United Nations Roundtable on Restorative Pedagogy

Last month, I was honored to be invited to be part of a roundtable on Restorative Pedagogy hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Here is a description of the roundtables from the UNODC press release.

“From criminology, psychology and political studies degrees, to university courses for the social workers, lawyers and schoolteachers of the future, restorative justice and restorative practice increasingly appear on higher education curricula. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Education for Justice (E4J) initiative recognises the importance of restorative justice, and has developed a module to promote and strengthen its teaching in higher education institutions globally.

Further recent developments in restorative justice teaching in higher education include the publication of The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools (Pointer, et al., 2020) and a corresponding website, and efforts by academics in Ireland and Australia to encourage their colleagues from around the world and across different disciplines to share restorative justice syllabi.

While many collaborations and discussions focus on restorative justice research, few seek to bring the field together around its teaching in universities. In light of this, Dr. Wendy O’Brien (UNODC, E4J) and Dr. Ian Marder (Maynooth University Department of Law) co-organised a series of three online roundtables to enable those who teach restorative justice and restorative practice in higher education to learn from each other’s experiences of doing so.

These roundtables took place in mid-May 2020, involving around 70 academics from 30 countries. Each session began with a welcome from Dr. O’Brien who introduced participants to the tertiary component of E4J and the University Module Series on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Next, Jee Aei (Jamie) Lee from the UNODC Justice Section shared information about the publication of the revised UNODC Handbook on Restorative Justice Programmes. The roundtables were then dedicated to discussions on different themes related to teaching restorative justice in universities. These discussions were chaired by Dr. Marder who used restorative practices to give everyone present an opportunity to speak.”

 

 

The Power of Restorative Justice Education

Learning about restorative justice changed my life. I remember vividly the first time I read The Little Book Restorative Justice when it was assigned in a Nonviolence class at Colorado College. I sat up in my dorm room bed underlining almost every line and drawing big stars in the margins. I was so excited to have found an alternative approach to justice that could work to create peace in the wake of harm in so many different contexts. It was the first time I had really asked myself, “What is justice? And how is it best achieved?” From that moment and the discussions in class that followed, my trajectory was set. I knew that I needed to do this work. I knew that I needed to be part of the restorative justice movement.

Restorative justice course offerings at universities are expanding, but not as quickly as they need to be. With each person who learns about restorative justice, we gain the insight of their unique life experiences and the creative applications of the restorative philosophy they may imagine.

Last month, I taught a Master’s level course on Restorative Justice at Boise State University. The students were all intelligent, compassionate individuals with backgrounds in mediation and conflict resolution. The class was a true pleasure to teach. This was the first time any of the students had engaged with restorative justice. To many, it was an entirely new concept. They were as excited as I was when I first learned about this powerful work.

Their primary assignment was to complete a reflection, applying the “Restorative Lens” to a situation in their lives. This could be an issue they were facing at work or in university, with family or friends, in a volunteer role, or anywhere else. They could also pick an issue from the news or a local problem. The students were asked to view the issue though the philosophical framework of restorative practices, focusing on the three restorative questions: 1) What happened? 2) Who was affected? 3) What is needed to repair the harm and make things right?

If possible/appropriate, in addition to thinking about the issue through a restorative lens, the students could also apply restorative practices to addressing the issue. I invited them to consider facilitating a Restorative Justice Conference or a Circle with the individuals involved.

In grading these assignments, it was wonderful to see how the students were applying restorative practices in their contexts and seeing great results. One of the students who works at a school was able to prevent a student from being suspended by offering a restorative process. Another student held a circle with two family members about a painful family matter and reflected that it was the first time she had really listened to her parent. One student who works at a homeless shelter was able to use the circle structure with residents at the shelter. Two people talked about using a restorative approach to resolving harms in their workplaces. The university ombudsman reflected on a past suspension of a student that still haunts him and imagined “What if?” restorative justice had been an option. He shared that this one course will change how he does his job.

Restorative justice education is powerful. When we share restorative justice with a group of passionate, driven, capable students in a way that is inspiring, interactive, and empowering, we begin a positive ripple of impact. In restorative justice, we talk a lot about the ripple of harm from an offense. In restorative justice education, we see a more positive and transformational ripple. In each person who learns about restorative practices, a seed in planted, and they carry the knowledge with them into all of their interactions and decisions in their work, personal life, and wider community. They become messengers, sharing restorative justice with more people. The ripples of restorative justice education are expansive and powerful.