Relationships First: Creating School Cultures of Belonging is a well-researched initiative that addresses concerns in education including academic achievement gaps, disproportional representation of minority groups excluded from school programing, mental health conditions, and incidents of harm such as bullying, aggression, and youth suicide. The project, which is firmly grounded in the field of restorative justice in education (RJE), invited educators and students in a local high school and local primary elementary school to actively embody the concept that all people and their environments are worthy and interconnected. Unlike an approach that targets one aspect of the school program or population, RJE is a way of being that encompasses all facets of education.
Though it is comprehensive, the process involved in implementation is practical, accessible, and cost-effective. The project provided a series of five professional development days for a team of educators and administrators from each school spread over a school year. Participants implemented the approach in their own contexts and the team met together regularly to support each other and make a plan for introducing RJE to the whole school in the following 2 years.
A handbook and video were developed and will serve as a guide for other educators within and outside of these schools. These resources will document the daily reality of nurturing relational classrooms and schools in NL.
Relationships First: Creating School Cultures of Belonging is a collaborative project between the schools and Relationships First: RJE Consortium of NL. This not-for-profit organization is an exemplary model of public engagement as it is led by MUN’s Faculty of Education and includes seven of NL’s key education stakeholders. All are committed to creating cultures of belonging for the province’s children and youth.