Promising research… Needed research… And ultimately unsatisfying.

The Rand Corporation, the National Institute of Health, and the International Institute of Restorative Practice have come together to create a robust “randomized controlled trials” study.  While these types of studies are of the highest regard in the research field, I am mildly suspect. 

The work I do with school doesn’t originate from an outside source, but rather from a group inside the school; a group that has real interests in the success of the school both the students and staff.  This is not to say that the IIRP doesn’t have the best interests of the school in mind, but it is to say they have no ownership over the community most directly affected by the research of the effects of implementation of RJ.

Predominantly youth experience external control.  Exclusionary and punitive discipline policies are a form of negative external control.  This type of control seeks to elicit the desired behavior by creating negative incentives to unwanted actions.  “If you bully you’ll get expelled,” “if you hit others you’ll be suspended,” and previously “if you miss-behave you’ll be paddled,” are common forms of external control.  The recent excited adoption of PBIS works from a similar position.  I know many supporters of PBIS would be shocked at the comparison of PBIS and punitive discipline, but the external control is shockingly similar.  PBIS works from the position that youth will be rewarded for the desired behavior.  While I know there is much more to the system, ultimately this model is trying to incentivize the desired actions.  So the comparison isn’t in the methods but approaches, external incentives for the behavior.

How is RJ different?  And how is this related to the research?

First, I commonly say “RJ is a relational approach to harm,” and more than that it is an approach that locates the control in the student who did the harm.  How do we achieve balance?  It is through the “harmer” doing something.  Only when there is real agreement about what needs to be done and the “harmer” is actively engaged in making amends, rather the passively receiving punishments or rewards, can the locus of control be passed from the adults to the youth.

As such, schools, not external agencies, need to be the locus of control when implementing RJ programs.  If youth, teachers, school staff, and administrators feel that this is an outside agency implementing a program in their school there will be little owner ship and follow through.  In the work around the Puget Sound I have had the pleasure of entering school throw a variety of entry points.  The implementation challenges are numerous but very different when the entry is through the administration, youth, teacher, or non-profit agency.

In Seattle I have been working through the Racial Disproportionality in Discipline Committee and in the access that we have had we have worked at building a strong teacher support network.   While in Highline SD I work with a committed teacher and administration.  Working by supporting other non-profit agencies that already support the school and have strong relationships inside the school is another option for entry.  In Tacoma, a promising and well known project, there is both strong administration leadership coupled with youth leadership.  I am excited to write more about this project later.

Ultimately, RJ works from providing a system to situate the locus of control close to those most directly affected.  Research facilitated by outside agencies and imposed on schools will be fraught with hazards.  While not everything can be approached from a relationship first approach every time a RJ project doesn’t, and in particular research seeking to demonstrated positive impact, I question the reliability and validity.  None the less, I truly hope this further demonstrated the rich possibilities that RJ has for changing and enriching school cultures.


Nicholas Bradford

About rjfacilitator

My experience, education, and passion have met in alternative discipline. Through my policy work and my mediation experience I have worked and studied the dynamic components of discipline in many settings. While Restorative Justice is not the only way to approach conflict in communities, it has provided me an effective model in which to examine and engage in conflict. We provide custom programs for schools, colleges, and youth serving agencies seeking to engage with conflict using healthy and sustainable tools.
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1 Response to Promising research… Needed research… And ultimately unsatisfying.

  1. Julia Bradford says:

    sounds well researched, and thoughtful.

    an aside: there were a couple of typos that distracted my eyes for a moment, but then I got past them and fully understood what you meant. ** if you’d like an editor for structure , not content, I believe that I have plenty of TIME. 😉 XOXOX Mom

    Julia Bradford 49-1712992219

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