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Restorative principles and practices apply at all tiers of RTI and provide opportunities and experiences that teach, model, and nurture the behavioral skills that staff and students prioritize. In fact, several high schools in which we have worked conduct restorative justice circles weekly within one of their class periods. These “circles” are secondary school versions of classroom meetings, providing an opportunity for students to come together in a more teen-appropriate way to learn about and discuss behavioral skills and address situations that may have occurred in a positive, collaborative, and problem-solving manner. This reflects restorative practices at Tier 1.

Restorative practices perhaps most meaningfully apply at Tiers 2 and 3. Suspensions do not work (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008; Ball, 2003; Calhoun, 2013; Dupper, Theriot, & Craun, 2009; Gumz & Grant, 2009; Hemphill, Plenty, Herrenkohl, Toumbourou, & Catalano, 2014; Karp & Breslin, 2001; Latimer, Dowden, & Muise, 2005; Mullet, 2014; Skiba, 2014; Tacker & Hoover, 2011; Teasley, 2014; Varnham, 2005). And, if staff determine that a suspension is necessary, then they must consider providing Tier 3 supports. Tier 3 supports involve wraparound supports for students with the most intensive behavioral needs, supports that involve restorative practices. So, what exactly are restorative practices?

Restorative practices flip the script on how we as educators approach misbehaviors. They are not about punishment; they’re about reteaching. They are not about educators solving students’ problems; they’re about students taking responsibility. Restorative practices empower students to resolve conflicts through educator-facilitated, often peer-mediated sessions during which reflection, reteaching, and restitution are the focus. Ryan Jackson, executive lead principal of the Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone, believes that:

Schools that adopt a restorative justice mindset and implement those practices truly begin to model empathy and self-discipline, with these skills transferring to students. In my humble opinion, restorative practices have been the most significant development in the area of behavior due to the specific focus on empathy-based teaching and learning as well as their scaffolding of the goal-setting and commitment process for all students. The simple reality is that progress equals happiness, and the more we can help students identify and celebrate their progress, the better shot we have at students experiencing joy while in school.

Importantly, restorative practices are proactive, action-oriented, and based on social learning. Students in need come together, they make amends, they demonstrate their understanding of how to react and respond in a more productive way, and students return to core learning environments as quickly as possible, and more quickly than they have traditionally.

Strategies within restorative justice include community conferencing, community service, peer juries, conflict mediation, and preventative programs. Here are short summaries of each of these strategies:

  • Community conferencing: Face-to-face meeting during which the individual (the responsible party) who has negatively impacted an individual or group hears directly from that individual or group (the impacted, affected, or supporting party) regarding how they were affected and how they feel. Those impacted typically have the chance to provide input on restitution – or how the situation will be made right, or at least better, and how the entire community will move forward positively. The individual causes the negative situation also has the opportunity to address the situation.
  • Community service: A component of restitution may be community service, when the responsible party provides a service to a group within the broader school community. For example, a student responsible for bullying classmates may learn about the negative impacts of bullying and teach mini-lessons to younger students on how to notice and respond to bullying that they experience or observe.
  • Peer juries: Peer juries are not courts in which fellow students pass judgment. Students who serve in peer juries work with responsible parties and the impacted affected, and/or supporting parties to help repair harm and build skills. Peer juries help support relatively minor situations and are typically guided by a staff member.
  • Conflict mediation: Also known as peer mediation or conflict resolution, conflict mediation is a structured problem-solving process in which two student facilitators help guide a problem-solving dialogue with two students who have had a conflict (Johnson & Johnson, 1996).
  • Preventative programs: When patterns of misbehaviors occur, schools use the strategies described above to provide guidance to a broader group of stakeholders in an effort to prevent future incidents. A common example is bullying prevention; when evidence shoes that bullying is becoming a common occurrence, restorative justice circles will address the topic, often with responsible and impacted parties from previous incidents serving as facilitators.

As noted earlier, the principles and practices of restorative justice can be should be increasingly present within our schools. We believe that they are a fundamental element of Tier 3.

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