Enhancing PBIS and SEL with Restorative Practices

Many schools across the country are successfully implementing Whole School Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports programs (WS-PBIS, or PBIS for short). Along with Restorative Practices and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), PBIS is becoming widespread in schools as a way to create positive learning environments. All three programs–PBIS, SEL and Restorative Practices–have been endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education as effective practices for dealing with discipline issues, school safety, and academic success. What is exciting for the field is that these initiatives can work so well together; in fact, they are synergistic. Restorative Practices can enhance PBIS and SEL programs. In fact, many PBIS and SEL programs have certain gaps that can be filled by Restorative Practices when it comes to dealing with harm and wrongdoing.

When I worked with Rachael Kessler, the late founder of PassageWorks and a leader in the field of Social-Emotioal Learning, she knew that restorative practices were a valuable addition to SEL. When students made mistakes, when they caused harm, when conflict occurred, classrooms and schools needed a process for making things right. As is often said in the field of conflict resolution education, “Conflict is not good or bad; it’s how we deal with it that makes it so.” Rachael knew the importance of a restorative process for dealing with harm. Schools have slowly seen the value of accepting conflict and wrongdoing. It happens. It’s a normal part of life. It can even teach important life and relationship skills. But what is so clearly needed is a fair process for handling harm and wrongdoing that seeks to repair the harm and strengthen the community–and restorative practices do this well, with restorative conversations, restorative agreement meetings, restorative mediations, and restorative group conferences.

In my view, schools that have PBIS and SEL programs can truly benefit from implementing Restorative Practices to supplement their current PBIS and SEL programs. Schools need the principles and processes that bring clear and respectful ways of dealing with things when things go wrong. It’s not enough to simply implement prevention programs, even though prevention should take most of our focus. We need to implement restorative practices which teach students and staff the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions, being courageous enough to repair harm to others when it occurs, and finding ways to reintegrate students and staff after the repair has occurred.

In fact, there is overlap between these programs. Nancy Riestenberg with the Minnesota Department of Education and leader in the field of Restorative Practices has written a insightful article on the compatibility and collaboration between PBIS and Restorative Practices, entitled, “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Restorative Measures: Compatibility and Collaboration”. Both PBIS and RP focus on all three tiers: Tier 1 (prevention), Tier 2 (early intervention) and Tier 3 (intensive interventions). She also highlights the differences between the two, notably that PBIS focuses on behavioral theory and RP focuses on restorative justice and relational theory. It’s an article worth reading.

With so many schools implementing PBIS and SEL, there is great promise for schools adding restorative practices to the mix (including conflict resolution education). Doing so will make for a truly synergistic effort.

(written by Randy Compton, Principal)

Education and Juvenile Justice Partnerships: Ending the School to Prison Pipeline

Hands in a circle-partnershipLikely without exception, most of us would agree with the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Undoubtedly, those of us who are practitioners in the fields of Education or Juvenile Justice are reminded of this truth on a daily basis. Much research is emerging on the correlation between zero tolerance discipline policies and practices and what is now commonly referred to as the school to prison pipeline.

In fact, a recent study by the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy called Exclusionary School Discipline found that a student who is suspended (either in-school or out-of-school) is three times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system within the following calendar year. In contemplating that study, one participant in a recent training questioned whether it is the behavior or the suspension that leads to this unfortunate induction. Regardless, we must ask ourselves how school discipline responses may escalate future challenging behaviors that land our students in the criminal justice system.

Drawing on another familiar saying, “It takes a village”, community partnerships are being increasingly identified as critical to ending the school to prison pipeline. In particular, collaborations between schools and juvenile justice systems create significant opportunities for prevention and therefore, result in dramatic decreases in the number of students who move all too seamlessly from the school system into the juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s August OP-ED piece Juvenile Justice and Education Partnerships: Change Must Begin Now makes it clear that we must accelerate collaboration efforts to support the success of our youth, citing a growing number of communities who are doing just that. Restorative Practices often provides the key to achieving this critical task, through simultaneous and coordinated implementation in schools and juvenile diversion programs.

