There is a fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practices that states human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them. This is the shift in mindset that Behavior Specialist Andrew Koshatka and staff at Ames Middle School are introducing to students, staff, and families.
“Restorative practices is a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision making. It is a way to strengthen community, build relationships, and repair harm,” said Koshatka. In schools, restorative practices provide an opportunity for students to share their feelings, perceptions, build relationships, address harm, and restore community. It includes actions or steps that happen proactively to build community and prevent harm from occurring as well as actions that happen after harm has occurred.
Case studies and evaluations conducted in schools worldwide indicate that restorative practices improve relationships among students and teachers, reduce disciplinary problems and build community. They also help reduce violence and bullying and improve behaviors overall.
The process can look different for each situation but generally operates with students and staff working and talking together to resolve conflict. It includes a continuum of responses that can include affective statements, affective questions, small impromptu conferences, circles, and conferences. Koshatka has used both proactive and reactive circles when working with students. In a proactive circle, teachers and students would be working together in classrooms to strengthen their relationship. This could be done by examining values and beliefs, deciding on appropriate classroom expectations, or just talking through an event that happened in the community. A reactive circle is more in-depth. In this type of situation, a facilitator would meet with all individuals involved privately and go through the restorative questions. Witnesses would be involved as necessary. After reflecting on the situation, if all participants are willing, have taken responsibility for their actions, and acknowledge the harms that has occurred, a circle can take place.
Koshatka admits that the first couple of times that he used this approach with students, they were surprised because both students and adults generally operate in a system where things are dictated to students. “Students are learning that when they are working and talking with me, that my job is to get in it with them, figure out the situation, and help them come up with a plan to resolve it.”