The Obama administration anointed restorative justice as the Prodigal Son that would return to heal the ailments associated with disproportionate discipline. Teachers have responded with numerous complaints that continue to detract from the original vision for many schools. Restorative justice will fade as many other educational initiatives due to the inability to resolve the root cause for disproportionate discipline.

A recent Buffalo News article, Teachers decry ‘restorative’ discipline as suspensions drop, depicts teachers are challenged by new processes associated with restorative justice while administrators makes disciplinary decisions that are contrary to teacher beliefs. One Buffalo teacher support mechanism, Buffalo Teachers Federation, “has raised the matter with district officials after complaints this year from teachers faced with the [Restorative justice process] this year from teachers faced with that very dilemma and ask: How are they supposed to teach under those circumstances?” The specific circumstance involves when “A student is sent to the principal’s office for bad behavior – maybe mouthing off to the teacher, curlsing or disrupting class.” Most administrators have restored to holding a conference with the student and then returning the student to the class because it is determined that the conflict is a result of a cultural clash between the teacher and student. 

What troubles most teachers is that returning the student to class without a notable consequence sends the message to students that the cultural clash between the teacher and student is acceptable. Alternatively, it also sends the message to the teacher that the cultural clash between the teacher and student is acceptable and the teacher must handle cultural conflicts in a different manner. Teachers must first ascertain the cultural challenges that exist between teachers and students as a stepping stone to admonish the necessity for restorative justice practices.  

What are some of the cultural challenges between teachers and students that necessitate the need for restorative justice practices?

The major challenge that has necessitated the need for restorative justice involves the lack of positive communication between teachers and students. The classroom interaction between a teacher and student is a communication process that is not limited to transmitting knowledge but also involves interpersonal communication behaviors and nonverbal behaviors that are the major aspects of interpersonal relationships. In essence, teachers and students are verbal and nonverbal message senders and receivers. Developing respectful relationships with students requires considerable knowledge of their verbal and nonverbal communication styles.

Schools and Black student conflict develop from expectation differences related to communication styles. The general public fails to accept that Blacks have different communication norms and conventions by assuming that Blacks communicate using standards set by socially dominant Whites. Whites’ dispassionate and detached communication mode creates distrust among Blacks due to its similarity to Blacks who front which occurs when Blacks perceive there is a communication risk factor and chooses to remain silent in Black-White communication encounters. Most Black educational failure arises from the teachers’ inability to understand how the students communicate.

For example, White Americans’ unfamiliarity with the Black communication style results in a misunderstanding by the American mainstream. Lower-class Blacks in the United States do not communicate the same way other Americans do and that irritates those of us who have operated most of our lives on the assimilations ideal which posits the expectations that Black students must mirror the communication process of their White teachers.

We find this to be very evident when there is a disagreement which leads to a debate between the student and teacher. Blacks move a debate from a global to personal realm which is perceived by Whites as a personal attack. Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. Blacks embrace this technique to identify the real intentions of the person that they encounter. Blacks desire to clarify the meaning of their interaction and the value of a particular behavior or attitude.

Additionally, many White teachers are offended by Blacks spontaneity in a conversation. In the Black community, spontaneity is an acceptable form of communication while others perceive that it is a rude and unacceptable form of interaction. Many Blacks believe that the speaker and audience are often interchangeable as a Black person who is listening will often interrupt as a response to the speaker.

While this is not an exhaustive explanation of the challenges that students and teachers face in the classroom, it provides a glimpse of the factors that schools refuse to consider. Schools will never overcome the classroom cultural clash without overcoming these communication differences. The only practical alternative to the restorative justice process that many teachers abhor is to promote positive racial teacher student classroom relationships.


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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034

Author of:

  • Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships
  • Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
  • The Raccelerate Formula App
  • Treasures of Hidden Racism in Education
  • The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Racism Management

cultural diversity consultant cultural diversity consultant classroom management cultural diversity consultant cultural diversity consultant raccelerate formula cultural diversity consultant cultural diversity consultant


“Dr. Campbell did his part and now all we have to do is run with it.”
 ~ Tom Coleman ~
Woodstown-Pilesgrove Public Schools Superintendent of Schools


“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.

~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor

“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”

~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President


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