Restorative Justice (RJ) is an approach toward discipline that focuses not on punishment for misdeeds, but has an accent on helping the persons involved to take responsibility for what they’ve done and then helping them fix any harm they have created. It is a radically different way of handling the mistakes that people make and requires a paradigm shift in a person’s and in an institution’s thinking.
Two programmatic examples of this approach are the 100% Respect Campaign and the New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDOE) Pilot School Project in RJ.
Our initial foray into Social-Emotional Education occurred more than a decade ago. When Matthew was the Dean of Students at East Side Community High School in New York, NY, he developed this program. This campaign saw every adult and young person cooperatively develop behavioral guidelines for themselves and then work to hold each other accountable. Over a number of years suspensions fell dramatically and students and teachers improved their interpersonal dynamics and academic achievement. The school is now a beacon of excellence and increased social-emotional maturity.
The key to this effort is the Defining Respect Activity (DRA). This takes place in Advisory Class and Faculty Meetings where all students and staff define what they feel respectful behavior should look like in three categories: Student to Student, Student to Staff, and Staff to Student. Once all ideas are compiled, Student RESPECT Reps (SRRs) and Staff RESPECT Advisors (SRAs) synthesize these into three sets of behavioral guidelines. At Town Hall Meetings, these guidelines are presented, clarified and ratified.
The difficult stage is implementation of these guidelines. RJ Practices, such as Peer Mediation, the No Excuses (NoXQZz) Mediation, and Harm Circles are used to hold everyone accountable.
More recently, CCCS was hired by the DOE to help 18 schools with high suspension rates move from a punitive discipline paradigm to one that embraces RJ Principles and Practices. Led by former classroom teacher, Asst. Principal and Dean of Students, Matthew Guldin, these schools have lowered their suspension rates by 35% within the first full year of the program. Both staff and students are learning to employ restorative practices.
There are a number of factors essential to this process. First is having an RJ Coordinator in each school. This person's role is to facilitate the formation of a Restorative Justice Action Team (RJAT) composed of principals, deans, counselors and classroom teachers. Once up and running the RJAT will increasingly become the driving force that will be leading each school in the transition from a retributive disciplinary approach to a restorative one.
Of course, developing authentic student leadership is extremely important to the success of the project and in many schools our RJ coordinators are collaborating with their schools’ counselors to start peer mediation programs. In schools that are doing the 100% RESPECT! Campaign, a group of young leaders called Respect Reps (RRs) reside at the heart of the Campaign.
Finally, it has proven essential to have each school’s principal on-board as she/he sets out the path that her/his school will follow. Toward this end, Matthew works directly with his principals individually and in groups supporting them in leading this effort to make cultural change.
In this interview, Matthew Guldin describes the background of the 100% RESPECT! Campaign, its roots in Social and Emotional Learning as well as the Restorative Justice Movement, and its relation to his lifework in education.