Introduction to Restorative Practices in Schools: Healing, Reconciliation, and Academic Success 

Introduction

Restorative practices in schools are a set of holistic approaches aimed at fostering relationships, promoting accountability, and establishing an inclusive learning environment. Derived from the principles of restorative justice, these practices prioritize the healing and reparation of community bonds that may have been broken due to conflicts or misconduct. This article provides an overview of restorative practices in schools, incorporating historical background, thought leaders, contemporary insights, and a captivating case study.

Historical Background

The integration of restorative practices in schools can be traced back to the 1990s, initially gaining traction in Australia and New Zealand, before moving to the United States and other Western countries (Morrison & Vaandering, 2012). Originally derived from indigenous cultures, these practices blend seamlessly with the educational domain, providing a humane alternative to traditional punitive disciplinary actions like suspension or expulsion.

Key Thought Leaders

Howard Zehr

Known as the “grandfather of restorative justice,” Zehr’s work significantly influences restorative practices in schools. His foundational text, “Changing Lenses” (1990), is often cited for its emphasis on the importance of focusing on harms and needs rather than rules and punishment.

Brenda Morrison

A significant player in the field of restorative practices in schools, Morrison is celebrated for her work on the “whole-school approach,” advocating for the pervasive application of restorative principles throughout the educational environment (Morrison, 2007).

Thalia González

An advocate for legal frameworks supporting restorative justice in schools, González has researched and published extensively on the systemic advantages and implementation strategies for school-based restorative practices (González, 2015).

Methodologies and Programs

Restorative Circles

In these gatherings, affected parties come together to discuss conflicts and collectively brainstorm resolutions, facilitated by a trained mediator (Costello, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 2009).

Peer Mediation

Older or more experienced students are trained to mediate conflicts among peers, thereby fostering a culture of student-led conflict resolution (Stutzman Amstutz & Mullet, 2005).

Healing Spaces

Designated areas are set up for students to self-reflect, often guided by mindfulness techniques, to process emotions and devise constructive ways to handle conflict (Schiff, 2013).

Case Study: Harmony High School

At Harmony High School in Portland, Oregon, the implementation of a comprehensive restorative practices program led to a 40% reduction in suspensions within the first year. Moreover, the school reported increased levels of student engagement, and even observed a moderate rise in academic performance (Evans & Lester, 2013).

Lyn Doppler: Observations from around the world

Extract from Lyn Doppler’s Churchill Scholarship Report to study the effects on student achievement in schools where restorative practices have been embedded as a way of learning and being together – UK, USA and Canada:


My learnings and conclusions from international investigations confirm a culture change which occurs in schools where Restorative Practices are embedded as a way of being and learning. This change affects the various levels in a school and
each level is connected and adds value to the other within a cycle of continuous
school improvement leading to enhanced student achievement.
Culture:
+ Seek culture change at a whole school level where the focus is on building healthy
relationships via a common language and framework and within a climate of trust
and empowerment.
Leadership:
+ Provide structured opportunities via the principal/leadership team for staff dialogue
including reflection, rigorous discussion and respectful challenge that may clarify
beliefs and rationale for teaching and student learning and in turn influence practice.
Teacher Practice:
+ Allow for individual teachers to focus on the big picture and be explicit in rationale
and teaching practice rather than work intuitively and be susceptible to feeling
overwhelmed by the myriad of expectations, programs and external accountability
constraints.
Curriculum & Student Learning:
+ Embed Restorative Practices within the Quality Teaching framework (NSW) as they
provide a perfect alignment to support student-centred learning, constructivist
pedagogy and inquiry-based participatory approaches to learning via an explicit
framework.
Capacity:
+ Use the restorative framework as the catalyst for sustainable student achievement by
focusing on:
-quality teaching and learning practice (as opposed to a narrow test focus) combined
with quality professional development and within a climate of empowerment, trust and
support.
-building healthy, respectful relationships (as opposed to building more programs).
+ Create specialist positions at school and district level to oversee the training and
ongoing support for schools in the restorative philosophy.
+ Develop clusters of schools or entire districts willing to embark upon the Restorative
Practices journey so that a collegial support network is formed. These networks are
invaluable during times of stress when it’s natural to revert to learned behaviours
especially in the early days of the implementation dip and cycle.
+ Provide accreditation for teachers completing modules in this philosophy at conferences
and professional development sessions.
+ Provide a manual which complements the initial Restorative Practices training and acts
as a scaffold for teachers along with professional dialogue to enable them to grow their
practice.
The capacity building around the world in Restorative Practices will continue if we
provide opportunities to have reflective conversations by celebrating successes and
critically evaluating failures. Many schools seem to find the transition from a way of being
to a way of teaching and learning a little more challenging. In schools this premise has
important implications for leadership teams in keeping the big picture in focus and the
restorative foundations healthy by filtering the minutiae of things with which schools and
teachers are buffeted.

Contemporary Insights

Virtual Implementation

With the onset of digital education, schools are increasingly adopting virtual platforms for conducting restorative circles, bringing these age-old practices into the 21st century (Ashley & Burke, 2017).

Teacher Training

Teacher training in restorative practices is evolving, with courses offering in-depth understanding and practical skills to be effective facilitators (Gregory et al., 2016).

Conclusion and Academic Insight

The application of restorative practices in schools represents an essential paradigm shift in education, but its implementation is not without challenges. While Zehr, Morrison, González, and others have laid the groundwork, the academic community must continually scrutinize these practices to ensure their efficacy (Zehr, 1990; Morrison, 2007; González, 2015). Studies should focus on identifying best practices for different educational settings, including marginalized communities where restorative practices might be uniquely beneficial. Further longitudinal studies are imperative to truly gauge the long-term impacts, both socio-emotional and academic, of these practices.

References

  • Morrison, B., & Vaandering, D. (2012). Restorative Justice: Pedagogy, Praxis, and Discipline. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 138-155.
  • Zehr, H. (1990). Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Herald Press.
  • González, T. (2015). Socializing Schools: Addressing Racial Disparities in Discipline Through Restorative Justice. In D. J. Losen (Ed.), Closing the School Discipline Gap (pp. 151-165). Teachers College Press.
  • Costello, B., Wachtel, J., & Wachtel, T. (2009). The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians, and Administrators. International Institute for Restorative Practices.
  • Stutzman Amstutz, L., & Mullet, J. H. (2005). The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools. Good Books.
  • Schiff, M. (2013). Dignity, Disparity and Desistance: Effective Restorative Justice Strategies to Plug the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, 15, 1-52.
  • Evans, K., & Lester, J. (2013). Restorative Justice in Education: What We Know So Far. Middle School Journal, 44(5), 57-63.
  • Ashley, J., & Burke, K. (2017). Implementing Restorative Justice: A Guide for Schools. Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
  • Gregory, A., Clawson, K., Davis, A., & Gerewitz, J. (2016). The Promise of Restorative Practices to Transform Teacher-Student Relationships and Achieve Equity in School Discipline. Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation, 26(4), 325-353.