Restorative in Practice in Schools

How schools build a restorative culture

  • Deepen relationships with daily or weekly circle practices that involve the whole class. Circles can be used to build listening and speaking skills, share knowledge, practice for tests, or problem solve for issues affecting the whole class.

  • Teach and model communication skills so that students can both share and listen to diverse opinions. Embrace dissenting ideas as part of the learning process

  • Ensure that school practices and policies are flexible, not rigid. This allows schools to respond to students and staff as unique and valued individuals.

  • Teach in a way that connects students with themselves and each other and, with that, to their curricula and the world. Make content relevant and engaging. Provide students with voice and choice in activities.

  • Explicitly teach skills and attitudes for students to be able to problem-solve on their own and as a collective. Implicitly model a problem-solving stance in classroom interactions and in the way you teach.

  • Be constantly curious. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. Listen for understanding. Help students to do the same – in their social relationships and in their schoolwork.

  • Treat conflict as natural, necessary and educational. Assure students that conflict will happen, and when it does, you will support them. Emphasise it’s something you will all learn from.

  • Put significant time into developing staff relationships that are honest, supportive and collaborative.

How to respond to conflict or harm using a restorative approach

In a restorative response, schools are reminded that when a student does something ‘against the rules’ the important thing is not that a rule has been broken.

Schools create rules for the purpose of helping us stay safe and live well together. This idea helps move the focus beyond rules to the people involved and the relationships that have been harmed.

Each situation is unique, each person involved has different needs, and each solution looks different. What remains the same is that schools seek to repair harm and make things as right as possible.

This is very different from a punitive approach that seeks to blame, shame and give a ‘wrongdoer’ what they ‘deserve’.

The difference can be seen in the questions that are asked when something occurs.

Retributive / Punititive

What rules have been broken?

Who did it?

What do they deserve?

Restorative Justice

What happened?

Who has been harmed?

What needs to happen to make things as right as possible?

Schools intentionally build a restorative culture through how they respond to conflict and harm. Here are examples about what it looks like in practice.

  • View discipline as an educational process in which students are supported to recognise mistakes, be accountable for their actions and learn for next time.

  • Move away from finding the wrongdoer and meting out punishment and towards understanding who has been harmed, how they have been harmed and what they need to feel safe and whole.

  • Provide transparent processes for students to bring forward matters of concern. It is important for students to know who to go to for help in dealing with issues and what sorts of conversations they might engage in when they access that help.

  • Use non-blaming restorative questions when discussing any behaviour or issue with students.

  • What happened and what were you thinking at the time?

  • What have you thought about since?

  • Who has been affected by what happened? How do you think they’ve been affected?

  • What about this has been the hardest for you?

  • What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?

  • Deal with adult conflict (for example between staff and with parents/carers) in the same restorative way as with students.