By Ted Wachtel
I founded a specialized, accredited academic institution as a home for the emerging social science of restorative practices. In 2000, we incorporated the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), to create:
- master’s degree education in restorative practices
- professional development and consulting
- increased interest among academics in restorative practices
- growing credibility to attract research funding
- advocacy to promote the use of restorative practices
The IIRP tries to model restorative practices in learning—with an emphasis on student voice and choice throughout its educational programs. It achieves an extraordinarily engaging learning environment by using a combination of interactive online classes and in-person professional development events.
2,800 miles away from the IIRP in Bethlehem, PA, California resident Shari Garn attended classes online and reported that “I was amazed at how well these courses succeed in creating a sense of community.”
We have demonstrated that traditional schools—which rely largely on a professor’s lectures—ironically may have less satisfying interaction than an online course that maximizes opportunities for students to speak directly to one another, even though the classroom-based professor’s students may be sitting together in the same physical space.
The reason is that conversation itself builds relationships and a sense of belonging. In truth, with adult students, lecturing professors may not even have as much actual experience in the field as some of their students.
Using a “restorative practices” modality, students are empowered to share their own wealth of experience with the professor and with each other, and that enriches everyone’s learning, especially when students participate from around the world.
The enthusiastic reaction of adult students to “restorative” classrooms, when compared to traditional classrooms, demonstrates the power of participation. Christi Blank, in Pennsylvania, reported that her classes at IIRP were “like no other in substance and in bonding with peers.”
For New Jersey teacher Jessica Zimmerman, the inclusive environment “changed the way I teach. I now know that people want to be heard, and as a restorative practitioner, I need to be listening. I will carry these skills with me as I teach, coach, form professional connections and strengthen personal relationships.” She concluded, “Restorative practices was once what I was studying, but now it’s what I’ve become.”