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5 Ways to Improve Behaviour in Schools Through Restorative Practice

I have recently been working in schools as a Behaviour and Intervention Consultant in an area of the country plagued by high exclusion rates. The objective was to improve behaviour in schools through restorative practice, implementing strategies to improve behaviour in the classroom and provide a harmonious school environment for both students and teachers.

Here are five case studies taken from my recent experience in education that show different ways of using restorative techniques in schools to improve behaviour, attendance and eliminate bullying:

1. Improving student behaviour in the classroom through restorative conferencing

Whilst on site at a school, a member of the teaching staff came to see me. The staff member and a student had been ‘at loggerheads’ for some months, and she wanted the behaviour to end, but had no idea what she could do.

I spent time with the student and then brought the two together in a classic restorative conference. At the start of the restorative conference, it was agreed that first names would be used to create parity.

This seemed to have an instant impact and the student responded well by taking responsibility for his actions, saying that he behaved the way he did ‘…because I know it winds her up…’. The teacher then followed this up by explaining why she became a teacher and asking him to consider the impact of his behaviour on the other students.

Students in the Corridors

Both parties fully engaged in the restorative process and at the end, the student understood that he was not expected to be perfect and some frivolous behaviour could be tolerated, but to stop ‘mucking about’ when given the code words ‘…Charlie, take five please…’.  Charlie, the student, suggested these himself and the teacher readily accepted. 

At the end of the restorative conference, both parties spontaneously stood up, laughed and had a warm and lengthy handshake. They left the room together, talking freely and this continued as they walked down the corridor, and across the open quadrangle.

This is a great example of a classic restorative intervention and a lasting, workable solution to long-term behavioural issues in the classroom. 

School Library Books

2. How to handle misbehaving and disruptive students by using restorative practice

I was asked to engage with a particularly disruptive group of students. Whilst I was shadowing them and talking to their staff and Heads of House, two of the group were involved in an incident where tubes of yoghurt were being thrown down stairwells, causing them to burst on impact. One member of staff had witnessed this and almost been hit by the yoghurt.

Each student was brought to me individually in the Behaviour Support Unit (BSU) and then, in the presence of the teacher, a restorative process was conducted.

Both young men, having reflected on their misbehaviour, became remorseful and seemed to have had no idea the impact their actions may have on other people – students, staff, cleaners, visitors (such as me!) and parents. 

Both apologised for their actions, with one even saying, ‘I can’t stand yoghurt anyway!’

It can be easy jump straight to discipline when confronted with misbehaving or disruptive students, but I’ve found that a genuine change in behaviour can only be achieved through a restorative approach.

When a student gets a maths question wrong, we teach them how to get the correct answer. When a student behaves inappropriately, we punish them without providing the opportunity to talk about why it was wrong and how to correct the behaviour.

3. How to deal with bullies at a secondary school using restorative practice

At one school, I was asked to tackle an issue of bullying between two female students and had reached the point of physical violence.

In accordance with procedure, I spent time with each of the bullies, conducting restorative questions, listening to their perspectives and then asking them to reflect upon their actions and the consequences of bullying. 

Both parties showed a willingness to take responsibility for their actions and to make amends for their behaviour. I arranged to bring both sides together and conduct a classic restorative conference later on that day.

However, before I was able to do this, the main bully approached the harmed party – of her own free will – and insisted she apologised for what she had done. The other party apologised too, and they had a hug and forgave each other. 

Student in Classroom

Intrigued as I was, I invited them both to my office to chat about their experience and once they were together, they initiated and conducted their own conference in my presence, which was almost script perfect. Then they repeated their apologies and shared a handshake and some laughter.

All of this was conducted in the presence of another staff member, who, after the girls had left following their conference, said to me, ‘… it was like a miracle… I’ve never felt feelings in a room like that before…’.

A short while later, I was behind the harmed student in a corridor, and heard her telling another girl, ‘…yes, she really is my friend now…’.

This is exactly this sort of success that I continually seek to achieve, and ensure that I create harmony from harm. Sometimes, young people are eager to resolve issues and be given the chance to make amends for what they know was wrong, but they don’t know how to go about it; they need to be given the tools and a safe space to do so.

School Library

4. Bullying advice for schools, using restorative justice

I was challenged to intervene in a very sensitive bullying issue at one school, where two male students had been calling each other nasty names and making vicious personal comments over several months. 

In this instance, I treated both parties as harmer and harmed, and took them through the process of preparation for restorative conference. They each responded well during this phase and I was hopeful of a good outcome, so I brought them together in the presence of their Head of Year as an observer. 

Roles and ground rules were laid out, and then almost immediately one of the boys (the main harmer) said to the other, ‘…I didn’t know you wore glasses, they’re really cool…’.  The second boy’s face lit up, and they went very happily through the restorative process, openly acknowledging their actions and accepting the consequences and impacts of the name calling and bullying.

It was so open and successful that it almost became emotional and at the end, they could hardly wait to apologise and shake hands.

I was also delighted to see that the Head of Year was also touched by the emotion, witnessed by the children, and, in the eyes of the students, shall now been seen as a human, rather than ‘just a teacher’!

5. Using restorative practice as a solution to bad attendance in school

I was invited to attend a reintegration meeting with the Deputy Head of a school, involving a disruptive student whose bad attendance was also causing such a problem that it could have led to her being permanently excluded.

She attended with her mum at the appointed time and I initially observed as the Deputy Head started to conduct her reintegration interview. We had already discussed the fact that I would very likely interrupt her proceedings and use a more restorative approach, and this is what happened.

By me asking restorative questions, as opposed to laying down expectations, we were able to establish that much of the problem was the student rebelling against her mum’s ‘nagging’ every morning.

Mum’s actions caused the student to be determinedly late. The three of us negotiated a contract that mother and daughter agreed to, so I set a test for the following day and asked the student to present herself to me at 8:40am.

Student On Phone

To the utter astonishment of the Deputy Head, she did and so did her mum! They said they had both kept to the contract and it had worked for them.

In this instance, the student and her mum were empowered to solve their own issues, and the school was seen as being flexible and organic. When I revisited the site some months later, this young student sought me out to say hello and tell me how well she was doing.

These five case studies on how to improve student behaviour, attendance and stop bullying in schools are just a handful of examples of how restorative practice can be used in education.

For more information on how restorative practice can help your school, take a look at our training programmes and courses, consultancy work or contact us directly for advice.

Claire at Greenfield

Claire at Greenfield Community Housing

The sumptuous surroundings of Greenfield Community Housing’s conference room in Essex made for a great backdrop to a day working together on a Level One Restorative Justice programme.  As we delivered this course – provided through the Chartered Institute of Housing – it quickly became apparent how relevant this level of intervention is for ‘front line’ staff who are looking to solve disputes and disharmony before it escalates. Prior to the course, manager Lee Crowdell had called to ask if it was what would suit his staff, as he’d heard that RJ wouldn’t work for lower level disputes.  After the course he said that the training had had a “…great and positive impact on the team…”  Excellent news indeed, now let us know how you get on!

Claire at Oxford City Council

What a tremendous group the ASBIT and CRT teams of Oxford City Council are.  We spent two days training to give them the skills to facilitate Level Two Restorative Interventions, and were blown away by their keenness and commitment to truly solving ASB issues in their region. Some ‘live’ cases were discussed and analysed through role play, and myths and misunderstandings were dissolved. Driven by the inimitable Daryl Edmunds – who seems to seek pioneering solutions to problems – I am sure the community will soon see the benefits that RJ can bring to a wide variety of issues.  We look forward to sharing their successes here soon!

Claire at Oxford