Numerous schools have found that when they use zero-tolerance and exclusionary discipline practices, students miss vital instruction time, develop greater disconnection from school, and engage in detrimental behavior.
Restorative practices (RPS) emerged to address discipline in a way that keeps students engaged in learning by reinforcing problem-solving skills, managing emotions, building relationships, and changing the school climate. Because RPS focus on meeting needs, they are a promising alternative to disciplinary practices that try to deter negative behavior through threatening consequences.
Some needs RPS address are to better understand one’s emotions and thoughts, communicate these thoughts, and relate to others with honesty, care, and integrity. Nonviolent communication is one set of practices through which some schools are supporting their students’ and staffs’ individual capacities to address these needs. Regardless of which communication practice a school chooses, RPS are more effective if these fundamental skills are positioned as a core set of practices within RPS.
What makes RPS different from other school programs that address these needs (e.g., Social and Emotional Learning programs) are that RPS also create a set of structured processes within which the learning, integration, and expression of these principles and personal skills can be successful. Seven principles reflect values and concepts in all practices that are a part of school-based RPS:
- relationships are central to building effective communities
- misbehavior and harm must be addressed in ways that strengthen relationships
- harm must be addressed in addition to rule-breaking
- those harmed must be given a voice
- collaboration is essential for problem solving
- individual and collective growth are vital
- responsibility at the individual and collective levels for causing problems must be attended to
These practices range from more informal to formal (see figure below for example). As practices are more formal, they are more structured, include more people, and require more planning.
A more complete list of possible restorative practices include:
- proactive restorative circles
- responsive restorative circles
- impromptu restorative conferences
- restorative conferences and meetings
- codified disciplinary consequences
- reintegration into the learning environment processes
- explicit philosophical messaging
- restorative staff circles
- restorative approaches for families and communities
- intentional fair and consistent practices
Some schools have included peer mediation programs, restorative justice courts, and violence interrupter practices too. Administrators who are interested in successfully implementing RPS in their schools should be advised of four things. First, restorative practices can look different at different schools. Administrators should choose practices that align with their school’s needs, strengths, and histories. Given the complexity of these practices, administrators might confer with RPS experts. Second, implementing all of these restorative practices can take years. Third, schools might implement core practices like restorative communication, impromptu restorative conferences, proactive circles, responsive circles, and codified disciplinary consequences before implementing other practices. Fourth, RPS fundamentally believe that all people should be included and are worthy of compassion and consideration. This represents a marked shift for most schools and may require significant staff buy-in before successful implementation.
Learn More About Restorative Practices in Schools
- San Francisco Unified School District has an insightful implementation guide.
- The University of Maine has compiled a list of research-based articles that include data showing the effectiveness of RPS.
- Last month, I shared a short video on Metta Center’s blog about a successful RPS program at a school in Oakland, CA. The video defines what restorative justice is and what it looks like in schools. It also portrays student and teacher perspectives of restorative justice.