As schools face rising behavioral challenges, debates rage on about restorative justice, which rejects traditional, punitive discipline in favor of relationship-based work to address underlying causes of conflict. Studies show widely disparate results — for example, on school violence and academic performance.

Many advocates explain these discrepancies by noting that neutral-to-negative results come about when schools cherry-pick restorative practices — a restorative circle here, a peer mediation there — without fully committing to a schoolwide culture shift. When this happens, schools end up neither assigning consequences (as traditional discipline would do) nor truly addressing underlying issues (as restorative justice ought to do).

They’re right. Restorative justice has limited chances of success if the whole school community fails to embrace values like respect and authority. School culture isn’t the full story, though. I know, because I taught at a school where restorative justice genuinely worked, and we had something else essential: a robust staff. All the well-meaning culture shifts in the world can’t accomplish much if there aren’t enough adults in the building.

Restorative justice requires strong student-teacher relationships, and those relationships can’t flourish when teachers have too many students.

It’s simply not possible for teachers to develop meaningful relationships when classes are packed and teachers stretched thin. But what’s more, restorative practices are time-consuming.

Read the full article about restorative justice by Meredith Coffey at The 74.