Restorative Practices: An Answer to Many School Challenges

Guest post by Steven Korr:

Educators face so many challenges today. The pressure to foster student achievement at higher and higher levels is enormous. At the same time, educators find that students don’t seem to be socially and academically prepared to excel. Students often don’t know how to work successfully in groups. Many lack a sense of caring about others that can result in hurtful and even violent behavior.

The upshot is that we’re all seeing more disrespect and disruptions in classrooms. Many teachers wonder, “How can I teach when the problems are so great?” After all, learning requires risk-taking. But if students don’t feel safe, how can they be expected to take necessary risks?

Clearly, these conditions have a detrimental impact on learning. Still, when educators go into the classroom they are expected to teach. And students, for all their challenges, need them to do just that.

The old answers for handling these problems are failing. The current trend across the country is to repeal zero tolerance policies. The data shows that those policies weren’t working anyway. But if we can’t just throw kids out of the classroom or school when they disrupt learning, what are we going to do? Our answer is to institute “restorative practices.”

At the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a graduate school based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we start from the fundamental premise that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.

In a school building, this means that we have to take a look at how we can build connections and strengthen relationships between everybody in the school – teachers, students, administrators, staff, and even secretaries, bus drivers, hall monitors and cafeteria workers.

This doesn’t mean instituting yet another new program that’s going to be forgotten in a few years’ time. Instead, restorative practices provide a framework for changing the thinking and behavior of those in authority, to consistently do the things that good educators and leaders have always done—thereby changing the way everyone in the school building relates to one another.

Restorative practices provide ways to address student behavior when things go wrong. More importantly, they improve the learning environment so that kids feel safe and effective learning can happen.

Steve Korr is a trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu). He was a counselor and principal at an alternative school for at-risk youth for more than a decade. He has helped schools across the country, both urban and rural, implement successful restorative practices programs to improve school climate and positively impact learning. He will be presenting a breakout session at Ignite ’14 on Saturday, Feb. 8th from 8AM to 9:15AM.

To learn more about restorative practices and whole-school change, visit SaferSanerSchools.org. The article “What Is Restorative Practices?” by IIRP Founder and President Ted Wachtel also provides an excellent introduction to the topic.

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