Restorative Justice and (not) Story Telling

by Ariel and Phelana
Over the past few weeks in 5th and 6th grade, we have been exploring the concept of Restorative Justice and what it looks like day-to-day here at SGS. Restorative Justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of an action and then determines what can be done to repair that harm while holding the person who caused it accountable for their actions. In 5th Grade, as Ms. T led a lesson, one student translated this definition into their own words and described restorative justice as, “understanding you can’t go back in time to undo what you did, but you can try to repair and change what you do going forward”. At SGS, we understand that often the deepest learning comes from not just making mistakes, but also recognizing and fixing them. The same growth mindset we apply to our work in math can apply to our relationships with each other and our communities. The goal of restorative justice is ultimately community repair and learning from our mistakes. 

Restorative Conversations are one example of a form of restorative justice. A restorative conversation might involve two or more students, a student and an adult, or multiple students with an adult mediator. Other forms that restorative justice takes at SGS may be one-on-one conversations with advisors, administrators, or families, community restoration, or presentations to the class/community. At SGS, the decisions around what restorative justice looks like often happen between the people directly involved. This is to respect the privacy of each individual and because restorative justice is never about shame; it is about healing. As a result, sometimes we see harmful behavior, but we don’t see the consequences for that behavior. In classes, we discussed that we don't like feeling the uncertainty in not knowing everything, and that when we can’t see or don’t know something, our brains fill in the story.  Sometimes, we may start to think that there are no consequences for the person who did the harm and that whatever behavior we are seeing is being allowed. To increase transparency and understanding of our processes at SGS, we invited students to explore the list of SGS “infractions” and match “infractions” to consequences according to what they felt made the most sense through a restorative justice lens. 

In 6th Grade, we delved deeper into the impacts of storytelling. Through a manufactured scenario, 6th Graders got to experience and discuss what happens when a story is spread. We discussed that, very often, the stories we hear are rooted in real harm. Sometimes venting can help us process and move forward toward resolving the harm; however, stories impact our opinions and actions toward others and therefore can damage the community in serious ways. At SGS, we encourage students to find a trusted adult if they need to vent, complain, or share a story and to avoid venting in public spaces to prevent stories from being spread.

At SGS, we practice restorative justice because we understand that conflict happens when we coexist in community and making mistakes is human. We also recognize that it is human to want to connect over stories and so our work to avoid/stop storytelling is hard! We ask that adults-at-home talk to their students about what they understand about restorative justice. Below are some questions that can help guide a conversation.
  • What do you understand about restorative justice?  Are there contexts in which you have seen restorative conversations work?  In what situations might restorative conversations have been helpful?
  • When you don’t have all the information about something happening in the community, how do you feel?  What stories might have resulted from not having all the information?
  • Is it possible that a story is not 100% accurate? If so, do you wonder if it might further complicate or harm the situation? 
  • How can I help you decide what to do with this information (or lack of information) that may be confusing, unsettling, or worrisome for you?
Located in the Central District, Seattle Girls' School is an independent school for girls and gender nonconforming students in grades 5-8. Our mission is to inspire and develop courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change.