Crafting a Restorative School Culture: Insights from Pia Slögs and Maija Gellin

In a compelling presentation at a recent conference, lawyer Pia Slögs, the director of a community mediation center in Finland, and co-presenter Maija Gellin delved into the intricacies of creating a restorative school culture. The collaborative insights of these two seasoned professionals provided attendees with a comprehensive understanding of the subject.

Pia Slögs, with an educational background in restorative justice from the University of Hull, UK, and a rich career spanning 15 years in victim-offender mediation services, brought to the table her nuanced understanding of restorative practices. Her work, especially with Swedish-speaking schools in Finland through the VERSO-programme, has equipped her with first-hand experiences of the challenges and rewards of integrating restorative practices into the school ecosystem.

The presentation commenced with Slögs outlining the fundamental principles of restorative justice, emphasizing its focus on repairing harm, fostering mutual understanding, and rebuilding trust. Drawing from her background as a lawyer and mediator, she showcased real-life examples, highlighting the tangible benefits of a restorative approach in addressing conflicts, not just in legal settings but also in educational institutions.

As the discourse transitioned to the school environment, co-presenter Maija Gellin, whose abstract on ‘How to create a restorative school culture’ formed the foundation of the presentation, expanded on the actionable steps schools can adopt. Gellin emphasized the importance of consistent training for educators, ensuring they are equipped with the skills and mindset to champion restorative practices in classrooms.

One of the core themes resonating through the presentation was the need for a paradigm shift in how schools view discipline. Rather than a punitive approach that might alienate students, a restorative culture emphasizes understanding the root causes of conflicts, facilitating dialogues between aggrieved parties, and collaboratively finding solutions that repair harm and rebuild relationships.

Slögs and Gellin also touched upon the challenges schools might face in this transition. Resistance from stakeholders, misconceptions about restorative practices being ‘too lenient’, and the need for continuous training were some of the hurdles discussed. However, through interactive segments and case studies, the duo effectively showcased that the benefits of a restorative school culture far outweigh the challenges.

One of the poignant moments in the presentation was when Slögs shared anecdotes from her time working with the VERSO-programme in Swedish spoken schools. These stories underscored the transformative power of restorative practices in reshaping school dynamics, fostering a more inclusive, understanding, and harmonious environment.

The presentation concluded with an interactive Q&A session, where attendees sought guidance on implementing restorative practices in diverse educational settings. Both Slögs and Gellin emphasized the importance of community involvement, continuous training, and institutional commitment to truly embed restorative values in school cultures.

In essence, Pia Slögs and Maija Gellin’s presentation was not just an academic exploration of restorative practices but a call to action for educational institutions worldwide. Their message was clear: In a world where conflicts are inevitable, a restorative school culture provides the tools and framework for understanding, reconciliation, and growth.