How to Implement Restorative Practices with SEL

Restorative Practices with SEL
  • Are you a school leader who is thinking about ways to build a positive school culture? 
  • Is your school staff concerned with the impact of student behavior on the learning environment? 
  • Are the education and instructional staff thinking creatively about ways to best serve the students in your building? 

If the answer is yes, then you might consider ways to combine your current practices to better support your efforts. If your school currently uses restorative practices to address student behavior and a social-emotional learning (SEL) program to address student attitudes and emotions, consider implementing the practices together.

Restorative practices in schools are a way to address student behavior and to build school culture. The restorative practice approach looks different across schools yet they all have the same goal — to engage the school community in healthy and positive behavior practices. School leaders adopt restorative practices that invite shared values, encourage peer-to-peer relationships and hold staff and students accountable to expectations. This practice aligns directly to the SEL work in the school building. 

SEL directly supports restorative practices in schools. While implementing procedures to constructively address conflict and behavior, SEL teaches students how to best communicate and encourages students to be conscious and aware of their feelings and proactively address them. As a result, students are able to navigate challenging experiences and communicate with others. 

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Using SEL and Restorative Practices in schools

 Advancing Circles

Circles are foundational to restorative practices. They are a way to invite students to gather as a community to communicate and share with each other. The circle is a place for students and staff to practice their SEL skills. As students share experiences, there is opportunity to respond using SEL language. Communication during the restorative circles is made possible by the students’ and staff’s use of SEL competencies.

Action: Use SEL vocabulary in community circles. As students are communicating, encourage them to practice using empathy or naming other emotions. As the conversation continues, have students reflect on their own feelings and ask them to think about ways to manage these feelings moving forward. This practice keeps the circle grounded and encourages group participation. 

Shared Values

SEL curriculums encourage students to use social competency skills. During group sessions or circle time, students are able to further build their own self-awareness, peer-to-peer relationships and other skills that impact behavior and communication. I have witnessed students share experiences and then see an outpour of empathy or support as a response. SEL and restorative practices promote shared values in a way that encourages communication. 

Action: School leaders should encourage staff to develop shared values within the school and classroom. During circles, class meetings or other group meetings, encourage students to acknowledge those values. Teachers can also highlight students who exemplify those values in the school community through different incentives.

 Making Good Choices

When implementing SEL and restorative practices in schools, students learn a lot about choices. Both practices encourage students to manage their emotions and understand them so they can make good choices about their behavior and how they engage with others. Restorative practices are used to help students navigate the choices they make and learn how they impact others. With both programs in place, students learn varying skills related to making choices, acting on those choices and learning how they might impact others.

Action: Use the data and notes you collect from SEL and restorative practice implementations to determine ways to connect the two. The data will provide details on what skills students are exhibiting well and in what areas they might need support. With this data school leaders will know more about how they can best support their students.

SEL and restorative practices are complementary strategies that school leaders can use together. This creates consistent procedures and expectations for students and helps to reinforce these practices. Both programs are grounded in research and can support school leadership in seeing changes in student behavior. As the school culture changes, you can expect that the school will see changes in other areas. Together these programs are helping students address challenges, giving them skills to navigate emotions and conflict and provides important ways for the school community to engage.