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Restorative justice practices 'needed in classrooms'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Restorative justice practices need to be implemented in school classrooms in order to decrease referrals and increase time spent learning, an international expert and visiting professor to the University of Canterbury says.

Dr Tom Cavanagh of Colorado State and Walden Universities says the capacity of teachers and students needs to be built so they can respond to wrongdoing and conflict in the classroom.

"Teachers need to learn how to use culturally appropriate practices. Schools need to adopt a culture of care where the learning of students is cared about and as well students are care for as culturally located individuals."

Dr Cavanagh is an Erskine visitor this year to the University of Canterbury’s Aotahi School of Maori and Indigenous Studies. The Erskine fellowship programme was established in 1963 following a generous bequest by distinguished former student John Erskine. Dr Cavanagh’s research focuses on restorative justice in schools and the problem of disproportionate discipline in New Zealand and American schools.

"In American schools African-American, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American students are punished more often and more harshly than their white counterparts. The same is true in New Zealand for Māori students as compared to their Pakeha counterparts. The result of these discriminatory discipline policies is what is described as the school to prison pipeline.

"Over the last 25 years, New Zealand has become a world leader in the application of restorative justice principles in the fields of law, social work, health, and education. Restorative justice focuses on establishing and maintaining relationships or whakawhanaungatanga. When wrongdoing and conflict occur, restorative justice practitioners seek to heal the harm to relationships resulting from the wrongdoing and conflict.

"In schools restorative justice focuses on creating a culture of care or manaakitanga. In the field of a culture of care, research shows that there needs to be a sense of school connectedness and caring and nurturing relationships between the teachers and the students so that there can be an increase in the students’ positive experiences of schooling and a movement away from zero-tolerance punishment strategies.

"The key to healing our communities is building relationships. In the hopes of building a relationship in which together we can learn how to heal the harm resulting from wrongdoing and conflict to create safe schools and healthy organisations."

For the last 12 years Dr Cavanagh has worked on developing and putting into practice a theory of a culture of care based on the principles of restorative justice in schools.

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