Restorative Practices: Seven Steps for Facilitators and Mediators

By allowing students and adults to improve and repair relationships, restorative practices are key to a healthy school climate. The steps described below are designed to help facilitate a restorative practice session between two students, two adults, or one student and one adult in a small setting—such as an office or conference room. These steps can be used if the participants have no understanding or background or if they are well versed in restorative practices.

Step 1: Explain the Process

Knowing the “why” in any process is critical in getting participants to join in. Therefore, take your time when explaining the reasoning behind restorative practices. Below are sentence stems and examples of how I explain the “why.” In addition, when explaining the process, it is important that each participant understands that this process is not about being right, proving a point, or getting even. The process is about developing empathy, allowing each person to be heard in expressing their feelings, having their feelings validated, and ultimately reaching a resolution to the conflict or issue we are experiencing. This process is not about power.

Things I say when I am explaining the process:

  • Thank you both for being here. The purpose of this meeting is to develop empathy and for each person to express their feelings. Therefore, if we have unintentionally offended the other person, we need to take ownership for that and apologize.
  • Hopefully, from this process, we can come to resolution that will allow us to get along. We do not necessarily have to be friends after this, but we must have common respect for each other.
  • This is not about being right or wrong but about owning what we have done, even if it was unintentional, so that we can make it right.
  • This process can be used to help work through conflict and problems in the future. That way, we are better skilled when faced with issues like these in the future.
  • This process will allow us to express our feelings positively and allow us to hear the other person’s feelings. That way, when we see the other person across the cafeteria or across the hallway after this meeting, we will not immediately think that they are talking about us or saying mean things about us to their friends.
  • For example, I like to use humor a lot; therefore, I must realize that there may be times when I unintentionally offend someone. If I offend someone, even though unintentional, I must make that right by apologizing correctly, and by adjusting so that I do not offend that person again.
  • Allow the student to ask questions and make sure that they understand the purpose before moving on.
    • Ask the participants, “Explain to me why we are using this process.” Do not just ask them if they understand, because people will often state they understand even when they do not in order to save face.
  • The other reason we want to have this conversation is because we often create issues within our own minds when we do not have closure. For example, if I walk down the hallway and pass a group of students and the students start to laugh when I walked by, my brain will naturally think what?
    • Participant: “That they are laughing at you.”
    • Me: “Correct!! But I don’t know that for sure. Therefore, in order to reduce stress, fear, and anxiety with you two looking at each other in the hallway or class, we are going to go through this process so that fear, stress, and anxiety has been revealed because we have had a chance to reveal what we really think and feel.”

Step 2: Build Empathy

Activating empathy in participants is critical in getting each person away from proving their point or explaining why they did what they did. Below are sentence stems and examples of building empathy.

Things I say when I am trying to build empathy:

  • Does anyone know what empathy is? If not, explain that empathy is when you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You are able to do this by tapping into your own experiences and emotions.
    • Follow these steps to connect and build empathy:
      1. Ask participant 1: “Have you ever felt frustration?”
      2. Reaffirm your own experiences by saying, “I too have felt frustration.”
      3. Ask participant 2 if they have felt frustration.
      4. Continue this process but change the emotion or feeling and reaffirm each person’s feeling—mad, sad, happy, joy, anger, embarrassed, etc.
    • Even though I may have not had your exact experience, I can put myself in your shoes because I have had those feelings. I do that by imagining myself to be you and experience that feeling. Then you do the same but for my feelings. Today, participant 1, you are going to have empathy or put yourself into participant 2’s shoes, and participant 2, you are going to have empathy or place yourself in participant 1’s shoes. This is about seeing things through the other participant’s eyes, not yours.

Step 3: Grounding Exercise

After the “why” has been explained and empathy has been built, I use a grounding exercise to build commonality. Below is the exercise I use.

  1. Ask a participant, “What do you want school to look, feel, and sound like?”
    1. If they say, “I don’t know,” ask them if they want school to be safe.
  2. Ask the second participant, “Do you want school to be safe?” (or what the first participant said they would like for school)
  3. Continue this process, alternating between the participants. (HINT: After doing this numerous times, I have found that everyone wants school to be safe, fun, and engaging, and to feel respected, feel heard, and be successful.)
  4. Once the topic has been saturated, point out that if participant 1 wants school to be safe, fun, engaging, feel respected, be heard, and successful, and participant 2 wants the same, then why do we have so many conflicts at school? If we all want the same thing, then what is the problem?
    1. People may not know the answer. If no one answers, say we all want the same things, but we all want to do it our own way. This is common for humans and ultimately the root of conflict. I want to do it my way, you want to do it your way, and you want to do it your way.

