As music educators, we have a special opportunity to guide students in the development of the skills necessary to become restorative justice practitioners. Music is so valuable in our school systems and not just for the academic benefits. Music is inextricably linked to emotion and empathy and this connection has "contributed to the value of music as a discipline that can be implemented in formal education to develop students’ emotional competence" (Blasco-Magraner et al., 2021, p. 2). In their development of this emotional competence, students gain independence and ownership of their learning. We no longer need to hold them in the limiting participatory role that is so ingrained in many current classrooms. "We have to ask ourselves: who has the power in schools? Are we empowering youth or giving lip service to it?" (Yusem, 2019, p.106)
Students who serve as restorative justice leaders and circle keepers learn about interpersonal skills; "how to give and receive feedback from others, how to be patient, and how to make eye contact when speaking in a group" (Vah Seliskar, 2020, p. 59). In addition to this, students learn compassion, form connections and relationships, and develop strong leadership skills (Vah Seliskar, 2020).
Youth-led restorative justice in education gives students the opportunity to work with their peers to ensure that each participant speaks in turn and provides "respectful and sincere feedback to the members of the circle or group" (Vah Seliskar, 2020, p.58). Generally, student-led circles does include participation from at least one staff member. This way, if there is an issue, the student-leaders are have access to support. However, staff should remain mindful of the benefits of allowing students to lead circles and discussions which include but are not limited to: leadership skills, time management skills, and an opportunity to guide the group toward a united purpose (Vah Seliskar, 2020).
The implementation of student-led circles is a key step toward whole-school adoption of restorative justice in education. In addition, these leadership opportunities set the stage for youth to take restorative practices with them into their futures. Restorative justice principles can stay with students and aid in the development of a skillset for life outside secondary schooling. Students become "more open to new experiences because it 'makes you want to try new things and expand your knowledge'" (Yusem, 2019, p. 108).
How will you encourage student leaders in restorative justice at your school?
Which students do you think of when you imagine a great circle-keeper?
Blasco-Magraner, J.S., Bernabe-Valero, G., Marin-Liebana, P., Moret-Tatay, C. (2021). Effects of the educational use of music on 3- to 12-year-old children's emotional development: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073668
Media Makers Inc. (2018, April 5). The Alliance School of Milwaukee restorative practices model [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1eayew5ZOI
The Alliance School. (2014, November 7). Our story: Restorative practices at the Alliance School & in our lives [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/3-dDQunk9mE
Vah Seliskar, H. (2020). Transforming a school community through restorative practices: Emerging research and opportunities. IGI Global.
Yusem, D. (2019). Youth engagement in restorative justice. In M. Thorsborne, N. Riestenberg, & G. McCluskey (Eds.), Getting more out of restorative practice in schools: Practical approaches to improve school wellbeing and strengthen community engagement (pp. 96-108). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.