Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review - Working Restoratively in Schools

Bill Hansberry is a well known and respected educator from Australia in the field of restorative practices in schools. I have reviewed his recently-published book, titled Working Restoratively in Schools. Here is the review:

Working restoratively in schools: A guidebook for developing safe and connected learning communities, by Bill Hansberry, Quennscliff, Victoria, Australia, Inyahead Press, 2009, 1 + 128 pp., AU$29.50/US$27.00 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-9806942-0-8

Tom Cavanagh, PhD
Walden University

The author of this book is a well-known practitioner of the application of restorative justice theory in schools, particularly in Australia. He is to be commended for providing a practical resource for educators to help them understand the theory of restorative justice as it is applied in educational settings and to help them apply that theory in practical ways.

My review of this book is influenced by my special interest in developing the theory of a Culture of Care in schools based on restorative justice principles, particularly related to the importance of building and maintaining healthy and caring relationships, in order that all students, particularly those students who do not belong to the dominant culture, may flourish in school and as adults.

This book offers a valuable contribution in the field regarding the application of restorative justice theory in schools, sometimes called restorative practices, by providing educators will a simple and clear explanation of restorative justice theory as applied in schools and a detailed guide about how to apply that theory. This theory is largely based on the work of respected scholars in the field like John Braithwaite and Brenda Morrison and draws from other theories, such as William Glasser’s Choice Theory, Donald Nathanson’s Compass of Shame, and Daniel Goleman’s theory about Social Intelligence.

The purpose of this book is to provide a whole-school approach to implementing restorative justice processes and a resource to assist in implementing change in these schools. The conversation currently in the field centers on how to introduce restorative practices in schools. This book contributes to the field of restorative justice in education by providing a easy to understand guide for educators to apply the theory of restorative justice in schools. However, I was left questioning how the ideas presented in this book would build the capacity of students to solve problems non-violently and how those ideas would lead to the profound change in the culture of schools that is required to transform from being punitive and rules based to healing and collaborative.

The first section of this book introduces readers to the theory underlying restorative practices in schools. The second section tells educators how to move from theory to practice. And the final section offers detailed ideas for applying restorative practices in educational settings. At the end of the book is a list of references for the reader who wants to explore the field further.

The author of this book contends that the book serves as a resource for micro and organizational change. While micro level change is obvious, particularly in the guidance the book gives for building the capacity of teachers to respond to wrongdoing and conflict in a restorative manner rather than punitively, organizational level change is not so obvious. My review of the book revealed the book does not offer ideas for systemic change, and without such change the practices mentioned in the book may well be viewed as another tool in the traditional disciplinary toolkit, rather than the basis for the profound change that is required to truly create whole school reform.

The critical element that is missing in this book is acknowledgement of the impact of disparities in education that affect restorative practices. Whether we are talking about Aboriginal people in Australia, Maori in New Zealand, First Nations people in Canada, or African-American, Latin/Hispanic, and Native American students in the United States, those of us working in the field of restorative practices in education are ethically obligated to acknowledge that our work is directly linked to the statistics of disparity that disproportionately affect students from these minority groups. We cannot ignore the cultural impact of our work and what we can learn from listening to the voices of these people from minority groups as we shape the discourses that are the foundation of our work.

While this book, upon review, was found lacking in some respects, I recommend that educators and those interested in education purchase and read this book. This book provides an excellent resource for teachers and administrators who want to understand restorative justice theory and how to apply that theory in schools using tried and practical tools.