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What is Restorative Practices (RP)?

The Traditional Approach to School Discipline

The traditional approach to school discipline asks three questions in response to wrongdoing:

  • What happened?
  • Who’s to blame?
  • What punishment do they deserve?

This traditional approach, borrowed largely from the criminal justice system, leaves those who have been most affected by the wrongful behavior without a voice, and without their needs being addressed as part of the ‘solution.’ It also doesn't effectively challenge the wrongdoer to be accountable to those he has harmed.

The Restorative Approach to School Discipline

The Restorative approach, on the other hand, starts from a different set of questions:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking 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?

And then follows with a set of questions for the person that was harmed:

  • 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?

In this approach to dealing with wrongdoing, then, the focus is on the harm that has been done and the obligation this brings on the part of those responsible to ‘right the wrong’ as much as possible. It’s an approach that seeks to develop in the wrongdoer an understanding of the breadth and depth of the harm their behavior has caused to others so that they can best try to make amends to those most affected. It also ensures that those who have been most affected by the wrongdoing have the opportunity to be involved in working out what has to happen in order to move forward. Giving everyone an opportunity for their voice to be heard and to be a part of the resolution is what makes the process restorative. Participants are able repair the harm that was done and move forward in a more positive and healthy way.

Put simply, Restorative Practices (RP) is a way of viewing relationship-building and behavior management in schools that works to strengthen community among students and between students, teachers and parents, through educational processes.

In the RP philosophy, conflict or wrongdoing is seen as causing harm to people and relationships, and there is an obligation first to repair this harm in order for the people involved to move forward. It is a way of educating students towards self-regulated right behavior that is respectful of all concerned. In particular, it puts the onus back on the wrongdoer to be truly accountable for their behavior and to repair any harm caused to others.

To read more about Restorative Practices, read this article published by the International Institute of Restorative Practices.

View the video below to learn more about Restorative Practices in schools:

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