Step 4: Start the Conversation

Start this step by saying okay, participant (whichever one you decide, there is guidance to picking the starting person at the bottom of this section), you are going to explain your feelings using “I” statements to the best of your ability. Other participant, you will be practicing your empathy skills while they explain their feelings. I will help paraphrase and help you make “I” statements. We use “I” statements because this practice is not about placing blame, but expressing our feelings and being heard.

  • Once the participant has finished, ask the other participant, “Was it your intention to make (participant) feel (name emotion)?
  • If it was not your intention but you still did this, we need to make it right by apologizing.

Who speaks first? Start with the student who has felt wronged, in the case of two students.

In a case involving a student and adult, start with the student. You start with the student in this case because the other adult can model empathy and the apology.

With two adults, start with the adult who feels wronged.

Step 5: Paraphrasing and Guided Apology

Paraphrasing. When a participant makes a statement that is not an “I” statement, paraphrase the statement into an “I” statement and ask the participant if this is correct.

  • For example: Participant says, “You made fun of me in front of everyone!”
    • Paraphrase: “You felt embarrassed and upset when people made fun of you in front of others?” Check for head nod, or verbal affirmation. If the participant says no or shakes their head no, then try to paraphrase again.

Guided Apology. Start by saying, “(participant’s name), since it was not your intention to make (other participant’s name) feel (name feeling or feelings), but you did unintentionally make them feel bad, we need to make it right by apologizing.”

  • Provide an example of how to apologize. It turns out, according to Dr. Harriet Lerner, that we do not apologize correctly, so we have to teach the participants in this process how to apologize correctly.
    • Say, “(participant who was wronged or expressed feelings), I am sorry for (action) and causing you to feel (name emotion), it was not my intention. I am going to work on that.”
    • For example, “I am sorry for stating that joke and causing you feel embarrassed and hurt, it was not my intention. I am going to work on that so that I don’t do that again.”
  • Harriet Lerner’s Nine Essential Ingredients to a True Apology:
  1. Does NOT include the word BUT
  2. Keeps the focus on your actions and not the other person’s response
  3. Includes an offer of reparation or restitution that fits the situation
  4. Does not overdo
  5. Does not get caught up in who’s to blame or who started it
  6. Requires that you do your best to avoid a repeat performance
  7. Should not serve to silence
  8. Shouldn’t be offered to make you feel better if it risks making the hurt party feel worse
  9. Does not ask the hurt party to do anything, not even to forgive.

The critical piece often involves the person receiving the apology:

  • If you are receiving the apology, you do not have accept the apology, but you should thank the person for the apology. For example, after a person has apologized, you would say, “Thank you for the apology.” There is no need to say I do not accept it—that is equivalent to getting even.
  • For adults, when a student apologizes to you, this is not the time to lay into the student for everything they have done wrong. This is not the time the adult lectures, explains, or rationalizes why the student was wrong. Doing this will stop the student or person from apologizing in the future and ruin the repairing of the relationship! The student is apologizing; therefore, they understand what they did was wrong, or hurtful, or disrespectful, even if it is not the tone you would like. Just simply say thank you for the apology.
  • When working with an adult and a student, I have the adult apologize first to model for the student how to apologize. This is a teachable moment, and if we want students to accept their behavior and make amends, then we must show them how to do that.

Step 6: The Other Participant Gets to Go

Follow steps 4 and 5 for the other participant.

Step 7: Conclude the Conversation

Once both participants have expressed their feelings and have apologized, ask if there is anything else either of them needs to express. Thank them both for being brave and courageous in expressing their feelings. Lay out some ground rules for moving forward. Below are some other things I say:

  • This conversation was sensitive and is not for our friends, or to share with anyone else except our parents/guardians. We do not want to tell our friends, because it could break the new foundation of respect we just created. Now, when you are in the hallway, in class, or at lunch, you know what the other person’s feelings are so that we can adjust how we speak or treat each other. Can we do this moving forward?

Other Tips:

  • Meet with each participant privately and ask them if they feel better.
  • Call the parents/guardians to let them know how the process went.
  • Create a follow-up process to check in with each student to make sure the agreed-upon process has stayed true. Checking back in is key!

Dr. James Whitehead is the 2020 Wyoming Assistant Principal of the Year and associate principal at Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, WY.

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