Ivan Webb, a retired principal and teacher from Tasmania, Australia, tweets about restorative practices (@IvanWebb). He collects his weekly updates in a weekly online newspaper format, called Restorative Schools (embedded below). In last week's edition, he posted a short sidebar editorial in which he argues that while restorative practices are effective for responding to serious incidents, people should not stop there but consider the reasons for adopting a more proactive approach, "to be restorative for all students all the time."
Restorative Practices can be vital in responding to serious incidents in schools. The outcomes that are often achieved by using restorative practices can be life-changing for those involved – relationships to self and others restored, the harm repaired to some extent, and the sense of identity, belonging and community greatly enhanced for key participants and those who care about them. This can lead to other effects, including improved attention to the core purposes of schools (teaching and learning) and less waste of precious school resources (time, effort...). Such achievements are often quite spectacular. But even when all this is achieved could we still be missing something?
Restoration needs to be undertaken as early as possible.
Serious incidents rarely happen without some prior factors being in place. Students, staff and family members who seriously harm others have often been previously harmed themselves through abuse, neglect and/or trauma. This prior harm may well have happened elsewhere, a long time ago, and have no connection with the school. Still such harm can underpin serious school incidents.
For this reason schools need to be restorative for all students all the time.
Serious incidents are urgent and important They require the school's urgent and full attention, and may culminate in a restorative conference. But what about the unresolved harm from elsewhere that is being carried by students and staff?
The everyday use of a wide range of circles, and asking the restorative questions are essential and powerful practices that can gently (and indirectly) reduce the harm done elsewhere at earlier times. Even without explicitly addressing the earlier harm, the circles and questions can restore a student's (or staff member's) sense of identity and belonging, and give key insights that reduce the likelihood of the student being involved in a serious school incident in the future.