Restorative justice is a philosophy that maintains that all members of a community have a collective responsibility to develop and sustain positive relationships in order to prevent harm from occurring, and that when conflict does occur, it should be addressed in a way that focuses on the harm caused, rather than on the rule/law that was broken. Restorative justice says that those who are most affected by the incident must have a say in how the harm is addressed and repaired.

As you can see in the tree diagram below, restorative justice is a values-based philosophy rooted in dignity, trust, compassion, and respect. It is implemented using a variety of restorative practices, the goals of which are to strengthen relationships, promote accountability and healing, and encourage skill building. Some practices are preventative and based on building relationships, while others address healing and repairing harm that has already been caused.

A whole school approach requires commitment and involvement from all stakeholders in all areas of school life. While a whole school approach is needed to transform school culture, this guide focuses on the role of the teacher in that transformation. Even if there isn’t buy-in yet from all the stakeholders in your school, beginning to implement a restorative approach at the classroom level can have a powerful impact on students’ interactions with one another.

Alternatives, Inc. began its restorative justice work in 1996 at Senn High School with a group of youth who felt that students should have a voice in the school discipline system. This occurred soon after the passing of zerotolerance discipline policies and students were being suspended in high frequency for interpersonal conflicts and minor behavior issues that stemmed from strained student- teacher relationships. The students knew that suspensions did not effectively resolve the underlying issues, and felt that if they could talk peer-to-peer with the students in conflict they might be able to come to a better understanding of the issue and a solution that kept the students in school. Thus, Alternatives, Inc.’s Restorative Justice Program and first Chicago school-based Peer Jury were created. Since that time, Alternatives, Inc. has partnered with CPS to provide professional development, technical assistance, and youth programming to schools.