This is a refreshing and welcome addition to the ‘Little Book’ series which, in relation to restorative justice, has a rich and distinguished history in the justice and peacebuilding context. This series started with the Little Book of Restorative Justice in 2002 by Howard Zehr and has covered a wide range of important topics and contexts. This ‘Little Book’ on restorative teaching tools makes great connections between theory and practice and has a very clear rationale and purpose for its style of teaching.
The two reviews that follow come from restorative practitioners and researchers based in Croatia and the United Kingdom (UK). The reviews give individual perspectives on the contributions of this ‘Little Book’ to theory and practice including the acknowledgment of the importance of restorative teaching and experiential learning for social transformation in different cultures and contexts.
- Book review: Pointer, Lindsey and McGoey, Kathleen and Farrar, Haley (2020) The Little Book of restorative teaching tools: games, activities, and simulations for understanding restorative justice practices New York: Skyhorse Publishing ISBN: 978 1 68099 589 3
The authors connect with the readers by asking direct questions in the introduction and establishing a common ground between readers’ and authors’ individual experience. They keep this thread throughout the book; it is evident that every page was written with the focus on its use to those in teaching and helping roles who wish to teach and at the same time to empower and enable the learners, especially those learners whose voice is less heard. That is why it will be useful not only to the narrow circle of experts teaching restorative justice, but also for those teachers aiming at creating a respectful and participatory learning environment.
The authors prepare their readers for such an endeavour by introducing them to an easy-to-follow theoretical framework for establishing relationships of trust that lead to a sense of safety and by setting a framework for dialogue that provides the opportunity for meaningful conversation. They stress the importance of broader contextual factors and the way societal structures benefit some at the expense of the others; taking them into account enables the teaching to contribute to greater structural and social transformation. In this way, games and activities leading to experiential learning are not seen just as another set of tools for creating a participatory learning environment, but also as a way of working with the learners that is grounded in restorative values, acts in a empowering way and leads to greater social transformation.
The timing of the book’s publication in early 2020 in USA is both fortunate and unfortunate. On one hand, as everyday classroom situations become more complex and challenging at a time of the tensions and violence in a divided society, the need for a different approach to education becomes more evident. On the other, in such complex and challenging situations, the stakes become higher, and thinkers, authors and teachers are required to extend their work beyond the relatively safe boundaries of their papers, classrooms or workshops without concrete examples to ‘walk the talk’ in everyday life. In that context, I would be very curious to learn what Fania Davis or [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_hooks||bell hooks], whose work the authors mention with respect, would advise to those of us willing to ‘walk the restorative talk’ not only in their work with the learners, but also with all the stakeholders involved in the learning process.
I do not have any doubt that this book will have many editions. I am hoping that the next edition will include a much-needed section on how to use one’s own position ‘on the benefiting side of society’s harmful power structures’ not only as writers and teachers telling the audience how things should be done, but also as team members or colleagues initiating co-working or co-authoring opportunities for those who until now were on the other end of those structures.
The authors highlight in the introduction the importance of games as an entry point for developing trusting relationships and respectful dialogue. They suggest that by having fun, as well as engaging and informing participants, games can lead to deeper and more impactful learning. This learning is as important for the teacher as it is for the learners and the book provides interesting and insightful guidance on the need for self-reflection when facilitating restorative learning experiences. The guidance on thinking about our own bias and assumptions is thought provoking and crucial to the contribution that we as restorative practitioners can make to the creation of safe learning environments and communities.
As a teacher and special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo) in primary (4–11yrs) schools in the UK and a former police officer when restorative justice was introduced to the UK (into police cautioning), the relevance of rituals and games to the disruption of hierarchies has great meaning. The authors provide a very pertinent reminder of some of the opportunities for the restorative justice movement to disrupt the hierarchies and power structures that often exist within institutions. They provide excellent reasons as to how the use of games and the development of relationships and trust can allow for each voice to be heard and all participants to be valued equally. As they state,
"social institutions often serve to reinforce existing power structures, elevating the voices of those who are already heard and further marginalising those who are not" (p. 3).
My own experiences in criminal justice and education support this assertion for adults and young people.
The book is very clearly structured taking the reader through the rationale for this style of teaching and how this links pedagogically with restorative values and principles. There is a well evidenced link between theory and practice and the book is relevant to any practitioner wanting ideas on how to create a positive experiential learning environment.
Chapters 5–8 are very practical and guide the reader through the preparation for teaching as well as design ideas for activities to help understand restorative philosophy as well as to develop skills and build relationships.
I am now a senior lecturer in a UK University, teaching undergraduate students around the topic of inclusion and special educational needs and postgraduate students who come from a range of professions linked to the development of inclusive practice. I have shared this book with my academic teaching colleagues, SENCos I train on the National Award in SEN Co-ordination and colleagues working with young people in mental health, criminal justice and social care. Many of them knew very little about restorative practices but have found the book a really useful addition to their practice. This seems to me to be a great recommendation for the development of a greater and wider understanding of restorative practice without having to justify, define or defend the principles.
The book fills an important space in supporting the development and confidence of practitioners to create safe and engaging learning environments and ultimately healthy and positive relationships.
Branka Peurača is a Mediator, trainer and adjunct lecturer at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicola Preston is an Adjunct Faculty International Institute for Restorative Practices Graduate School, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education and Humanities, University of Northampton, UK. Contact: email@example.com
Zehr, H. (2002). The little book of restorative justice. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.