The pedagogy of Dr. Howard Zehr, a professor I studied with at US’ Eastern Mennonite University who is sometimes called the grandfather of restorative justice, motivated me to pursue further studies in the discipline. More than anything, I was inspired by Zehr’s embodiment of respect, relationship and humility in the classroom. I felt a moment of quantum change in myself in his classes. This experience makes me keenly aware of how teaching philosophy based in restorative justice values and principles can be instrumental in a student’s life.
Restorative Teaching Pedagogy
Restorative teaching pedagogy is grounded in Toews and Zehr’s (2003) ‘transformative inquiry paradigm’. In this approach, teachers and students, or researchers and participants, are in a journey together – each learning from the other to co-create knowledge. Greater emphasis is placed on the process than the outcome, and students are seen as active participants. The teacher’s identity is more of a “facilitator, collaborator and learner”, instead of “expert” (Toews and Zehr, 2003, p. 266). My research is also heavily based on this worldview.
For both teaching and research, the metaphor I use to describe myself is of a traveler who:
“…sets out on a journey in which they have conversations with the people they encounter. From these encounters, they hear the many and varied stories of the land through which they are travelling. They meet and become friends with the unique individuals that live in the land. Upon return, [the teacher] and the researcher retells the stories they have heard to colleagues. Using their own voices and words, they reflect on the individualism of the people they have met and communicate the knowledge that has been learned” (Toews and Zehr, 2003, p. 269).
In the teaching and learning environment, I share my experience of restorative justice practices from micro settings (community-based RJ practices, salish, and indigenous justice) to macro settings (TRC in Canada, South Africa and UN hybrid model of Cambodia and Rwanda). I also incorporate students’ experience, knowledge and reflections in weekly worksheets.
As a reflective practitioner, I believe learning is cyclical and reflective. Incorporation of research, theory and practice are salient features of the learning environment. The best way to describe reflective learning is praxis, which is the marriage of practice and theory. In the context of restorative justice, praxis is the in-depth examination of various community-based and institutional practices. These evidence-based practices include a range of restorative justice initiatives, including victim-offender mediation, family-group conferencing, and peacemaking circles. To offer a reflective learning environment, I prefer conducting my class in a circle and each student is expected to actively participate in class discussions. Students contribute to building and maintaining a deeply respectful and highly participatory learning environment.
Using multiple modes of learning is one my key strengths. I believe we all learn differently – some students are visual learners, others are comfortable with lectures and story telling, whilst some learn through experiential activities. This is why I use multiple methods in teaching, incorporating power points, videos, case studies and role-plays. Having guest speakers, including those who experienced restorative justice processes in their lives, is very common in my class.
I believe in a collaborative learning and teaching approach, so I adopt feedback-informed practices in the classroom. In each class, students identify three areas that are addressed well in the lecture and three areas of curiosity to learn more. I address the students’ curiosity in the following classes. This enhances the quality of learning environment in my class.
In summary, I would like to reiterate that I bring restorative teaching pedagogy, reflective learning method and various sources in my class. Teaching is both a profession and a mode of self-care for me. Feedback and comments from students, such as “Asad is knowledgeable and passionate about restorative justice, provides detailed feedback, and is very helpful” and “had a great learning experience from his class” deeply inspire me.
Along with delivering the course content, I also encourage students to talk to me. I find spending one-on-one quality time with students truly effective. They talk about the course content, future career options, and general issues they are facing in their lives. Observing and experiencing the growth of students even during the short span of the semester makes me happy. Overall, I am truly grateful to have a profession that feeds my spiritual, intellectual and material needs.