Why We Need a Restorative Approach After COVID-19 School Closures

by | Aug 9, 2021


The last school year was devastating for schools and communities everywhere. We witnessed a string of violent tragedies, including deadly instances of excessive police force against Black persons; acts of hatred toward the Asian American community; and an insurrection at the US Capitol… All during the middle of a global health pandemic that left us isolated in our homes. As we transition into a new state of normalcy, school leaders should consider how a restorative approach to behavioral management can benefit students, teachers, and communities.

What is Restorative Justice in Education (RJE)?

In our recent article about how principals can practice restorative justice at their schools, we explain that “Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) practices offer a more equitable, proactive alternative to “zero-tolerance” discipline policies. Rather than simply punishing students for behavioral issues, restorative justice aims to help students develop constructive habits and understand how their behavior impacts others.” When school leaders apply a restorative approach to their school-wide behavior plan, they implement:

  • Clear expectations for behavioral norms, goals, and disciplinary procedures that all teachers and students can understand.
  • A collaborative culture, where all faculty and staff share ownership of the responsibility to support students’ individual behavior needs.
  • A Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework provides three tiers of behavioral supports to meet students’ different needs.
  • A Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum helps students learn and practice positive behaviors related to the five main areas of SEL: Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
  • Targeted professional development, informed by evidence-based practices, to help teachers learn and practice restorative justice strategies.

Learn more about how RJE promotes positive student outcomes.

Why Schools Need a Restorative Approach After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Educational research has already proven the benefits of implementing Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) within your school or district. Now, education leaders want to emphasize the urgent need for a restorative approach following the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are 3 benefits to adopting a restorative approach in the 2021-2022 school year:

  1. Students become more resilient during challenging times.

Education researchers are still collecting evidence about how widespread school closures have affected students’ wellbeing and learning. But we know anecdotally that COVID-related school closures caused traumatic experiences for vulnerable students who were suddenly left without adequate supports for their academic, physical, and emotional wellness. Fortunately, educators have the ability to facilitate a positive transition back to school by nurturing supportive relationships with students. The Learning Policy Institute shares that “[r]esearch emerging from the science of learning and development shows positive, supportive relationships build strong brain structure and buffer against adverse experiences.” A restorative approach to building relationships with students promotes greater resilience than a punitive approach. Not only do students feel more confident and safe when they have trusting relationships with teachers; RJE also helps students learn skills that help them thrive, even in the face of tough circumstances.

  1. Students achieve greater academic achievement and are more engaged in learning.

The RJE approach to behavioral management recognizes that students’ resilience skills and academic performance are closely intertwined. Cantor et. al. find that student learning is significantly impacted both by internal factors “including…well-developed habits, skills, and mindsets; and motivational and metacognitive competencies” and by environmental factors “including positive developmental relationships; environmental conditions for learning; cultural responsiveness; and rigorous, evidence-based instructional and curricular design”. The proactive nature of RJE allows educators to have a positive influence on the internal and environmental factors that impact student learning. In fact, the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition reports, “The benefits of using restorative practices include, but are not limited to better problem solving, reduced recidivism, improved educational achievement, socio-emotional growth, and increased community interconnectedness.” To learn more about how you can boost student achievement with a restorative approach, check out our five tips for principals to implement RJE.

  1. Schools offer more equitable supports to all students, including those from traditionally underserved populations.

An effective RJE strategy includes professional development to help teachers better understand the diverse needs of students from different cultural backgrounds. Educators are trained to identify and address internal biases that impact their relationships with students. They learn new, evidence-based strategies to provide extra supports for students who need them. RJE practices also help school leaders recognize and replace discriminatory discipline policies with more equitable, restorative practices. Consider exclusionary discipline practices, which rely on expulsions and suspensions to punish bad behavior: These policies have proven to be disproportionately harmful to students of color, students in the LGBTQ+ community, and students with disabilities. Through RJE, school leaders shift away from discriminatory policies and instead develop culturally responsive procedures that promote positive behaviors and learning for all students. This equitable, inclusive approach is especially needed following the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2017 Brookings report indicates that traditionally underserved student groups, including students from low-income households and English Language Learners (ELLs), are experiencing greater COVID-related learning loss than their more privileged counterparts. More than ever before, school leaders must prioritize educational equity to accelerate student learning.

Training Teachers to Use a Restorative Approach in School Discipline

School administrators may lead the process of developing a Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) strategy for a school, but teachers are responsible for implementing a restorative approach in the classroom. School leaders must provide ongoing, job-embedded training to help teachers apply restorative practices to their work. Administrators can support teachers by scheduling regular professional development sessions during normal work hours; conducting teacher observations to provide constructive feedback, and creating collaborative development opportunities through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Next Steps: How to Implement Restorative Justice in Your School

Although it’s impossible to transition to a restorative approach overnight, you can take steps toward building a Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) strategy today. First, we recommend scheduling a free call with one of our educational leadership experts to talk about your school’s challenges. Every member of the CSAS consulting team is a seasoned educational leader, so we’ve been in your shoes! We would be honored to partner with your team to develop a plan for school improvement. If you’re not ready for a call, please feel free to send us a detailed email instead. Next, we’ve curated some articles that can help you learn about evidence-based leadership strategies based on restorative practices:

Finally, reach out for support during your planning process. Many school districts and states offer restorative justice resources for school leaders, and a consultant from CSAS can help you customize a RJE strategy that is responsive to your community’s unique needs. Contact us anytime to get hands-on support.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *