Whole-School Restorative Practices: It’s about Depth and Breadth

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© Copyright 2018 William A. Bledsoe, Ph.D.

“When you know how to engage using restorative communication, you don’t have to wait until a conflict escalates. You have the skills to intervene immediately” –  High School Teacher

Restorative cultures are built with restorative practices, and all restorative practices are about restorative communication. Whether it’s a restorative discipline policy, a classroom teaching circle, class respect agreement, a one-on-one restorative chat, or a more formal restorative group conference, all rely upon a very specific type of communication and interaction to accomplish equally specific goals.

Restorative communication is intentional communication. It’s purposeful and strategic. We use it for a reason which is to always create deeper connection and understanding with ourselves and others. 

Generally speaking, all restorative communication has 4 distinct goals:

  1. Establish connection and trust with empathy
  2. Create a safe dialogue space for expressing and acknowledging feelings and perspectives
  3. Discover the underlying thinking, reasons, issues, and potential unmet needs compelling the challenging behavior/incident
  4. Co-create a plan of action to meet those needs with a measurable agreement to follow through.

It’s important to realize that the situation determines the objective. For example, in those situations where a person/student is experiencing extreme agitation (hyperarousal dysregulation), the goal of trauma-responsive restorative communication is to co-regulate emotions and the nervous system (i.e., calm, soothe, reassure, empathize with, deescalate).

When a student/person is experiencing hypoarousal dysregulation (freeze, withdrawal, numb), the goal of trauma-responsive restorative communication is also to co-regulate, but do so by drawing out with trust-building, reassuring, encouraging, supporting, etc.

Co-regulation in both situations is accomplished with very specific and nuanced verbal and nonverbal communication skills (which we cover in our trainings). When teachers and staff (and parents) learn and practice these skills, they become second nature.

Learning restorative communication is like learning a new language. The more you use it, the more fluent you become, and the more deeply you’ll understand and connect with others.

When we help schools implement a whole-school program and conduct our trainings, we pay particular attention to “the situational goals of restorative communication and interaction.”

READ PART FIVE: Restorative Pedagogy: Social-Emotional Development through Experience of Community

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