As we learn and discuss the different theories of justice, I think back to my times in the classroom as a Middle School Science Teacher. As a school, we were bound to the Code of Conduct established by our school district. Over time, I became frustrated by having scholars excluded from school through suspensions and disciplinary transfers. We were treating our kids like criminals. They committed an act and we responded by incapacitating them in the name of specific and general deterrence. That never worked. Why should we continue down a path that serves way more harm than good?
So, I decided to bring restorative justice into the school so that we can end our outdated practices of punishing our kids the way that they did.
As the Lead Teacher, I took charge of this issue, researched the implementation of restorative practices in the school environment, and drafted an action plan. Our goals were simple. We wanted to resolve our school climate issues in the manner that was most productive for the harmer, the harmed, and the overall school community.
Accordingly, we scheduled 20 minutes every morning to engage in “Morning Meeting”. In these meetings, everyone would sit in a circle. Using a talking piece, the teacher would facilitate a discussion within the class about various topics including balancing emotions, handling conflict, tips for academic success, current events, and anything else in which the scholars expressed interest. These meetings set the tone for the day and emphasized the community nature of each class. Moreover, within each classroom, we had “peace corners”, where scholars could, of their own volition, take a break from class if they needed time to refocus or to avoid potential conflict with another classmate. This was a no-questions-asked environment with the trust built in within the system to not abuse it. At the peace corner, scholars would find breathing exercises, emotion charts, stress-handling tools, and other resources to help them refocus without any teacher intervention.
Lastly, we still had issues that occurred that typically would have resulted in detentions and suspensions (e.g. mutual fights). Rather than engaging in exclusionary discipline practices, we held conflict resolution meetings in our “refocus room”. Our refocus room is essentially a room-sized “peace corner” that is staffed by the Dean of Students. Whenever major incidents occurred, the conflict resolutions provided the participants of said incident to engage in a discussion how and why the incident occurred and the impacts it had on the school community. Ultimately, this restorative justice plan proved successful to the point where some scholars led interventions themselves.
Overall, I am proud of the work that we started. It has changed the perspectives of my scholars and my colleagues about the idea of “discipline”. I just wish that restorative justice could be implemented in schools nationwide as we would be able to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline that our Black youth experience far too much, while keeping our eye focused where it needs to be: educating our nation’s youth.
Montell D. Brown is a 2L from Cincinnati, Ohio. Before law school, Montell worked for the School District of Philadelphia as a Middle School Science Teacher, Middle School Lead Teacher, and Assistant Dean of Students. In these roles, Montell served on the frontlines of the education system and became highly interested in the fields of education and education policy. He advocated on behalf of his students for equitable access to educational opportunity. For his 1L summer, Montell interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where he worked on cases involving crimes against children, public corruption, and civil rights. Montell hopes to become a Superintendent one day and work on national and state education policy reform.
Interests: education policy, child advocacy, criminal justice reform, civil rights