The Pedagogy

Restorative practices offer teachers new skills and a mindset to build authentic, student-centered, nurturing classroom environments.

Restorative Justice is a Decolonial Pedagogy Grounded in Indigenous Practices and Values.

Decoloniality denotes “the ways of thinking, knowing, and doing that began with, but also precede, the colonial enterprise and invasion” and requires engagement with  culturally-diverse knowledges.”

-Walsh, 2018, p. 17

Changing paradigms

It’s all about restorative justice.

Today’s educators are facing unprecedented challenges in the classroom. Yet, the paradigms that have framed the purpose of K-12 education have remained unchanged for over 150 years. It is apparent that traditional pedagogies have failed to cultivate the nurturing environments that center student wellbeing.

Restorative justice, grounded in Indigenous and African world views, offers pedagogical practices to guide teachers in dismantling social oppression within the classroom. Further, restorative justice offers teachers practical, nurturing, and community-centered classrooms that create space for all students and teachers to be authentically themselves.

The sections below present restorative justice in education including:

  1. An overview of the whole-school model of implementation.
  2. A presentation of three key restorative pedagogies that teachers can implement in their classrooms: the community-building circle, critical dialogue, and transformative practice.

Consonant with African and Indigenous communitarian values, restorative justice is profoundly relational and emphasizes bringing together everyone affected by wrongdoing to address the needs and responsibilities and to heal the harm to relationships and the community… While often mistakenly considered only a reactive response to harm, restorative justice is also a proactive relational strategy to create a culture of connectivity where all members of the community thrive and feel valued.

-Fania Davis, 2019, p. 19


Restorative pedagogies are practices that teachers can use to facilitate learning in the classroom. These pedagogies “promote critical thinking, writing, and communication skills, encourage identity development and engagement in education, and function as a means to deconstruct whiteness, work towards decolonizing classrooms, and make culturally sustaining and critical pedagogies a priority” (Schmitt, 2019, p. 11).

Here are three key restorative pedagogies for the classroom:

Community-building circles maintain a horizontal structure of storytelling in which no one voice is privileged over another. Rather, participants sit in a circle formation as each person has their moment to speak as indicated by the passing of a talking piece. Circle participants craft agreements about how they would like to communicate with each other and what to do if those agreements are broken. Agreements can include statements of intent such as: listen with the heart, speak from the heart, follow the talking piece, or listen for understanding and connection. A circle facilitator offers the group prompts, thereby eliciting participants’ stories, to which participants have the option to either pass or respond through storytelling. As one person speaks, all other participants engage in active listening.

Hansen and Antsanen (2014) stated:

Consistent with traditional Indigenous models of justice, we teach through the circle and thus the chairs are arranged in a circle. We see that the circle encourages classroom discussion and promotes a sense of equality in the classroom. Promoting classroom discussion is very important to our teachings (p. 3)

At the heart of the community-building circle rests the importance of peacebuilding relationships as a necessary condition for learning. Circles in the classroom serve to establish a climate of care, where students can engage in new content, learn new skills, and discover strategies with which to navigate conflict that can balance both trust and autonomy.

The circle has been aligned to positive outcomes amongst students conducive to learning such as increased concentration, motivation, communication, listening, and enhanced self-esteem. To create spaces for critical dialogue that prioritize wellbeing, teachers must recognize that selecting the right questions, the right talking piece, and right facilitation, (in which right is defined as the conditions most conducive to learning), can make a significant impact on the outcomes of the circle.

Teachers must have a strong understanding of oppression and their own implicit biases before attempting to guide students in navigating such topics that have the potential to elicit greater harm rather than peacebuilding relationships.

Critical dialogue is designed for the purpose of critiquing oppressive power structures in the pursuit of both individual and collective transformation. Conscientization, or critical consciousness, is the outcome of participatory dialogue in which participants explore their own hidden assumptions and biases, as well as the connected systems of social power and oppression, as the catalyst for transformation of self in the pursuit of liberation. Interrogations of oppressive systems of power in combination with critical self-reflection make a powerful catalyst for personal transformation and the reduction of harm.

Pedagogies that teachers can employ to facilitate critical dialogue in the classroom include role-playing, short sharing, quick decision games (such as “raise your hand if you like…”), pair-dialogue, small group deliberations, literature circles, reflective writing, spoken word poetry, and group presentations. While there are a variety of instructional practices that fall under the umbrella of critical dialogue, the important point is that participants engage in a structured process of conflict engagement with the goal of transformation through conscientization.

Essentially, if teachers implement restorative pedagogies, they must also be prepared to address the interpersonal, structural, and cultural harms that emerge as an outcome of dialogue.

Schools serve to sort, socialize, and control students as emerging members of the established, oppressive, social order. This reality can be recognized in standardized pre-specified curriculum expectations, high-stakes testing, strict timetables, and scant teacher development opportunities. Therefore, teachers who implement restorative pedagogies must be prepared to transform their practice and the schooling process as a whole to support student wellbeing.

Teachers should view this transformative practice as an opportunity. Restorative practices “advance the opportunity to frame new instructional methodologies that allow educators to transgress the limitations of racially and culturally unjust schooling that has not affirmed all children’s identities as intelligent human beings of esteem and value” (Archibold, 2016, p. 3). Through identifying harm in the classroom as a violation of relationships, as opposed to a violation of rules, critical dialogue creates the opportunity for students and adults to pursue conscientization and address long-standing forms of violence. Even in the face of the inevitable distrust and controversy that critical dialogue reveals, restorative pedagogies equip school communities with the skills necessary to repair themselves.