Relationships Are Restorative


Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. -Rita Pierson

If you don’t listen, you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, there are far fewer opportunities for success. Relationships are the foundation that drives anyone, including students, to want to listen and learn and this is particularly true of low income students of color.

Despite all that we know about their importance, relationships between students and teachers continue to be undervalued in far too many schools. But that is certainly not the case at Net Charter School here in New Orleans. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Huffington Post piece about the school:

It was a pattern Net Co-Founder and Executive Director Elizabeth Ostberg had seen before. Ostberg, a young, Harvard-trained educator who volunteered to work with youth in crisis, arrived in New Orleans the year after Hurricane Katrina. By the time she opened the Net five years ago, Ostberg had decided that restorative justice, an approach to discipline and conflict resolution that involves talking through conflicts, was the best way to throw some of the city’s most struggling youth a lifeline — not to mention keep them in school. “It gives the students more internal control and improves their relationships,” says Ostberg. “There’s the hope that if we build students’ conflict resolution skills, if they are in a conflict on the street maybe they can avoid it.

And Ostberg doesn’t mince words in a recent Op-Ed in Huffington Post:

This is not a school for teachers who are only interested in content.

Ostberg’s statement speaks volumes about the priority she places on relationships and restorative practices. The positive changes that she and her team, as well as the students, are seeing are a good starting point for more New Orleans schools to push themselves on the issue of school discipline and focus more on following:

  • An overall approach to making students collaborators in their learning
  • The implementation of less punitive discipline practices to build and strengthen the school community.

It’s no secret and data certainly supports that our kids, especially low income children of color,  have been exposed to varying degrees of trauma. And trauma can have a dramatic impact on how children perceive and respond to interactions with adults and classmates. When schools strip students of a voice and choose to focus solely on education rather than skill-building and empowerment, no matter the GPA or ACT composite, we ultimately end up failing the kids,  future leaders.

This is where Restorative Practices comes into play.  The International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) describes Restorative Practices as the following:

Restorative Practice is a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision making.

The use of restorative practices, when executed well, should meet the following goals:

  • reduce crime, violence and bullying
  • improve human behavior
  • strengthen civil society
  • provide effective leadership
  • restore relationships
  • repair harm

There’s no doubt that for veteran teachers just being introduced to restorative practice as an alternative to the more traditional and punitive model,  the shift can be extremely challenging. But because schools work best when they foster support and growth in all areas, it is no wonder that school districts across the United States are seeking out a more community-focused and relationship based approach to discipline.  



After all, restorative practice is about working with our kids and not for or against them.

Healthy relationships between teachers and students must be a top priority because it is from there that so much good often follows. Students who once snapped at having their behavior corrected learn to respond positively to redirection and to celebrate their accomplishments both around behavior and academics.   

The proof is in the pudding

Here’s an excerpt about one’s student’s experience with restorative practice at Net Charter.

Meanwhile, Symphony Lee went from barely showing up at school to receiving accolades on her recent report card. She is due to graduate in May 2018, joining nearly 150 other students who have received Louisiana diplomas since the school opened. By its own calculation, the Net’s 2015-16 graduation rate was 88 percent.


Lee’s dream is to attend Southern University at New Orleans, a historically black college. She feels that she’ll be ready. Lee used to tune out when she didn’t understand class material, she says, but now she’s learned how to ask for the help she needs.


That’s sometimes difficult to do. But it’s certainly easier to find help in school, in class, than out on suspension.

“Now,” says Lee, “I ask questions.”

Click here to read more about restorative practices and here to learn more about  Net Charter High School’s work.  

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