(Written by Catherine Childs, Senior Associate)

Reframing Responsibility

Teaching restorative values and principles in a K-8 school, I often hit a speed bump at “responsibility”. Young students, in particular, interpret the word differently than I intend. I often encounter two common misunderstandings of the word. One is fault or blame, and the other is a character judgement.20140716-145114-53474381.jpg

Ask a child, “Who is responsible for this?” and you’ll likely be met with defensiveness. “I didn’t do it!”

Ask, “Is there anyone responsible here?” and you may get some raised-hands. “I am! My mom says I’m very responsible!”

But, if you ask “What responsibility do you have?”, now you’re getting closer to what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about the character-based social construct of being “more responsible” as in being “more adult”. I’m also not talking about the fault/blame pie-chart, and who has the biggest slice of responsibility for a problem.

I’m talking about response ability. I’m trying to help my students recognize their ability to choose their response at any given moment. Further, the response he or she chooses will have an impact. Will it be helpful or harmful? And, ultimately, will you have the courage to stand by your choice…even when it was harmful?

Good people sometimes make bad choices. This doesn’t make them bad people…especially if they take ownership of their choice, and any impact it may have caused.

I find that my students understand this concept more easily when I reframe the word and its meaning this way. They resist it less and engage differently. What do you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

For more on response ability, check out this article by Melissa Karnaze, “Response ability is cooler than responsibility” on MindfulConstruct.com.

(Written by Kevin Pugh, Senior Associate)

Restorative Justice Education? A Report from the CRE Conference

For those of you who weren’t able to attend the International Conflict Resolution in Education conference that took place at George Mason University in mid-June, here is a short report on what stood out for me. It was an amazing gathering of conflict resolution and restorative justice practitioners and students and offered many cutting edge ideas for and reports from the field.

  • There is huge momentum for restorative practices in schools. It shows up as a best practice in the recently released US Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter and “The School Discipline Consensus Report”. The Dear Colleague letter first refers to conflict resolution and then restorative practices. The other refers to PBIS first then RP.
  • People use a variety of terms to describe restorative justice in schools and there isn’t consensus on what gets used when: restorative practices, restorative discipline, restorative justice in education (RJE), restorative interventions, restorative measures, etc. What does seem needed is for people to define terms so we all know what we’re talking about.
  • A few schools continue to use peer mediation, conflict resolution and restorative practices and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland is the leader.
  • The group Dignity in Schools wrote a “Model Code on Education and Dignity” that schools can use when re-writing their school policies and codes and there is a whole section on restorative practices. It’s excellent.
  • My co-presenter, Nancy Riestenberg with the Minnesota Department of Education, is truly one of the leaders in the field of “RJE” and offered sage advice from years of training and writing. She spoke, in part, about how brain science and trauma reactions are important elements for our work.
  • One workshop was on “Unitive Justice” as opposed to Punitive Justice and focused on the need to claim moral ground and avoid labels such as offender and victim. They prefer the terms “author of the harm” and “person who was harmed”. They feel the field of restorative justice is being watered down and co-opted by the punitive justice system.
  • Martha Brown, a graduate student from Florida Atlantic University, gave a fabulous talk about the School to Prison Pipeline. She’s a great resource (and a new friend). She also gave a workshop on curriculum integration and RJE (her term).
  • I also learned about the San Francisco Unified School District’s efforts which are, to some extent, a model for the country: http://www.healthiersf.org/RestorativePractices/  Very rich website with clear information and materials.

There was certainly much more at the conference, but these were some of the highlights for me. And, many of the materials and power point presentations from the conference will be posted on the CREducation.org website sometime in August. Check them out.

(Written by Randy Compton, Principal)

Integrating RJ into the Curriculum

curriculum-image“What would it be like if you were to teach a civil war unit using restorative justice as an essential question on which to focus?”

