An Introduction to Restorative Practices In Schools

The following outlines very briefly what is meant by a whole school approach to restorative practices and the rational behind it.

Teachers often ask ‘How can I discipline more effectively, more positively and less stressfully, in that busy place called a classroom’? (Rogers, W 1992)

Peter Gray (2002) talks about a culture of blame in the world of behaviour management: parents blame schools, schools blame parents and they both blame the children. Support services are not immune from this blame culture either. Added to this individuals and groups are not always prepared to take responsibility for their own behaviour. At a school level there is also the dilemma whether to support or discipline, and there is an increasing trend towards punitive measures: the number of permanent exclusions increased five fold in the 1990s.

In schools there are occasions when challenging behaviour and conflict occur. The traditional response is to ask:

  • What happened?
  • Who is to blame?
  • What is the appropriate punishment?

In broad terms restorative practice is an approach that puts repairing harm done to relationships and people over and above the need to assign blame and punish. The following questions are asked:

  • What happened?
  • Who has been affected and how?
  • How can we put right the harm?
  • What have we all learnt so as to make different choices next time?

The emphasis on ‘we’ is crucial as all those affected by what has happened are also involved in finding a way forward.

Restorative Processes

A restorative process encompasses a continuum, from everyday casual conversations to a challenging conference aimed at helping a victim and offender move on. The continuum includes:

  • Restorative enquiry
  • Restorative discussion in challenging situations
  • Mediation
  • Victim/offender mediation
  • Community conferences and problem solving circles
  • Restorative conferences
  • Family group conferences

(Hopkins, B 2004)

Skills and values

The skills required to engage in these processes and interventions include:

  • Remaining impartial and non-judgemental
  • Respecting the perspective of all involved
  • Actively and empathically listening
  • Developing rapport amongst participants
  • Empowering participants to come up with solutions rather than suggesting or imposing ideas
  • Creative questioning
  • Warmth
  • Compassion
  • Patience

These skills are informed by an intent; to encompass the values of respect, openness, empowerment, inclusion, tolerance, integrity, and congruence.

‘To care and be cared for are fundamental human needs’. (Noddings, N 1992). All children need to learn to care for other human beings, and by using and modelling a restorative process within a school community, where relationships are more important than blame, we can begin to empower our young people to care for each other.

A question to ask – ‘is everything we do here at this school informed by a restorative ethos, giving central importance to building, maintaining and where necessary repairing relationships and community?

A school community run on these lines would be one in which, on a daily basis, people would be using restorative and relational skills to:

  • Interact with each other informally and formally
  • Enhance and inform teaching and learning
  • Have those more challenging conversations
  • Tackle problems, conflicts and discipline issues
  • Structure meetings.

All the above apply whether the situation involves young people or adults.

Bespoke training can be offered in your school to introduce restorative practices and consider the development of a restorative school ethos.

References

Hopkins, B (2004) ‘Just Schools’ London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd

Rosenberg, M (1999) ‘Non Violent Communication: a language of compassion’ Del Mar, CA: PuddleDancer Press

Rogers, W. (1992) ‘You Know the Fair Rule’. Harlow, Essex: Longman Group

Noddings, N. (1992) ‘The Challenge to Care in Schools’. New York, Teachers College Press

Gray, Peter. (2002) ‘Working with Emotions’. London, RoutledgeFalmer