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Restorative Practice in the Christian Context: A Whole-School Approach

Restorative practice is gaining momentum in schools and other settings around the world. The increasing development of restorative practice as a field of study and serious practice is an interesting phenomenon considering the traditional reliance on punitive measure in dealing with wrongdoing and misbehavior. Why would schools be interested in this approach? What is it about restorative practices that not only intrigues school administrators, teachers, and other school staff, but has them seriously considering how this approach can build stronger and safer school communities? How can a Christian school incorporate restorative practice as a meaningful expression of what it means to be a school grounded in Christian values? What is needed for this to occur? How does one journey to this place?

Based on observations of schools that have been successful in making and maintaining this kind of change, they have moved beyond seeing restorative practice as discrete, individual practices simply to address issues of harm or misbehavior. Instead, school staff, students, and parents embrace restorative practice as a way of thinking and being. It becomes both a philosophy and an approach that informs all aspects of school life. At the International Institute for Restorative Practices Canada (IIRP Canada), we have come to understand that the best way to move effectively in this direction is through the restorative practice framework.

The restorative practice framework provides a construct for acting restoratively in a community as a way of thinking and being. With application in various settings such as schools, facilities, community programs, workplaces, faith communities, and families, the aim of the framework is to focus on strengthening relationships and repairing harm as a way of building community. In schools, it is meant as an integrated, proactive approach where a major goal is the effective reintegration of students when addressing situations where harm has been done. The framework has direct application for teaching, learning, and creating and maintaining safe, inclusive schools.

Utilizing a Socratic engagement style, the framework incorporates explicit practice, being firm and fair, the continuum of restorative practice, fair process, the restorative questions, a restorative practice checklist, and a theoretical basis. By engaging in this framework, schools build on existing practices that already work; it is not meant to replace what is deemed effective, but rather to enhance and strengthen it. Schools embracing the restorative practice framework report a more connected environment with higher levels of student achievement as existing and new practices are framed through the restorative lens.

Although the restorative practice framework is applicable in many settings, one of the key areas where IIRP Canada works is with schools, helping them apply this framework to build and sustain stronger, more effective school communities. Through a day-long in-service for all school staff, assemblies for students, and parent workshops connecting restorative practice to parenting, we introduce all stakeholders in a school community to different ways the framework can be applied in their setting. In addition to this, we offer other kinds of skill-based trainings that support restorative approaches in schools, such as facilitating restorative conferences and the effective use of circles in the classroom.

The principles and practices of the restorative practice framework are an excellent match with the Christian faith. One of the things that excites me as a committed Christian is how engaging in restorative practice gives expression to my deeply held values and beliefs. [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]