Restorative Justice

“We understand that making mistakes is part of growing up, and Restorative Practices provide an opportunity for each student to learn from the conflict,” -Michele Lansing, Distinctive Schools Network Director of Clinical Services.

As part of our mission to create diverse, joyful, welcoming communities rooted in social justice and rigorous learning, Distinctive Schools is designing more equitable schools through an intentional shift away from traditional or punitive disciplinary measures. We are proud to practice Restorative Justice, a method of conflict resolution that values relationships as the cornerstone of each student’s educational journey. When issues arise, we believe in creating a safe space for diverse perspectives to be heard, paving the way for healing and growth.

Relationship building is at the heart of Distinctive Culture. When we say All Means All, we mean educating the whole child, including supporting students when they make mistakes. Mistakes are part of life, and our goal is to help students learn through them, “Student behavior that is typically seen as "misbehavior" is truly communication of an unmet need or skill and it's our job to fill those gaps so that students can learn and grow to their full potential,” explains CICS Irving Park Dean, Mr. Sloan. 

What is Restorative Justice? 

We recognize that when harm occurs in our community, that harm must be repaired. It is important to us that students take accountability for their actions and search for solutions to move forward. Consequences are not personal, but they are personalized. The consequence must make sense to the student based on the action for it to be effective.  Restorative practices are used in our schools to decrease disciplinary issues and disruptions and serve as an alternative to harmful, exclusionary practices such as suspension and expulsion. CICS Longwood High School Dean, Ms. White explains, “Restorative Justice can be transformative to a school's culture and climate, however, the stakeholders need to be mindful of the intersections of race, class, gender, ability, and sexuality to better serve ALL our students.” 

We value relationships at the center of school and community life. We work to establish a strong foundation of trust, respect, and communication with our students. Ms. Becker, CICS West Belden Dean, explains how we utilize restorative practices to build these strong connections with students, “Relationship building is fostered through deliberate community time. Restorative conversations utilize questioning to help guide students who have caused harm, and restorative circles bring specific stakeholders together to resolve conflict.”

What happens when conflict arises?

Restorative conversations ask students key questions to work through tough situations:

  • What were you thinking at the time?

  • What have you thought about since?

  • Who has been affected by what you have done?

  • How were they affected?

  • What will you do to make it right?

The answers to these reflection questions help educators to understand the student perspective, and help students to understand the impact of their actions. Students are given a logical consequence appropriate to the action and participate in a skill-building activity to help avoid this behavior in the future. Finally, students take their restorative action and make amends with anyone who was harmed by their actions. Our School Deans play a pivotal role in implementing restorative practices in our schools. Ms. Taylor, CICS Longwood Elementary Dean of Students shared, “My role as a Dean is so rewarding because I get the opportunity to positively influence and impact my students' growth, not only academically, but I focus on helping build their emotional intelligence as well.  I am able to serve as a mentor to my scholars.”

The Impact of Restorative Justice: 

Restorative Justice has been part of our practice for several years now, and the impact is obvious in the way our classrooms and data has shifted. CICS Bucktown Dean, Mr. Weems shared, “In our classrooms, we now have students who are more mindful of how their words affect their classmates. Creating a restorative environment gives students the tools to advocate for themselves when harm has been done. Rather than lying or deflecting, students approach issues ready to search for solutions together.”

We provide every student with the space to thrive and grow as learners in our schools. Through restorative practices, we have seen an improvement in school and classroom climates and a deep focus on community and responsibility. Our conversations with students teach self-awareness, empathy, communication skills, responsible decision-making, and conflict resolution. Rather than feeling ashamed and defeated, we want our students to feel empowered to create change and make better decisions

“This methodology works.” Plymouth Educational Center Dean, Ms. Adams shared that Restorative Justice helps students to focus on accountability and responsibility, empathy and understanding, conflict resolution, and community building. Ms. Taylor added, “It emphasizes open and honest communication. It encourages students involved in conflicts to engage in a dialogue.”

We are so grateful to the incredible student support teams at each Distinctive Schools campus for their commitment to restorative practices! Thank you to our student support teams, educators, and especially to our deans –  your impact exceeds far beyond the walls of our schools and we  thank you for the care you bring to our schools, students, and communities every day!