Voices in Education

Transformative Justice Teacher Preparation
To cultivate and sustain effective, respectful relationships with their students and colleagues and surmount the many learning objectives they’re expected to meet each semester, scores of educators are realizing they need both an actionable justice-focused framework and a community of like-minded, equity-oriented educators. As soon as this new school year was underway, the Transformative Justice in Education Center at the University of California, Davis (which I codirect with Lawrence Winn) was inundated with queries from classroom teachers wanting to know when we will next offer restorative justice training and what books and materials they can use to cultivate inclusive, justice-oriented school communities. Many seek advice about troubling encounters with students and colleagues, hoping someone at TJE can make time to talk them through different scenarios and provide support. 

Among these educators are former students I’ve worked with in teacher education classes at different universities across the country, including methods classes for preservice English language arts teachers and classes about addressing diversity in secondary classrooms. My courses immerse future teachers in what I refer to as Transformative Justice Teacher Preparation, a process that begins with restorative justice as an organizing principle and calls on teacher preparation programs and practitioners alike to begin cultivating what restorative justice theorist Kay Pranis (2012) calls a “restorative impulse” built on the premise, “we cannot drop out, kick out, or get rid of anything. We must deal with one another and our environment” (p. 34). 

Beyond establishing a community of future teachers committed to the pursuit of transformative justice in their own classrooms, Transformative Justice Teacher Education seeks collaboration across the disciplines to explore how we might individually and collectively establish teaching frameworks that name, disrupt, and eliminate patterns of harm in our culture. This focus is grounded in the work of Professor Emerita in English Mary Rose O’Reilley, who—as a graduate student—at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee at the height of the Vietnam War asked, “How do we teach English so that people stop killing?” Transformative Justice Teacher Preparation similarly asks how we should teach in the age of hyper-incarceration and the ongoing criminalization of multiply marginalized students and their families. How can restorative justice, used with fidelity, serve as a mediating tool to disrupt wrongdoing in education by cultivating purpose and belonging for everyone in a school building? While O’Reilley’s original question was content- and discipline-specific, I argue that teacher preparation must extend this thinking across and throughout the disciplinary silos of science, mathematics, social studies/history, economics, art, music, and so on (Winn, 2016).

Teacher preparation programs are appropriate and ideal spaces for normalizing approaches that preclude referrals and banishment as options. I provide preservice teachers with foundational readings about the over-policing of multiply-minoritized students and their communities and ask what is at stake if most teachers continue to assume no moral stance on the patterns associated with the active isolation and banishment of particular students in K–12 school contexts. My coursework also begins with strategies to initiate the mind-set shift educators need to embrace to practice restorative and transformative justice teaching. I have come to realize that this shift requires educators and future educators to assume four specific pedagogical stances: History Matters, Race Matters, Justice Matters, and Language Matters (Winn, 2018a, 2018b). Educators committed to restorative justice in education must be prepared to engage in ongoing inquiry about how these stances should be interwoven within the specific teaching contexts that characterize their classrooms. 

Many teacher preparation programs offer classes that supposedly help preservice teachers learn to build community with students. Such classes are often labeled “classroom management,” which in no way connotes the importance of humanizing and historicizing the lives of all members of the learning community. What increasing numbers of educators are saying they need, and what teacher education programs should instead offer, is a paradigm that aims to build within the next generation of educators a restorative impulse and mind-set grounded in pedagogical stances and restorative justice theory, complemented by opportunities to engage in restorative justice community training—a layered approach that will truly prepare these professionals to enter their classrooms with the tactical goal of supporting all students. 

O’Reilley, M. R. The Peaceable Classroom. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Pranis, K. (Winter 2012). The restorative impulse. Tikkun Magazine, 27(1), 33-34.

Winn, M. T. (2016). Transforming Justice. Transforming Teacher Education. University of Michigan: TeachingWorks.

Winn, M. T. (2018a, September/October). A transformative justice approach to literacy education. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 62(2).

Winn, M. T. (2018b. Justice on Both Sides: Transforming Education through Restorative Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. 

About the Author: Maisha T. Winn is the Chancellor’s Leadership Professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, and codirector of the Transformative Justice in Education Center. She is also the author of Justice on Both Sides: Transformating Education through Restorative Justice (Harvard Education Press, 2018).