Restorative justice has been practiced across many disciplines of criminology, social work, education, counseling and more. This proliferation of practices continues to grow at a much faster rate than theoretical concepts can be developed (Baithwaite, 2006; Vaandering, 2011).

With that in mind, restorative justice had its roots in the justice system where theorists such as Zehr (2005) and McCold & Wachtel (2003) believed in the theoretical perspective that a system of individualistic punishment produced a short-sighted justice system that only served to propagate violence and retribution. On the other hand, restorative justice is grounded in relational theory rather than individualistic theory, which encourages transformative peacebuilding with engagement and connection that upholds respect concern, dignity and well being for all (Llewellyn, 2012). In the practice of restorative justice, this requires a movement from a traditional to a living systems model, where teaching and learning emphasizes the relational aspects of the world so that a space is prepared for  times when harm occurs so that those involved can work to bring about restoration and healing(Mitchell & Sackney, 2009). Further, justice in this context is understood holistically to include more than fairness. It encompasses the need to determine what it means to be human so that when harm occurs, people are not objectified or measured by their actions but accepted as worthy and honoured in the process of addressing the concerns (Vaandering, 2011).

To that end, restorative justice was adopted in many forms within the education system in efforts to eliminate a punitive regulatory framework of exclusionary practices and zero tolerance policies and replace these with a relational and transformative framework within the pedagogy, curriculum and classroom experience of educational systems (IIRP, 2003; Morrison, 2007; Riestenberg, 2011; White, 2014).


Fig #1 (Vaandering, 2014)

There are many theoretical concepts that are moving forward in efforts to broaden the collective and social-structural circumstances in which restorative justice is implemented. This will include nurturing people’s knowledge of themselves and their practices; nurturing schools’ commitments to collaborative cultures and shared understanding; and nurturing schools in how they network, share knowledge and encourage leadership, all within their administrative framework (Mitchell & Sackney, 2013). This growth also encompasses a broad continuum of practices, from reactive to proactive, that address the interconnectedness of people within schools (Morrison, 2007; Morrison and Vaandering, 2012).  Click Fig 1 for an enlarged view of the continuum of practices diagram (Vaandering, 2014).


Fig. #2: Relationship Triangle (Vaandering, 2014) adapted from Morrison [2007] and Hopkins [2011].

The RJ Relationship Triangle also shows a progression of restorative justice implementation within a “whole school” paradigm that starts with treating people as humans and outlines steps in making, maintaining and restoring relationships (Morrison, 2007; Hopkins, 2011; Vaandering, 2011). Click Fig #2 to view the RJ Relationship Triangle diagram.


Fig. #3: Relationship Window (Vaandering, 2014)

While implementing restorative justice within the school system, the social relationship window (adopted from the social discipline Window of McCold & Wachtel, 2003) exerts that treating people with respect and dignity (as human beings) requires high and balanced levels of support and expectations and the less this occurs, the more people are treated like objects where they are measured in a punitive regulatory system (Vaandering, 2013). Click Fig. 3 to view the social relationship window diagram.


Fig. #4: Relationship Ripples in Education (Vaandering, 2014)


Building on circles as a central part of restorative justice, from the Relationships First project’s look at core values a picture of concentric circles developed illustrating the implementation of restorative justice within the education system. The centre of these circles starts with accepting all people as worthy and interconnected first within the self, then between the self and adults, then between self and students, then among students, then with curriculum and pedagogy, and finally within institutions (Vaandering, 2014). Click Fig. 4 to view the Relationship Ripples in Education diagram.