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The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators (2009) by Bob Costello, Joshua Wachtel and Ted Wachtel


The term “was derived from a significant development in the criminal justice field called “restorative justice.”  Rather than simply punishing offenders, restorative justice holds offenders accountable for their crimes by involving them in face-to-face encounters with the people they have harmed.  Research in restorative justice has revealed very positive outcomes for victims and offenders alike, including reduction in reoffending. Similar restorative practices in schools have yielded significant improvements in behavior and school climate as well” (p.7).


“Restorative Practices are a framework for building community and for responding to challenging behavior through authentic dialogue, coming to understanding, and making things right.”

It is not a program or an add-on; it is a philosophy.   It focuses on separating the deed from the doer.   “To be ‘restorative’ means to believe that decisions are best made and conflicts are best resolved by those most directly involved in them.  The restorative practices movement seeks to develop good relationships and restore a sense of community in an increasingly disconnected world.  These practices have been applied in justice systems, families, workplaces and neighborhoods, as well as in schools” (p.7).

The fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practices is disarmingly simple: that 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 hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian tomode and the permissive and paternalistic for mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, engaging withmode. If this restorative hypothesis is valid, then it has significant implications for many disciplines.

What is Restorative Practice?

Restorative practices is an emerging field of study that enables people to restore and build community in an increasingly disconnected world.  (


The social discipline window (Figure 1) is a simple but useful framework with broad application in many settings. It describes four basic approaches to maintaining social norms and behavioral boundaries. The four are represented as different combinations of high or low control and high or low support. The restorative domain combines both high control and high support and is characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them.

Restorative Practice is not merely a discipline approach.  Although it is helpful as a means of managing classrooms, when students are actively engaged and allowed to take greater responsibility, teaching and learning are also enhanced. Being restorative is about building relationships and connections with students which will positively impact academic performance.

The Restorative Practices Continuum:

  • Affective statements or  “expressing your feelings”:  help you build a relationship based on students’ new image of you as someone who cares and has feelings, rather than as a distant authority figure.   They can be used to acknowledge success, hard work, collaboration or any other desirable behaviour.  The more specific you are, the better.

  • Affective questions:  Accepting that conflict is an integral part of life is key, but restorative practice distinguishes between punishment and natural or restorative kinds of consequences and separating the deed from the doer.


Restorative questions:

Regarding Misbehaviour:

  • What happened?

  • What were you thinking of at the time?

  • What have you thought of since?

  • Who has been affected by what you have done?  In what way?

  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To help those affected:

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?

  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?

  • What has been the hardest thing for you?

  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

  • Small Impromptu Conferences:  Building on  the affective questions, bringing everyone involved in the incident together and resolve the problem relatively quickly.  These may include a follow-up commitment to reintegrate the students with something constructive and specific to try and achieve.

  • Circles:  As a symbol of community, circles are one of the most distinctive and flexible forms of restorative practices.  These can be used proactively to build social capital or create classroom norms or as a response to wrongdoing.


“Punitive school policies undo the bonds between educators and students, but they also alienate parents from educators. Even responsible, caring parents are struggling against the same deteriorating social norms schools face in dealing with young people. Harsh and arbitrary penalties imposed on their children make parents feel helpless, shamed, blamed and isolated.” -Wachtel (1999)


The psychology of affect, based on the work of psychologist Silvan Tomkins, helps us better understand why human beings act and respond in certain ways and why restorative practices work so well (p.68).


Tips for circles:

  1. Set clear topics and goals for the outcome of the circle

  2. Set a positive tone.  If you are confident and upbeat, the students will follow your lead

  3. Keep the focus. In a kind and supportive way, make sure the conversation sticks to the goal you have set

  4. Make students your allies (prep some students and ask them to speak first)

  5. Always sit in the circle with students and participate fully  (p.33)

Formal Conferences:  2 Types

  1. Restorative conferences:  formal responses to wrongdoing where all those involved and affected by an incident come together with a trained facilitator to explore what happened, who was affected and what needs to be done to make things right.  the participants include those who did the wrong and those who were affected by the wrong, often including family or friends of both parties.  The conference takes a fair amount of time to organize and carry out and is facilitated by someone who has not been directly involved.  The IIRP model is called “Real Justice” conference.  There is a clear script to follow and training is helpful (see

  2. Family group decision making:  or Family group conferencing are events where decisions and plans need to be made about a young person.  There is a high level of family involvement and often include extended family and friends.  There are 3 parts: 1- the professionals outline the problems, legal situation or various resources available. 2- “Family alone time” where professionals leave the room and the family discuss and develop a written plan. 3- the professionals brought back in and the family explains the plan to them.  These conferences are found in social welfare and juvenile justice, but are starting to be used in educational settings to deal with ongoing behavioral difficulties, truancy, school phobia and bullying, either by or of the young person.  The are sometimes used as an alternative to suspension or expulsion (p.37).

The compass of shame (Nathanson- Shame and Pride, 1994) helps provide insight into how we respond to conflict/shame or an interruption of a positive affect. Being aware of the Compass of Shame gives us the perspective we need to be restorative when confronting inappropriate behaviour (calling parents, interacting with students, our own reactions to challenging behaviour).


Essentially, conflict and misbehaviour are inevitable in our classes and schools.  When educators strive to “create an environment that maximizes positive affect, minimizes negative affect and allows for the free expression of affect, they will transform their schools into true communities, where conflict can be dealt with effectively, relationships can be maintained and learning can occur.”(p.74)

Restorative Practice:

  • Views misbehaviour as opportunities for learning

  • Separates person from deed

  • Focuses on restoring relationships

  • Encourages authentic accountability (active participant)

  • Allows for successful reintegration

  • The nature of the process, not the outcome, makes a response restorative or not. (p.49)



Real Justice: How We Can Revolutionize Our Response to Wrongdoing, 1997 by Ted Wachtel


Conferencing Handbook: The Real Justice Training Manual, 1999 by Ted Wachtel, Terry O’Connell & Ben Wachtel


The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr

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