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Leading a Restorative Learning Community

Rhonda Hearnsberger believes in the transformative power of restorative strategies to help create a positive community for learning. As an instructor who is passionate about school climate and culture, Rhonda is currently teaching a course called Student Mediator Training (EDUC-920). The course teaches theory and strategy for teaching peer mediation and peacemaking.

Restorative Strategies: Why We Need a Reboot

A teacher works with three smiling young students on an art project

With the school year looming just over the horizon, the traditional excitement begins to build. Reorganizing our workspace, rejoining our colleagues, and planning future fun-filled learning days collide with the current realities— a national crisis in education. 

The past few years have left education upended. Schools are scrambling to reframe and redesign programs to solve problems like teacher shortages, falling enrollment, school violence, childhood trauma, mental health issues, disproportionality in discipline, not to mention learning lags due to COVID. Sounds overwhelming, disheartening, and exhausting! Students (and teachers) need to feel safe, know that they matter, and that they will be heard. 

Who Are Our Learning Partners?

If you are an administrator, a teacher, or a counselor who has signed on for this year, there is hope! WE CAN work together for greater health and wholeness— ready to tackle learning. Students can become partners with us in creating a mutually respectful, peaceful, and restorative learning community. 

How Can We Better Meet Needs Around Us?

There is no panacea, but restorative justice offers a cooperative skills-based process to address the social emotional needs of students. Currently, 21+ states have enacted legislation for Restorative Justice Practices to help mitigate some of these challenges. This is a promising shift and a new trend.

What is Restorative Justice and What can it do?

Restorative Justice (as defined by Howard Zehr (2002) “is a process…to collectively identify harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible.” Here are some examples of what restorative justice does and does not do.


  • Value making and keeping agreements with follow-up
  • Address hurts, harms, and obligations through a cooperative process
  • Engage everyone in creating a safe place
  • Teach what it takes to mediate conflict and be a peacemaker
  • Empower students to take ownership of their learning community
  • Train students with life skills necessary for future success
  • Help students feel connected


  • Exclude accountability 
  • Ignore due process
  • Replace a current discipline plan immediately
  • Create chaos 
  • Minimize or dismiss hurts or harms
  • Give up valuable learning time

Where and When Should We Begin to Implement Restorative Strategies?

Studies support the efficacy of a top-down model that includes everyone in the learning community. Yet, individual classrooms have also shown successful results. Curricula like Discipline That Restores and Making Things Right by Dr. Ron and Roxanne Claassen offers a process for creating a restorative environment of respect, cooperation, and responsibility. The curriculum’s common language and flowchart simplify the implementation process. It integrates well with PBIS or other positive intervention programs. 

Fresno Pacific University offers online CE courses like Classroom Restorative Discipline (DTR) and Student Mediator Training (MTR) that can help you get started and have trainers available for your school. Be a leader in your school by earning, from FPU’s suite of restorative courses, a Restorative Strategies for the Classroom Certificate.

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