Restorative Practices are ways of proactively developing relationships and community, as well as repairing community when harm is done. After conflict or harm, Restorative Practices provide a way of thinking about, talking about, and responding to issues and problems by involving all participants to identify what happened, share their feelings and perspectives, to describe how if affected everyone, and find solutions to make things better. Rather than a separate program, Restorative Practices in CPS are the understanding mindsets, language and practices that, when successfully integrated throughout the school culture and climate, create safe and productive learning spaces where students develop social, emotional, and academic skills as well as strong relationships with peers and adults.
Key Principles of Restorative Practices
A school is a community. Relationships are the heart of our school communities, and we must work diligently to build, strengthen, and restore these relationships. This means we must first use Restorative Practices pro-actively by providing all members of the community with voice, respect, and acceptance. While we often focus on how to respond after harm is done, we cannot “restore” a community when the community was not built in the first place.
Students need social and emotional learning to succeed in school, college, career, and life. Our schools and our disciplinary systems must intentionally teach students self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These skills are shown to improve students’ pro-social behaviors, reduce emotional distress, prevent conduct problems, and contribute to higher academic achievement. Social and emotional skills are also critical for adults to build the trusting relationships with each other and with students that allow them to engage in Restorative Practices.
Accountability is achieved when someone understands the impact of their actions, takes responsibility for choices, and works to repair harm done. Adults help students hold themselves accountable by both setting high expectations and providing high levels of support. This is achieved when educators do things with students—not to them or for them. Restorative Practices do not eliminate consequences; they promote consequences that hold students deeply accountable for repairing and learning from the impact of their actions.
Why use Restorative Practices?
As educators, it is our role to create supportive school communities where students can thrive and learn the academic, social, and emotional skills that they need to succeed in college, career, and life. Restorative Practices provide a way for schools to strengthen community, build relationships among students and between students and staff, and increase the safety and productivity of the learning environment. Restorative Practices:
- Improve school and classroom climates by focusing on community, relationships, and responsibility.
- Promote social and emotional skill development by teaching students self-awareness, empathy, communication skills, responsible decision-making, relationship building, and conflict resolution.
- Increase safety and order in school buildings by providing constructive strategies for responding to conflict, de-escalating volatile situations, and promoting a sense of collective responsibility.
- Decrease disciplinary issues and disruptions, and serve as an alternative to harmful exclusionary practices such as suspension and expulsion.
- Promote student engagement in learning and aid in classroom management.
- Provide opportunities and methods for building classroom behaviors which cultivate resilience and equity.
A restorative mindset describes how a person understands community and one’s role in the community. Such a mindset must be trauma and equity informed. The values and concepts that underlie a restorative mindset include:
- Relationships and trust are at the center of community
- All members of the community are responsible to and for each other
- Multiple perspectives are welcomed and all voices are equally important
- Healing is a process essential to restoring community
- Harm-doers should be held accountable for and take an active role in repairing harm
- Conflict is resolved through honest dialogue and collaborative problem-solving that addresses the root cause and the needs of those involved
- Transformation of conflict is understood, approached and accomplished through a trauma and equity- informed lens
Restorative language allows all parties engaged in conflict to remain calm and to focus on repairing harm and rebuilding relationships. Restorative language uses "I" statements to remain non-judgmental, gives the speaker positive feedback through empathetic listening, and encourages them to reflect in response to restorative questions.
- Empathetic listening occurs when one person truly listens to the thoughts, feelings, and needs of another person, and makes an active effort to comprehend the other person’s perspective. Empathetic listening is a concentrated effort to ensure that the speaker feels that he/she is understood and valued without judgment.
- “I” statements express feelings and convey how the speaker was affected. “I” statements, or affective statements, encourage acknowledgment and ownership over one’s thoughts and feelings. Communicating this way helps strengthen relationships and builds understanding of how one person’s actions has an effect on the larger community.
- Restorative Questions are non-judgmental ways of prompting someone to consider the feelings of others, the impact of his/her actions, and what can be done to make things right. Restorative questions help the respondent learn from the incident and problem solve.
Restorative Conversations or “chats” may be formal or informal structured one-on-one discussions that use restorative questions, “I” statements, and empathetic listening to guide someone through reflection, problem solving, and repairing harm. Rather than chastising a harm- doer for his/her behavior, Restorative Conversations help identify root causes and place responsibility on the harm-doer to understand the impact of his/her behavior and take steps to make things better.
Circles: Circle rituals and structures create a safe and equitable space for people to communicate and connect with one another.
- Talking Circles can be used to get to know members of the school/classroom community, talk about issues that are affecting the community, develop plans, celebrate successes and good news, solve problems, and heal or grieve.
- Peace Circles are one type of circle ritual that engage all involved parties to develop agreements that resolve conflicts and disciplinary issues.
Classroom Practices: In the classroom, Restorative Practices may be implemented through daily rituals and practices, disciplinary responses, or simply through the interactions between teachers and students. Classroom practices may include Talking Circles or other community-building activities, teaching students self-awareness through “I” statements, resolving conflicts through restorative questions and conversations, and providing opportunities for reflection.