A Restorative Approach to Culturally Responsive Schools

A Restorative Approach to Culturally Responsive Schools

Dori A. Barnett (Independent Researcher, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3331-4.ch010
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Restorative practice is inspired by the restorative justice movement in the criminal justice system, which puts repairing harm and relationships over and above the need for dispensing blame and punishment. Restorative practice refers to a broad range of principles and processes with the aim of developing healthy relationships and building community. Schools report that whole school implementation of restorative practice can lead to positive outcomes including improved school climate, increased academic achievement, and reduced racial disparities in school discipline. This chapter will explore how a whole school approach to restorative practice can transform schools and classrooms and create an inclusive, safe, and culturally responsive school community.
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Restorative practice offers a framework for building community and responding to challenging behavior through authentic dialogue, coming to understanding, and making things right (Morrison, Blood & Thorsborne, 2005; Wachtel, 2016). Restorative practice aims to build healthy communities and restore relationships when harm has occurred (Morrison et al., 2005; Wachtel, 2016). Emerging research indicates that restorative practice implemented in school settings can lead to a decrease in behavior-related referrals, improved problem solving and conflict resolution skills, and reductions in bullying and violent behaviors (Anyon, 2016; Fronius et al., 2016; Gonzalez et al., 2019; Morrison, 2007; Passraella, 2017). Further, schools implementing restorative practice report increased perceptions of school safety, a more positive school climate, and increased school connectedness (Anyon, 2016; Jain, Bassey, Brown, & Kalra, 2014; Swain-Bradway, Maggin, & Buren, 2015). Data reported by Public Council (2017) and others indicate that implementation of restorative practice contributes to a reduction in exclusive discipline practices, such as suspensions and expulsions, and decreased discipline disparities among minority students (Fronius et al., 2016; Gonzalez, Sattler, & Buth, 2019; Jain et al., 2014).

The aim of restorative practice is closely aligned with the ideals and values of culturally responsive schools, which are often described in the literature as ‘inclusive,’ ‘equitable,’ ‘trusting,’ ‘reciprocal,’ ‘engaging,’ ‘positive,’ and ‘safe’ (Archibald, 2016; Bal, King-Thorius, & Kozleski, 2012; Hopkins, 2015; NASSP, 2017). The growing popularity of restorative practices in schools, coupled with promising research findings, has prompted the National Education Association (NEA) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (2014) to recommend the adoption of restorative practices as an effective and culturally sensitive approach to discipline and behavior intervention (Swain-Bradway et al., 2015).

Nuri-Robbins, Lindsey, Lindsey, and Terrell (2012) define cultural proficiency as “the policies and practices in an organization or the values and behavior of an individual, that enable the person or institution to engage effectively with people and groups who are different from them” (para. 1). This chapter will explore how Restorative Practice can provide a framework for schools to achieve a culturally responsive climate and strengthen practices that foster cultural competence and equity. The chapter will be organized into five sections: (a) background and introduction to restorative practice, (b) an overview of restorative practices in schools, (c) restorative classroom management and school-wide discipline, (e) a whole school approach to restorative practice, and (e) restorative practice within a Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS). It is hoped that the reader will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of a restorative approach as a foundation for culturally responsive schools and classrooms.


  • 1.

    To identify the key values and principles of a restorative approach.

  • 2.

    To describe a continuum of restorative practice ranging from informal to formal.

  • 3.

    To explore restorative practice as a positive alternative to exclusive disciplinary practices such as suspension and expulsion.

  • 4.

    To discuss examples of culturally responsive restorative practices in school and classroom settings.

  • 5.

    To examine the implementation of whole school restorative practice within a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Affective Statement: Affective statements, typically expressed as “I feel” statements, authentically communicate feedback on the impact of another’s’ behavior (IIRP, 2010).

Cultural Proficiency: Cultural proficiency is defined as “the policies and practices in an organization or the values and behavior of an individual, that enable the person or institution to engage effective with people and groups who are different from them” ( Nuri-Robbins et al., 2012 ).

Community Circle: The circle is a core restorative practice where all members have an equal opportunity to speak and listen to one another. Circles can be proactive, to develop relationships and build community, or reactive in response to wrongdoing or conflict (IIRP, 2010).

Restorative Justice: Restorative justice originated in the criminal court system in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a way to resolve conflict by involving stakeholders in a structured, facilitated conference (Zehr, 2003; Wachtel, 2016 ).

School-to-Prison Pipeline: A disturbing national trend wherein children, many of whom have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems as a result of exclusive discipline practices (ACLU, n.d.).

Affective Questions: Questions that prompt the individual to think about his or her behavior, how it impacted others, and what can be done to repair the harm and restore relationships (IIRP, 2010). Three basic restorative questions are: (a) Who has been hurt? (b) What are their needs? and (c) Whose obligations are there? (Zehr, 2003).

Restorative Practice: Restorative practice refers to a broad range of principles and processes that involves both a proactive approach to preventing harm and conflict and activities that repair harm where conflicts have already arisen ( Hopkins, 2015 , p. 22).

Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS): MTSS is an integrated, comprehensive framework that focuses on core instruction, differentiated and student-centered learning, individualized student needs, and the alignment of systems necessary for all students’ academic, behavioral, and social success (CDE, 2019).

Restorative Conference: A restorative conference is a structured meeting where all parties to an incident come together, with the help of a trained facilitator, to talk about what happened, the impact, and how to make things right ( Costello et al., 2009 ; Morrison & Vaandering, 2012 ).

Aim of Restorative Practice: The aim of restorative practices is to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and building relationships (IIRP, 2010; Wachtel, 2016 ).

Social Discipline Window: Describes four basic approaches to relationships, 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 (IIRP, 2010; Wachtel 2016 ).

Restorative Hypothesis: The restorative hypothesis states 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” ( Wachtel 2016 , p. 3).

Fair Process: Fair process is based on a study first reported in the Harvard Business Review citing that individuals were most productive and were most likely to go along with a decision when the three principles are observed: Engagement (directly involving individuals in decisions that affect them); Explanation (clearly explaining the reasoning behaving a decision to everyone involved); and Expectation Clarity (making sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what is expected of them as a result of the decision) (( Kim & Mauborgne, 2003 ; Wachtel, 2016 ).

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