Mindfulness & Wellbeing

How Restorative Practices in Schools Create Healthier Learning Spaces

Global educators is looking toward using the healing power of restorative practices to resolve disputes and to repair damaged relationships.

Ed note: The following is an excerpt from our newest resource release about the power of restorative practices in schools.

In schools around the world, a remarkable shift is happening. Where once the rule was to employ punitive measures to settle conflicts,

we are now seeing our global educators looking toward using the healing power of restorative practices to resolve disputes and to repair damaged relationships.

 The best news of all is that it is largely the students who are taking the lead. What we know in the penal system as “restorative justice” has made its way into the schools and workplaces, and we are seeing dramatic results from its application to conflicts.

In this article we feature an excerpt from our book Restorative Practices: Better Outcomes Through Solution Fluency. We’ll talk briefly about restorative practices in schools and why they matter. Next, we’ll discuss some schools that we’ve worked with who have had enjoyed success with RP through student-led initiatives. Lastly, we’ll present you with the resource that will help you discover how you can bring the vitality of restorative practices to your own school.

What Is Restorative Practice?

Restorative practice is a system of conflict resolution and management that includes addressing the needs of the victim, the offender and the affected community. It seeks to promote healthy relationships and encourage association, and to lay the foundation for developing the interpersonal skills and emotional awareness that can turn human conflict into an opportunity for growth and healing. 

Whereas punitive practices focus largely on exclusion, criminalization, and decisive punishment for the wrongdoer(and hopefully justice for the victim), restorative practices are based on inclusion, compassion, and the restoration of proactive connection and communication. 

Restorative practice seeks to avoid blame and guilt, and eschew the“eye-for-an-eye”mentality that victims often feel,

striving instead for an open dialogue that seeks to nurture understanding and awareness between all involved parties. It removes the need for revenge and engages all participants in finding a solution that lasts. However, it does not negate consequence.

It was Howard Zehr’s 1990 book Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice that brought widespread awareness to restorative practices. As a result, the assumption is that it is a more recent development. However, restorative approaches have appeared in cultures throughout history including Roman, Babylonian, African, Asian, Celtic, Native American, and countless others. 

Why Use Restorative Practices in Schools?

According to School-Wide Restorative Practices: Step by Step, a whitepaper published in 2017 by the Denver School-Based Restorative Practices Partnership, punitive practices began to increase in schools dramatically in the 1980's. This was part of a zero-tolerance stand taken on disruptive youth behaviour. It meant that suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement referrals increased even for the most minor of offences. The problem is that these punitive practices hardly ever result in any improvement in student behaviour.

Instead, punitive approaches alienate students from classrooms and from their peers and exclude them from receiving a quality education—and sometimes unjustly.

This succeeds in accomplishing little more than a renewed contempt for the school system and community due to the negative connotations associated with it through punitive practices. Restorative practices, however, are about enhancing the school community by embracing the humanity in both victim and offender. It’s about solving problems rather than doling out punishment.

But how does this benefit schools? Simply put, healthier and happier schools produce healthier and happier citizens. Forward-thinking and inclusive, restorative practice provides a pathway to building trust among students and staff, thereby increasing engagement and the passion for learning in a comfortable and supportive environment.

How Solution Fluency Is Being Used for Restorative Practice

The first occurrence of students using Solution Fluency for conflict resolution was at St. Timothy School in Edmonton, Alberta. According to principal Phebe Switzer, two students had come to her asking to use Solution Fluency to solve their quarrel instead of receiving outside judgment. An excellent administrator and very quick thinker, Ms. Switzer took the opportunity to gladly facilitate the process for them.

Each began by Defining the problem from their perspective. Next they used Discover to determine where the problem had come from and were able to understand each other’s perspective. They then collaborated on a Dream—a solution to the problem that would satisfy both their concerns. Once agreed upon, they built a simple plan or Design for implementation and then Delivered that plan. They met back with the principal at a prearranged time to Debrief the process and to ensure the problem had been solved. Since this instance, students at St. Timothy regularly engage in the same process on their own, outside the influence and control of administrators.

A nearly identical scenario occurred not long after at St. Jerome, another primary school in the Edmonton Catholic School District. Clearly this was no coincidence, so we began speaking to other schools we had worked with that were using Solution Fluency. Our inquiries revealed that this was an organic development in many schools, and an unexpected benefit of engaging students in the Solution Fluency process.

In addition to this, a wonderful school in Tasmania, Youngstown Primary, when hearing of encounters in other schools, took proactive action. Alongside the school-wide roll out of inquiry using Solution Fluency, they developed a strategy for restorative applications to help reinforce the 6D's to students as a process not just for problems presented in the classroom.