Restorative practice is a whole school approach to school culture. It “is a relational approach to building school climate and addressing student behavior that fosters belonging over exclusion, social engagement over control, and meaningful accountability over punishment.” It is an investment of time and emotion.
The Restorative Model
Restorative practice is a much slower process and it involves more hands-on commitment from the teachers, the students, the parents, and the admin. It is a “pulling in” rather than a “pushing out,” and sometimes the ones you are “pulling in,” resist. It is difficult some days and weeks, but it has been, for me, totally worth it. At our school, Katherine Anne Porter, the idea to begin implementing restorative discipline and practice began about 3 years ago. In many ways, even earlier than that - as a charter school - our goal has been to find alternatives to both teaching and discipline in the school systems. As we move into our third official year of Restorative Practice, I, as Principal, will be implementing more restorative practice into our discipline procedures. The most common form of Restorative Practice is the circle. However, the circle is not the only aspect of the restorative practice. It is something that we do in all our day-to-day interactions with each other. It is a way of speaking with one another and most importantly of listening to one another. It begins with “I” statements and asking questions of the other. If a person is acting out or acting in a way that isn’t usual for them, learn to ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions. Sometimes the cause, is not what you expect. Learn to ask, “what is going on with you today? Are you feeling okay? Is there something you need from me, that you are not getting?” If you, yourself, are upfront and honest, and you learn to listen, then you can solve more problems than you can cause or escalate. The circle model in Restorative Practice can be applied to many areas of the school. We use them in the classroom as check-ins, teaching circles, respect agreements, and topical issues inside and outside the classroom. We also use them for staffings, mentor groups, and during staff inservices. The circle is a forum to vocalize one’s opinions. Everyone gets a chance to speak, and all get the opportunity to listen. With that being said, speaking is optional. Anyone who does not feel comfortable answering, or simply has nothing to say, may pass when it gets to their turn. The main elements of the circle are the talking piece, the center piece, the opener, the closer, and the rounds. The circle not only gives voice to all, it protects as well. It gives people - students, parents, teachers, and admin alike, a space to speak and be heard. It gives the school an opportunity to have the difficult conversations that need to occur, so that our community can grow together.
Looking forward to the journey!
Dr. Erin Flynn Principal
Restorative Practices Principles
1. Acknowledges that relationships are central to building community.
Restorative practices seek to strengthen relationships and build community by encouraging a caring school climate.
Every student, teacher, administrator, staff member, and parent/guardian is a valued member of the school community.
Students should be involved in a process of naming the values and principles to live by within their school community.
2. Builds systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships.
Schools establish policies to provide a safe place for learning. Real safety however comes from fostering and maintaining caring relationships.
Policies should reflect the values and principles agreed to by the school community.
Policies need to address the root causes of discipline problems rather than only the symptoms. The causes of misbehavior may be multiple and each should be addressed.
3. Focuses on the harm done rather than only on rule-breaking.
Misbehavior is an offense against people and relationships, not just rule-breaking.
The solution to the offense needs to involve all of those harmed by the misbehavior.
The person harmed is the center of the primary relationship that needs to be addressed. Secondary relationships that may have been impacted might include other students, teachers, parents, the administration, and the surrounding community.
Much misbehavior arises out of attempts to address a perceived injustice. Those who are victimized also feel they have been treated unjustly. Discipline processes must leave room for addressing these perceptions.
4. Gives voice to the person harmed.
The immediate safety concerns of the person harmed are primary.
Those harmed must be given an opportunity to have a voice in the resolution of the harm.
5. Engages in collaborative problem solving.
All of us act to satisfy our human needs (for belonging, freedom, power, and fun). Students choose behaviors to meet these underlying needs.
Family, students, and communities are encouraged to help identify problems and solutions that meet needs.
Misbehavior can become a teachable moment if everyone is involved.
6. Empowers change and growth.
In order for students to change and grow, we must help them identify their needs and assist them in finding alternative, life giving ways of meeting those needs.
Interpersonal conflict is a part of living in relationship with others.
Conflict presents opportunity for change if the process includes careful listening, reflecting, shared problem- solving, trust, and accountability structures that support commitments to work at relationship building.
7. Enhances Responsibility.
Real responsibility requires one to understand the impact of her or his actions on others, along with an attempt to acknowledge and put things right when that impact is negative.
Consequences should be evaluated based on whether they are reasonable, related to the offense, restorative, and respectful.
Students should continually be invited to become responsible and cooperative.
Some students choose to resist participation in a process that will allow for change and may need adults to support and guide them in decision-making concerning their accountability.
“What’s fundamental about restorative justice (practices) is a shift away from thinking about laws being broken, who broke the law, and how we punish the people who broke the laws. There’s a shift to: there was harm caused, or there’s disagreement or dispute, there’s conflict, and how do we repair the harm, address the conflict, meet the needs, so that relationships and community can be repaired and restored. It’s a different orientation. It is a shift.”
- Cheryl Graves, Community Justice for Youth Institute