In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, a small group of UK education practitioners came together disquieted by the sudden and enforced disconnection that was happening. We felt compelled to do something useful, to provide something that could help schools at this unprecedented time. What we didn’t know then was that the resources that this small group would develop would prove to be informative for that other pandemic – the pandemic of social injustice being brought to the fore, again, this time through the murder of George Floyd.
The RESTORE Collective comprises school leaders, researchers, consultants and charities working in and with schools. What unites the group is a commitment to restorative principles and practices in education. The product of their labours, the RESTORE framework, has to date been visited almost 25 thousand times from New Zealand to Nepal and from Ghana to Jamaica. The RESTORE framework is made up of seven themes represented by the first letters of the word RESTORE. The first four letters of the RESTORE acronym, relating to Recognition, Empathy, Safety and Trauma, are connected to what has happened and its effects on us. The last three letters, relating to Opportunity, Relationships and Engagement, provide signposts for how we move forward from the crisis.
Initially, we were purely focused on what might help schools deal with the disconnection enforced by lockdown, and help them plan for when they came back together. We had one job to do and we worked committedly and collaboratively to achieve it. We were stunned (and relieved) when the Twitter feeds reached thousands of people and the website clocked up tens of thousands of visits. We continued to meet weekly. It felt like our work was not yet done somehow. Over time, the identity of the group is evolving. We are about to transform into a broader platform for restorative practitioners in education. At the same time, we are starting to recognise that the RESTORE framework has potential applications beyond our original intention.
The current required and desired focus on Black Lives Matter and social justice has caused some members of the collective to explore how the RESTORE framework might be useful for engaging with different types of crisis. What this brings to the fore is how a restorative perspective relates to questions of social justice. In my own research and writing, I have framed restorative practice as peace practice. I also work from Johan Galtung’s conceptualisation of positive peace as social justice. Therefore, if restorative practice is peace practice, and positive peace is social justice, then how can restorative work be understood and enacted as contributing to social justice?
In the USA more than in the UK restorative practices in schools have more commonly been framed in terms of social justice. Professor John Winslade has written a neat article explaining the connections between restorative justice in schools and social justice. One of the points he makes is that, “Restorative justice grew out of minority cultural groups’ desire to respond to problems in a way that fitted better with their cultural traditions” (2018: 6). In similar vein, Anne Gregory and Kathy Evans argue that:
Restorative justice in education practices need to explicitly identify opportunity gaps and challenge disciplinary disproportionality as it relates to a range of student characteristics including race, ethnicity, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, language, culture, sexuality, and gender expression. Sole focus on a reduction in suspensions and expulsions will not address the systemic and structural inequalities that impact students’ social, emotional, and academic well-being. (2020: 4)
Prompted by a focus on restorative practice in schools to address questions of social (in)justice, here in the UK we are now beginning to explore what this means in our contexts.
As a starting point, what would it mean to consider the focus on Black Lives Matter through the RESTORE lens? What would it mean to construct spaces for people to recognise and be recognised for the inequitable ways in which they are treated? What are the possibilities and limitations of empathy in relation to differential treatment? How can people feel safe – physically and emotionally – to express their unique selves? What is to be yet understood about the individual and collective trauma of peoples who have been who have lived a life of micro and macro aggressions? What are the opportunities to change our attitudes, practices and systems to intentionally counter-act discrimination? What are the relationships we are seeking to build and nurture, and when necessary mend? And, finally, what does engagement in equitable, inclusive and difficult dialogue look like?
As the RESTORE collective, we are just beginning to explore what the questions might be and where they might take us. We look forward to widening out these conversations in the coming weeks and months.
Terence is a teacher, consultant and researcher with 10 years’ experience supporting schools internationally to build knowledge, skills, practices and systems in restorative approaches to behaviour, conflict and relationships. His PhD focuses on evaluating peace in schools. Twitter: @tjbevington