model, the questions would be slightly different and would generate a profoundly different outcome, according to proponents of this approach:

  • What happened?
  • Who has been affected and how?
  • How can we put right the harm?
  • What have we all learned so as to make different choices next time?

In Just Schools, educators are encouraged to work toward the social goal of fostering community and trust in the classroom, using games and activities such as “classroom conferencing” to develop self-esteem, communication skills, and cooperation among all members of the school community.

Photocopiable sheets, straightforward diagrams, checklists, questionnaires, case studies, and plenty of references and useful contacts make Just Schools an excellent resource for educators seeking to improve the way they and their schools address conflict. Hopkins, herself a former teacher, brings theory to practice with this well-written, step-by-step guide to whole school restorative justice.