Looking back on the work we did years ago at the School Mediation Center, I came across a great article we wrote describing how schools can integrate the principles of restorative justice into various academic subject areas. As schools seek to provide engaging classes that gets kids to think critically about social issues, teaching students about restorative justice is a wonderful way to stimulate their thinking.

“Effective teachers bring current, real life issues into the classroom that can engage, stimulate and provoke students’ opinions and thinking; and restorative justice can provide rich opportunities to teach content and controversy at the same time.”

Teachers face many demands to raise test scores but they also face demands to engage their students and find ways to teach subjects that encourage their participation. Restorative justice is a provocative topic and set of practices that many students would be curious to learn about and apply to their understanding of the world.

Years ago, I was a part of a team that incorporated topics such as these into the curriculum in a national project called the National Curriculum Integration Project (NCIP). It was successful in many ways. Now, I’m curious to know who else is carrying on this work? Have you incorporated restorative justice into your own subject area? Have you incorporated restorative practices into your own classroom? I’d be curious to know.

RJ Curriculum Integration article

The Political Rise of Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is not just some pipe dream placebo–it’s a time and money saver and stats don’t lie: recidivism drops significantly when restorative justice processes are employed.

-District Attorney Stanley Garnett (Boulder, CO)

This is the opening quote from a great article in the Huffington Post entitled, about “The Political Rise of Restorative Justice”. Worth a read on what’s happening in our country. The authors end with this statement:

“If political will is any indicator of a significant change in course as it concerns our approach to justice, then the United States is amidst one of the most significant transformations that could keep us from collectively sailing off the edge of the earth. The tide of justice being called for is one of accountability, data that cannot be denied, and a hope for the future of this country as it steers away from its global reputation as the incarceration nation.”

International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education- March 2014 Update


We’re excited to be presenting a one day workshop, along with Nancy Riestenberg with the Minnesota Department of Education, entitled, “Restorative Interventions and Practices for Schools” at the International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at George Mason University. This will be an amazing conference put on by one of the most experienced practitioners in the field, Jennifer Batton, co-chair of the Peace Education Working Group.

The main conference is two days long and there will be two days of pre-conference trainings and a two day seminar after the conference for colleges and universities developing peace and conflict studies programs.  For more information about the conference, visit: http://www.creducation.org/cre/global_cre/about_global_network/international_cre_summit_2014/ and check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/international.cre.conference14

The theme of this year’s conference is “Developing & Implementing Culturally Inclusive Conflict Resolution Education Policies & Practices in K-12 & H.E.”  The 2014 conference builds upon prior conferences in 2004 – 2013 in Ohio, which brought together government representatives from among the 50 states and around the globe and their non-governmental organization partners who have legislation or policies in conflict resolution education and related fields. The annual audience includes college/university educators and students, K-12 educators, prevention specialists, and state, local, national and international policy makers.

The field has come a long way over the years and this year’s conference should be a wonderful synthesis of intersecting fields and practices. Really, if you can go, do it. It promises to be a great event.




February 2014 Update

So, we’re not so good at posting news yet but we’ve been busy nonetheless.

Our training in Delaware was very successful. We trained the whole staff of the Kent County Alternative School along with a handful of other staff from nearby schools. Looks like the training has generated interest in the state and the Delaware Department of Education.

We encourage schools to take their time implementing restorative practices as it takes time to learn, practice, adjust and then fit it in to current practices. Small steps and small successes are good.

welcometorivertonLast year, we also trained schools in Riverton, Wyoming. It is fascinating bringing this work into an Indian Reservation where there are deep roots of indigenous justice along with painful history of oppression. The school staff are amazing in their knowledge and commitment to their efforts. We hope to continue to work with them over the years.

We’ve also been hard at work revising our training manuals. We do this work whenever we can and are happy to fit more school trainings in up to a point. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.