Happily, many schools now understand that punishment is ineffective in helping students resolve fights and slights in the schoolyard and classroom. Slowly, schools are turning to “restorative practices,” a term popularized by the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP). https://www.iirp.edu/
When conflicts between students occur, there is recognition that participants may share victim and offender roles, but generally not in equal proportions. Punitive suspensions of students from school are outdated and go against what child advocates know about learning “lessons” to handle future interactions.
Some schools have a “Peace Room.” Secondary schools may train “peer juries” that replace the traditional discipline of sending students to the principal for punishment. Still others create “Peace Circles.” Regardless of the restorative practice, adult facilitators offer neutrality, respect, and confidentiality. These peaceful practices acknowledge a damaged relationship, identify the harm(s) caused by specific behaviors, and may include community participants who also endured the harm in some way.
Participants are asked questions:
What happened? Who was harmed by your actions? What can be done to repair that harm? What can be done to prevent a recurrence of the harm-producing behavior?
If possible, pre-conferences with each participant help to access strong emotions. It is wise to have two facilitators. The second facilitator or peer guide is trained to focus on non-verbal behaviors that otherwise might be overlooked.
Many years before I took training offered by IIRP, I was employed by a large high school in their Behavioral Disorders program. My school psychologist job was to handle student/student and student/teacher conflicts. There were lots of conflicts. I ditched suspensions, although it was not a popular move with some teachers who preferred sending a student “away” for a period of time.
My problem-solving approach had similarities to current Peace Circles. Any teacher or student could fill out a paper request for a Problem-Solving Conference (PSC). I asked students to face their teacher (or another student) when the two of them were in conflict. With practice, students learned to de-escalate quickly, sometimes earlier than their teachers! Eventually I added PSC+ forms (on red paper) for student/teacher partners to meet and acknowledge positive behavior changes.
See my Pearls-of-Peace blog (“Restorative Justice Peace,” 9-29-21). I suggest that parents and employers lead with restorative justice. My PSC model led to student/parent meet-ups when underlying conflicts in school had their roots in family interactions. Family participants wrote contracts for improved behavior on both sides of the rocky battles.
In current warring times, we need people to create peace without the nasty scars of lost lives. It is ironic that many wars end with conflicting sides sitting at a table to negotiate belated problem-solving or peace “settlements.”
A problem-solving takeaway is to leave each opposing participant with HOPE for a better day. What do we HOPE to restore in restorative practices? Peace.
Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:
60. When have you used restorative practices to resolve a conflict?
61. Who might you coach to use restorative practices?