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Adult Intentions, Student Perceptions


reviewed by Martha A. Brown - October 08, 2019

coverTitle: Adult Intentions, Student Perceptions
Author(s): Kristin E. Reimer
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641135042, Pages: 206 pages, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com


Building on numerous case studies and decades of theory and research, Reimer makes an important contribution to our understanding of what happens to teachers and students when a school adopts restorative justice (RJ). The book is adapted from Reimer’s dissertation study of two schools in two different countries on two different continents: a middle school in Alberta, Canada and a high school in Scotland. That said, it is easy to forget you are reading a study due to the author’s intimate and personal writing style coupled with the publisher’s reader-friendly formatting  Most intriguing is how Reimer’s own journey from working with youth to ultimately becoming a teacher educator in Australia is woven throughout the book as she shares how the study both deepened and challenged her own understandings of RJ. The book also brings readers what is shamefully missing from so many studies: the voices of students themselves. Students acted as co-researchers, tasked with helping Reimer gather, analyze, and interpret what students said about their schools and their relationships with adults and peers. Reimer immersed herself in the schools and communities where she conducted her research, continually reflecting on what she experienced and learned and modeling the importance of critical reflection for all researchers and educators. The heavy emphasis on community, culture, and context makes this book one of the most important contributions to the literature on RJE to date.


The dominant theme throughout the book emanates from Morrison and Vaandering’s (2012) theory of social control and social engagement, which provides a continuum on which schools can determine if and how much they value relationships based on compliance and rule-following or relationships based on supporting individual and communal well-being and development. Included in this framework is Llewellyn and Llewellyn’s (2015) “assertion that relationships have the power to foster human flourishing (those based on social engagement) and hinder human flourishing (those based on social control)” (p. 161). The author’s review of the literature in Chapter One reveals that far fewer schools than Reimer originally assumed use a transformative approach to RJ that “strengthens relationships, thus making the school safe and engaging for all members”; instead, most schools opt for an affirmative approach where RJ is a behavior management strategy used to “promote positive change in individual behavior” (pp. 6-7). The remaining chapters illustrate the tensions between these approaches as Reimer takes a deep dive into the schools’ relational ecologies, practices, and cultures.


Chapters Four through Six take us to Rocky Creek, a public school in Alberta, Canada, while Chapters Seven through Nine take us to Royal Mills High School in Scotland.


Chapters Four and Seven contain rich descriptions of the history, culture, attitudes, politics, and people in Alberta and Scotland. While learning in so much detail about the regions where the research occurred initially seems to be a departure from the study, it quickly becomes evident that context matters. Indeed, the histories, politics, and cultures of the regions had direct bearing on the educational priorities and the approaches to RJ discovered in both schools.


Chapters Five and Eight focus on the adults in the schools, appropriately titled “Educator Intentions.” Here, teachers share not just their experience with RJ but also their perceptions of RJ. They also describe their students and the families and neighborhoods their students come from. Through their comments, we begin to see how they vacillate between affirmative and transformative RJ depending on the situation. We also learn what the teachers care about, how they manage the pressure of the job, and what kind of relationships they seek and have with each other and their students.


In Chapters Six and Nine, we hear from the students, and are somewhat surprised that the perceptions of the students differ markedly from those of the adults. We learn of students’ abilities, or lack thereof, to solve conflicts without an adult. More important, we glean that relationships are everything to students. Whereas they may never mention the words “restorative justice,” they frame all their experiences and perceptions around the nature of their relationships with each other and adults. These relationships are incredibly complex, full of contradictions and conflict, but central to the students nonetheless.


Readers discover the treasure in this book when they reach Chapter Ten, where Reimer holds the studies side by side. Here we learn that:

...the key factor is not whether there is broad institutional support – with all the right words and principles in place – or even if RJ is being systematically applied, but the purposes the educators are using RJ (or other ideas and tools) to achieve. Is there a desire (whether implicit or explicit) for social control or is there a desire for social engagement? (p. 154)


The very nature of how RJ is used in schools is driven by what educators value and whether relationships with students are a means to reduce chaos and conflict or if they are about growth and development.


This revelation leads the author to conclude in Chapter Eleven that RJ is and should be a “window through which to view the quality and character of relationships” (p. 165) rather than what it has become, which is a practice, technique, or method; something we do. This finding has implications for education and teacher education, and Reimer calls on both systems to return to First Principles that recognize that relationships are the essence of schools. As in my own study (Brown, 2018), Reimer calls upon teacher education to shift away from courses that focus on behavior management and social control to ones that place relationships at the forefront of teacher education.


This book will resonate with a wide audience. Teacher educators, administrators, community members, restorative practitioners and trainers, teachers, students, and parents have much to learn from this book as it calls for a critical re-examination of the purpose of schooling and a school’s motives for adopting restorative justice. What the book lacks is a description of the type of training adults at these schools had and whether the focus of that training was on social control or social engagement. However, Reimer’s book opens the door for that conversation, providing the RJ community with a sound theoretical framework and language that could shift the dialogue away from how do we do RJ to what is the nature of the relationships that we value?


References


Brown, M. A. (2018). Creating restorative schools: Setting schools up to succeed. St. Paul, MN: Living Justice Press.


Llewellyn, K. & Llewellyn, J. (2015). A restorative approach to learning:  Relational theory as feminist pedagogy in universities. In T. Light, J. Nicholas, and R. Bondy (Eds.), Feminist pedagogy in higher education: Critical theory and practice (pp. 11–32). Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.


Morrison, B. E., & Vaandering, D. (2012). Restorative justice: Pedagogy, praxis, and discipline. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 138–155.

 





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 08, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23111, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 5:35:00 PM

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About the Author
  • Martha Brown
    RJAE Consulting
    E-mail Author
    MARTHA A. BROWN, Ph.D. is president of RJAE Consulting, where she provides program design, planning, evaluation, and other consulting services to schools, school districts, correctional facilities, and community-based organizations. She is the author of Creating Restorative Schools: Setting Schools Up to Succeed, published by Living Justice Press. Dr. Brown is also an instructor for Simon Fraser University's Continuing Studies online Restorative Justice Certificate Program where she teaches “Restorative Justice in Educational Settings.” She has published several peer-reviewed book chapters and articles on restorative justice and has presented internationally at conferences sponsored by the National Association for Community & Restorative Justice (NACRJ), Restorative Practices International (RPI), American Evaluation Association (AEA), the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES), and the International Conference on Conflict Resolution in Education (CRE).
 
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