U-32 has been working to allow for members of the school community to resolve their own conflicts, with support, through use of restorative practices. Much of the work of restorative practices is based in building community through proactive circles in TAs and classrooms. When there is a conflict, however, restorative circles are used to allow participants the opportunity to resolve the conflict and repair the harm.
Recently, as part of a class I am taking in Restorative Practices, I read an article from The British Journal of Criminology on Conflict (Christie, 1977). The article discussed the social consequences of criminology - indicating that the justice system has taken on the ownership of conflict. Unfortunately, the consequence of having a legal system with lawyers that take on conflicts on behalf of clients means that the clients themselves may never truly have resolution, the perpetrator may never have to actually take responsibility for their actions, and the victim may never feel they had closure.
For students at U-32, conflict is often mislabeled as bullying or harassment by parents, staff and students. There are many reasons for this, however, by seeking to avoid that conflict, administrators have been asked to take conflict off the hands of their students. What has been lost in a system where conflict is taken on by others? The opportunity to resolve the conflict. Yes, our system allows for punishment, but it doesn't always allow for those involved in the conflict to learn either strategies for resolution or reasons to avoid making the same mistake again. Part of the goal of bringing restorative practices to U-32 has been to provide a facilitated process through which students can learn conflict resolution.
There is a reason for every action and it is important that the reasoning is heard, just as the impact of those actions are made clear. This can’t be accomplished in a system that does not allow the voices from both sides of the conflict to be involved in its resolution. Ensuring that all voices is heard is based on the "belief that a more personalised meeting between offender and victim would lead to reduced recidivism." (Christie, 1977, p.9) If the victim and offender are not given the opportunity to resolve the conflict, a few things happen, the offender, has lost both the opportunity to take responsibility and to be forgiven. In cases where a victim does not have the opportunity to face the offender, the victim is often removed from the case, sometimes in an attempt at protecting them and they rarely come to know the offender or have the opportunity to understand what happened or to hear that person to take responsibility for their actions, which often results in the victim going "away more frightened than ever." (Christie, 1977, p8).