Do you remember being in school and being automatic suspensions? Getting suspended with no questions or investigation is called the zero-tolerance policy in schools, it has been utilized for a very long time. Recently, school officials have noticed that the zero-tolerance system is no longer useful for schools. Instead, schools all around the world are now adopting restorative practices into school buildings. Restorative practices originated from jails, where the offender made amends with victims or their families. After seeing positive interactions and results from the prisons, it started to approach in schools.

What is it?

Restorative practices are an approach to resolve a conflict occurring and prevent future harm. Restorative practices give a voice to everyone and allow staff members and students to listen to each other. Additionally, it is creating a positive school climate where all students in the classroom have time throughout the week to speak without being interrupted. If an incident has already occurred, then those children (and parents sometimes invited) are sat down in a circle and talk about the impact of the situation and accepting responsibilities and moving forward. The questions listed below are the base of what restorative practices is. When dealing with conflict, the staff member leading the discussion between the students is neutral and does not blame either student.

Restorative Questions

To Respond to Challenging Behavior: 

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking about at the time?
  • What have you thought about since?
  • Who has been affected by what you have done?
    • In what way?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To Help Those Harmed by Other’s Actions: 

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

How does it look like it in schools?

Each school plans on how they want to implement the restorative practices model differently if a conflict occurs. Depending on the building, there could be a staff member that is assigned to helping restorative practices in the building.

Classroom’s complete restorative circles to create a positive community within the classroom. A question is posed in restorative circles. Questions can vary from fun getting to know you questions to questions that allow students to share their lives more genuinely. Restorative circles give a chance to every student in the classroom to share. The other students are respectful and listen to their classmates since they want to be listened to when they want to share. In addition to restorative circles, classrooms could write classroom contracts. As a classroom, you make the classroom rules and agree upon what everyone can agree on to make a successful year. In the end, everyone signs the contract and keep everyone accountable.

Another part of restorative practices is having people using affective statements, or also known as feelings statements. Affective statements have a person state what their feelings are instead of blaming someone else. An example of this is, ” I am mad that you took my pencil because it is my only pencil. I need you to please give it back.” instead of saying, “You are so mean for taking my pencil, I want it back now.” If someone said the second example, do you think someone is going to respond well to that? Probably not, that is why affective statements give you a chance to express your feelings.

Restorative conferences get the children that are involved in a fight or argument into one room and discuss it in a calmly manner. Depending on the situation, parents can be affected, and they can have the chance to share how they were impacted. No one can interrupt one another; they take turns talking about what happened. They discuss what they were thinking, what you feel now, and how they have been impacted. Once children have a chance to share if staff members involved, they have the opportunity to share how this has affected them. Then the children come up with what they need to move past the situation. A contract is made and signed by everyone in the room. In a restorative conference, children are open and respectful and follow through on the contract; their suspension days can change depending on the school’s policy.

Why are schools doing this?

I am sure many of you are wondering why schools have moved to this approach. One of the main reasons is to stop suspending students. Studies have shown that there are long-term effects for students who have been suspended. The ones being suspended or missing fun electives are missing out on learning content and are falling behind academically, and are more likely to have behavior issues.

The environment that is created with restorative practices is happy and productive. The day is focused on learning and earning rewards to have fun compared to concentrating on punishing students. Restorative practice creates a less stressful environment for staff members making their job easier. With those factors, grades have increased since classrooms can keep the focus on learning the material taught.

Safety in schools is essential, and with restorative practices, it is not as much of a worry. Bullying, behavioral outbursts, and fights between students have decreased, creating a safer environment for students to continue their learning.

Restorative practice is a new approach to helping schools become a positive and productive learning environment. Restorative practices can be utilized during therapy if you are interested in this model with therapy contact Perspectives Therapy Services.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.