Becoming a Restorative Practices School

How one school created a culture focused on improving student behavior


For many years educators have used punishment, or fear of punishment, as the primary deterrent to student misconduct. We have tried zero tolerance, excessive use of in-school suspension (ISS) and out of school suspension (OSS), elimination of student privileges, and numerous other consequences to control student behavior. Unfortunately, student discipline continues to interrupt instruction and interfere with student success. We know now that just the fear of consequences does not change student behavior.

Student behavior has been a major focus for our campus. Our teachers and administrative team recognized that we were being less than successful in changing student behaviors that were disruptive to the learning process. These disruptions were having a negative impact on student achievement. We wanted to create a culture and a structure that focused on changing student behavior rather than focusing on punishment.

After many months of research, our campus has decided that the best plan to change student behavior is to become a restorative practices campus. For us, restorative practices consist of three main components. Two components, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Social Emotional Learning, are preventative. The third component, Restorative Discipline, is both preventative and responsive. Our plan will take three years to reach full implementation. We started with our sixth grade class and plan to roll the program up one grade level each year.


Our first step was to make sure we had proper training to implement the action plan we designed to support our students. As the principal I felt it was critical that I be very involved in the implementation of restorative practices on our campus. In the spring, my assistant principal, who is the administrator on our PBIS team, and I attended a three-day training provided by the International Institute of Restorative Practices. I also attended a five-day workshop in the summer presented by The Institute for Restorative Practices and Restorative Dialogue. These trainings have been helpful as we begin the process of changing the culture of our campus.

We created a PBIS team and sent them to several days of training at the Region Education Service Center. After the training we provided the team with several days to create a structure that would work for our campus. The team met and decided on school-wide expectations for the common spaces on our campus and identified levels of inappropriate behavior. They also created an incentive program to encourage and recognize appropriate behavior. The team created posters to place throughout the campus stating the expectations for the students in our common areas.

After our team created the structure they began the process of introducing it to our teachers. Last spring the team sent our teachers the levels of inappropriate behavior and presented the foundations of the PBIS philosophy to the staff. During staff development days at the beginning of the year the team went into greater detail about what PBIS would look like on our campus. Our PBIS team meets monthly with the staff to provide ongoing staff development. Our team is also working with Safe and Civil Schools to improve our implementation of PBIS.

This article will share our program and discuss how we started our implementation. While I will give a brief description of each of the components, I recommend that you do extensive research and training on any of the restorative practice components that you would use on your campus.


PBIS is the only component we are starting in all three grade levels at the same time. We feel that it is possible to start school-wide with PBIS, while the other two components will be implemented one grade level at a time for three years. What is PBIS? PBIS is a structured environment that provides clear expectations for student behavior and a tiered system of supports. Appropriate student behaviors are clearly defined and taught to all students. PBIS focuses on prevention rather than punishment. It also provides incentives for those students who do meet the behavioral expectations of the campus.

PBIS consists of three tiers of interventions. Tier 1 interventions are classroom and school-wide and are provided for all students. The tier 1 interventions are designed to provide clear expectations for student behavior in all common areas of the school as well as classrooms. Students are taught the skills needed to meet these expectations. Tier 1 interventions should be enough support for most students on the campus. However, some students will need more intensive interventions to meet the behavior expectations.

When tier 1 interventions are not enough support for some students, tier 2 interventions are used. Tier 2 interventions are more individualized than tier 1 and are designed to provide additional support to those students who are not able to be successful with just tier 1 interventions. Some examples of tier 2 interventions would be behavior contracts, check in–check out (CICO), daily behavior form, or mentoring. Tier 3 supports are individualized and specialized interventions. When students with persistent and chronic behavior issues do not respond to tier 1 and tier 2 interventions, more intensive interventions are required. Tier 3 interventions are determined with input from teachers, behavior specialists, and administrators. These interventions are reserved for only the most severe behavior issues and often include a functional behavior analysis by special education staff.

Social Emotional Learning

School and student success begins with positive student behavior. On our campus we feel that positive behavior must be taught just like math, reading, science, and social studies. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) helps students learn the skills necessary to meet the behavioral expectations of the campus. Students are taught strategies and given opportunities to practice the skills that are taught in the classroom.

We adopted a system to teach our students the skills needed to meet our behavior expectations. For our sixth grade students, we spent the first three days of school practicing entering classrooms, walking in the halls, going into the cafeteria, and walking through morning dismissal, lunch dismissal, and afternoon dismissal. When students forget their training, teachers have the students practice the appropriate behaviors that were taught at the beginning of the year.

Our sixth grade social studies teachers also teach a social emotional lesson each Friday. We are using the Second Step program for these lessons. All other sixth grade teachers are aware of the lesson being taught each week and the lessons are reinforced in all sixth grade classrooms.

Restorative Discipline

In most schools, a minority of students comprise the majority of office referrals for discipline. We get caught in a cycle in which these students break the rules, receive a consequence, break the rules again, receive a more severe consequence, break the rules again … The student’s behavior doesn’t change. Everyone is frustrated with the process but we just keep doing the same thing and getting the same results.

Being a restorative campus causes administrators and teachers to use innovative methods of dealing with situations that occur. When students break the rules, the focus is on students taking responsibility for their actions and repairing the harm done. Restorative discipline consists of a continuum of interventions including using affective statements, affective questions, impromptu conferences, circles, and formal conferences.

We begin each Monday with a community building check-in circle in all first period sixth grade classrooms. This has been an effective way to introduce the concept of restorative practices without overwhelming our teachers by placing the unrealistic expectation of being a full-blown restorative campus from day one. During one round of the circle the teachers reinforce the social emotional lesson that was taught the previous Friday in social studies. Our sixth grade social studies teachers end each Friday’s social emotional lesson with a check-out circle.

We meet monthly with all sixth grade teachers to continue ongoing staff development in restorative discipline and restorative practices. Our next step is to begin working with students to accept responsibility when they break the rules and help them restore the harm. Our teachers are beginning to use circles for a variety of reasons during the week in addition to the check-in and check-out circles.

Early indications are that restorative practices are having a positive impact on student behavior. In the first semester of 2015–2016, we had 193 students who missed days of instruction due to ISS or OSS. In 2016–2017 we had 84 students who missed instruction due to ISS or OSS, a 57% reduction from one year to the next in students missing instruction due to ISS or OSS. The challenge for our campus now is to continue to improve our practice and maintain the momentum we have created.