Embracing Restorative Teaching: Leaf Seligman’s Transformative Approach to Higher Education

In a world where traditional educational systems are often critiqued for their rigid, hierarchical structures, Leaf Seligman’s presentation emerged as a refreshing antidote. The passionate educator, who boasts an impressive and varied resume, took to the stage to challenge the age-old paradigms of college and university teachings. Her central query: “How do I know if I’m teaching restoratively?”

Seligman’s foundational argument was that even when curricula contain content related to restorative justice, they might still be delivered in a non-restorative environment. It’s not sufficient to merely discuss restorative values; it’s crucial that the very framework of teaching – from the classroom layout to the instructor-student dynamics – be structured around these values. If not, we risk missing out on the chance to raise a generation that understands and practices living justice.

To provide her audience with a tangible model, Seligman delved into a case study from a first-year thinking and writing course she taught. Navigating the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic, she showcased how it’s still possible to embrace a restorative approach. Through anecdotes, student testimonies, and her trademark humor, she painted a vivid picture of a classroom where every participant, regardless of their role, is a co-learner. The environment she described was one of mutual respect, collective knowledge-seeking, and shared experiences, fundamentally rooted in restorative principles.

But why is this approach essential? As Seligman pointed out, the classroom is a microcosm of society. When students are conditioned in an environment that prioritizes punitive measures over understanding, hierarchy over collaboration, and rigidity over flexibility, they carry these learned behaviors into the wider world. By instilling restorative values at the educational level, we stand a better chance of fostering a society that values understanding over punishment, and community over isolation.

What made Seligman’s presentation even more compelling was the breadth and depth of her personal experiences. From her early days as a prodigious college student at the tender age of sixteen, through her journey as a parish minister, jail chaplain, and circle-keeper, she has witnessed first-hand the transformative power of restorative practices. These experiences have not only shaped her approach to teaching but also enriched her written works, including her notable book, “From the Midway: Unfolding Stories of Redemption and Belonging.”

As the session drew to a close, the educator extended an invitation for continued dialogue and exploration. Sharing her website and direct contact details, Seligman encouraged educators, students, and anyone interested in restorative practices to connect with her, fostering a growing community dedicated to reshaping the educational landscape.

In a nutshell, Leaf Seligman’s discourse served as a profound reminder of the potential held within restorative teaching methods. She highlighted that by shifting away from traditional, hierarchical systems and moving towards a more inclusive, understanding, and restorative pedagogy, we could indeed nurture a generation that truly understands and practices living justice. Her call to action was not just for educators but for society as a whole: to reflect, rethink, and reframe our approach to teaching and learning.