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The Value of Restorative Justice

Effective leadership is the foundation for successful learning in schools, with the school principal playing a central role as a change agent. BRIDGE supports and capacitates school principals in their roles as instructional leaders in order to improve school functionality and enable productive teaching and learning.

Principals Upfront is a series of public dialogues addressing the leadership role of school principals and giving principals a voice and a platform to share working practice and information about different facets of school leadership. It is a partnership between BRIDGE, The Catholic Institute for Education, Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership & Governance, Sasol and the Wits School of Governance

Dialogue 10, which focused on implementing restorative approaches to school discipline as a way of making schools safe environments for learning, was held on 26 July 2018 at the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance.

Although corporal punishment was abolished in South African schools in 1994, it continues to be practised. Punitive discipline damages the relationship between teacher and learner, creates a climate of fear and resentment and obstructs effective teaching and learning. It also encourages the use of violence as a way of dealing with conflict. Restorative justice offers an alternative that focuses on repairing the harm caused by inappropriate behaviour, rather than assigning blame and punishment. The process of restorative discipline encourages accountability and fosters a peaceful, respectful atmosphere for teaching and learning.

Restorative justice started in New Zealand in the criminal justice system when Maori elders called for a different way of dealing with young men who broke the law. Offenders, they felt, should not be sent to prison – instead they had to be accountable to the community by taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions and helping to put right the harm they had caused. From there the restorative justice approach spread to other First Nations people in Australia and Canada, and has since been picked up by school communities in the UK and USA.

Anne Baker from CIE shared with the audience their approach to restorative justice. The CIE’s journey to understand the issues and help schools become safe places for teaching and learning revealed that many of these aspects still have influence today. Many adults who experienced corporal punishment as children view it as ‘normal’ – but we are now living in the 21st century and understand more about the long-term detrimental effects of violence on children. At the same time many teachers report feeling disempowered without corporal punishment. The process of disciplinary hearings is also felt to be negative, with high levels of damaging antagonism being generated and dignity being lost on both sides.

“Conflict resolution and restorative justice is not an event but a process – it is something you grow into and the more you do it the more it becomes second nature.” Oscar Apollis (Chief Education Specialist, Western Cape Education Department)

Lessons for transitioning from a retributive to a restorative approach:

– The move towards restorative practices takes time as people need to build a deeper understanding. Reflective action learning, using a continuous cycle of reflecting, distilling the lessons and applying them, has proven effective.

– Role playing of conferencing effectively gives people a glimpse of the alternative to punitive processes.

– Learners enthusiastically embrace the use of trained peer mediators.

– One-minute conversations, during which the principal gives the staff member complete, present attention, are effective in developing positive relationships.

– While corporal punishment continues to be used in homes, children will be more likely to use violence themselves – so actively partnering with parents to reduce violence in the home is an important part of the transition.

– In place of an imposed code of conduct which has fixed rules for transgression, rather involve the learners in developing an agreed set of classroom behaviours and standards

– And finally, restorative processes encourage the development of several important 21st century competencies such as creativity, collaboration and communication.

To read more on this event and restorative justice, please click here