From 2015 to 2020, I attended a dozen or so conferences around trauma-informed schools and restorative justice all over the United States. I was shocked, if not confused, how the trauma-informed schools conferences had no sessions on restorative justice except the one I was presenting; and the restorative justice conferences had few sessions, if any, on trauma-informed principles.
I wondered how anyone could talk about one without the other? How would we prevent re-traumatisation of students or teachers in circle or during a restorative chat, if we didn’t have this on the radar?
How would we approach those harmed or those responsible for the harm without understanding how their past traumatic experiences might influence the current situation we were trying to resolve?
A hard reality for us to face as RJ practitioners is that restorative justice is not inherently trauma-informed.
We need to start bringing a new awareness of the impacts of trauma on the behaviors we are circling up, having restorative chats about, or for incidents in which we are conferencing.
We need to look at the story and see how trauma played a role. Not all behavior is deliberate and asking students to be accountable for behavior they cannot control will only serve to re-traumatise them.
For example, you might see a student giggling during a very serious circle topic. Without an understanding of our nervous system, we might think that the student isn’t taking the circle topic seriously. A trauma-informed educator might realise that this giggle is a normal part of the fight-flight response. In fact, the reason the student is giggling is because they are taking it seriously.
It is time to bring these complementary ideas (restorative and trauma-informed) together; and merge them going forward along with the concepts of equity, mindfulness, nonviolent communication and Ross Greene’s work on Collaborative and Proactive Solutions.
In my new book, Building a Trauma Informed Restorative Schools: Skills and Approaches to Improving Culture and Behavior, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, I propose the idea that these concepts are inseparable.
The overlap in philosophies and abundance of new strategies that can be accessed when we change our lens, build our skills, and learn to practice in this new way of being, are the pathway to safer and more impactful schools.
We have schools across the US who are integrating the implementation of these concepts in coordinated and promising ways. Schools where in-school suspensions have been replaced by “Student Support Centers” and out of school suspension are only reserved for short cool downs as opposed to punishment. It is happening!
“This book goes beyond a process for restorative justice and teaches you how to create safe spaces for every learner. Any educator looking for a comprehensive system to meet the unique needs of their school should begin with this book.”
Assistant Principal, Windsor High School Joe Brummer.
About the Author
Joe Brummer has been the victim of two separate violent anti-gay hate crimes and what began as a personal healing response to the trauma, he has transformed into professional involvement in the field of restorative justice. He has worked with schools throughout the United States, helping to implement this new trauma-informed approach to the work of schools
PETA BLOOD 9 May 2021 15:05
This is certainly an emerging area of practice and great to hear you have devoted a book to exploring this in greater detail. TIP is something which needs to inform everything we do, not only in terms of work up, during and following restorative practice, but also as you say in understanding the responses that inform reactions and what led to the behaviour in the first place. Having facilitated conferences in many forums and for victims and offenders of the most serious of crimes, I have always described the restorative process, itself, as a circuit breaker. That is when some of the best work can happen, where those who caused the harm and those harmed can be supported to heal and to change their behaviour. Thank you for your writing.
I wonder what others think?
Anonymous 9 May 2021 19:43
I listened recently to a podcast about developmental trauma. One of the things they talked about was the privilege of vulnerability and just how complex that is for a person with trauma in their background. This prompted lots of thinking about the need to understand what young people bring with them to the restorative conversation. When our practice is not trauma-informed, the field is not equal.
My Director of Wellbeing is in a reading circle with Joe’s book, it has been good to share in this learning.
MARG THORSBORNE 11 May 2021 20:10
I can’t agree with you more Joe. This is a good marriage and also points to the need to integrate all the initiatives schools become involved with, to make sure they are not getting in the way of each other! The trauma wisdom points us to the need for absolute trust between the adult and student, and this cannot be achieved if the adult does not understand what this young person has been/is going through. The behaviour can make complete sense if views through a trauma informed lens. Your book is very helpful in spelling this out.