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)