Crafting a Restorative School Culture: Insights from Finland’s Dr. Maija Gellin

In a recent enlightening presentation, Dr. Maija Gellin, the director of the VERSO-programme in Finland, imparted her extensive knowledge and experience on developing a restorative culture within educational institutions. Gellin’s credentials, including her role as a mediation officer, lecturer at Univ Helsinki and Univ Lapland, and her affiliation with the Finnish Forum for Mediation, lend her a unique perspective. Her insights are grounded not only in academic understanding but also in practical application in Finnish schools.

The title, “How to create a restorative school culture,” promptly captures the essence of the discourse. In today’s complex world, where global health and well-being challenges are ubiquitous, there’s a pressing need for instilling restorative values, such as respect, a sense of community, participation, and the rights of a child, in our education system.

But what does it mean to have a restorative school culture? As Dr. Gellin outlined, it isn’t merely about equipping educational staff with a toolkit of restorative methods. Instead, it’s about a holistic transformation wherein the entire school’s ethos shifts towards restoration and well-being. Her two-decade-long experience in Finnish schools coupled with her PhD research has made her a leading voice on this subject.

Central to Dr. Gellin’s presentation were the pivotal concepts of a restorative school community. These encompass a restorative attitude, participation, and mediation. Such a foundation ensures that daily operations in schools and kindergartens are not merely about instruction but about crafting a nurturing environment where the positive identity of children is fostered.

A restorative attitude transcends the traditional punitive measures seen in some schools. Instead of viewing mistakes or misbehavior as mere infractions demanding punishment, a restorative attitude looks at them as opportunities for learning, understanding, and growth.

Restorative participation, on the other hand, emphasizes a sense of belonging and inclusivity. It’s the idea that every child, irrespective of their background or abilities, is an integral part of the school community. They are not mere recipients of education but active participants in the learning process.

And then there’s restorative mediation, a process that Dr. Gellin has personal expertise in. When conflicts arise, as they inevitably do, mediation seeks to address them in a manner that repairs relationships and fosters understanding rather than deepening divides.

Dr. Gellin’s assertion is that when children experience such a restorative culture firsthand, they not only thrive in their educational endeavors but also carry these values with them throughout their lives. This ability to engage in restorative encounters becomes a life skill, helping them navigate the complexities of adulthood with empathy, understanding, and resilience.

In conclusion, Dr. Maija Gellin’s presentation was a beacon of hope and a roadmap for educational institutions worldwide. In a time when the world grapples with challenges that often seem insurmountable, the idea that schools can be sanctuaries of restoration, well-being, and holistic growth is not just comforting but essential. Finland, known for its exemplary education system, once again offers the world a lesson – this time, on the power of restoration.