Restorative Justice is a no blame approach to bullying.  The idea of the process is to work through the events and the relationship difficulties and help the students come to a joint realisation of how all parties feel.  To be honest, it takes training and few teachers are given this training.  This article will only briefly touch on some of the issues.  It is well worth doing some of your own research – as it is a powerful tool.

The first challenge with restorative justice is making the person bullied believe that this is the right approach.  The student has lived in a system where wrongdoing is punished.  So, they are going to be upset that the actions of the bully are not being seen as wrong.  You have to convince them that you believe the behaviours described are wrong but that the point of the exercise would be to explain how everybody feels.  This way, everyone gets to see the other as a person with feelings.

The second difficulty with Restorative Justice is keeping your own feelings, as the teacher, out of the meeting.  You might have closer contact with the bullied student, which is why you were chosen by the child to deal with the issue for them.  You might have your own experience of bullying, which you are tempted to bring to the meeting or to your reaction to the bully.  The truth is that you are going to be the mediator.  You cannot show an opinion one way or another, without making the situation worse.  If you worry you might, seek support from a pastoral leader.  They will have had training in Restorative Justice and will likely suggest leading the process for you.

If you are going to lead Restorative Justice, I would always suggest speaking to both sets of parents first.  Students will go home and explain what happened at school that day and maybe not in a way that best represents what happened.  Clear communication with home will a) give you more information about the relationship between the students and the individual students involved and b) will open up the hope that the parents will continue your work when the students go home.  This is obviously an ideal situation, where every parent you speak to is a rational human being.

The point of Restorative Justice is for both parties to describe what has been happening.  The idea is to encourage the students to say this in a way that is not an accusation but instead a version of events from their perspective.  It is likely that at some point one of the students misunderstood or misinterpreted something that is said.  As mediator, you should merely ask questions until an agreed understanding is reached.  Then, at this point, you should summarise and suggest a fresh start.

It is a process that needs calm and considered discussion.  There needs to be ground rules and there needs to be a time limit.  If you are in any doubt as to your abilities to handle the meeting to a positive conclusion – seek support.  If the session goes pear-shaped – which I have happened 50% of the time.  Then, ask for advice about what to do next.

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