RESTORE - A collaborative approach to the application and implementation of Restorative Practice schools in the time of Covid19

The time of (inter)national crisis requires dialogue and responsiveness to one another’s needs. Restorative practice offers an active space in civil society to help people and communities hear and heal. RESTORE has been collaboratively developed by a collective of restorative practitioners, researchers and activists in education to address these needs in education settings.

The imperative to promote the application of Restorative Practice in schools, is now more urgent than ever. As school communities move towards re-forming following the easing of social distancing requirements, we are aware that for positive and healthy relationship reconnection to occur, this requires engagement with individuals’ shared yet personal experiences of lock-down and the ongoing impact they carry.  RESTORE offers a framework for sitting with, and responding to, our human frailty and vulnerability, and our resultant venting behaviours.

The community of a school is a labyrinth of relationships and requires this measure of responsivity and recognition, because it is the quality of relationships that keeps the school community safe and nurturing, thus enabling it to harness the excellence in teaching and learning. The restorative approach in schools is needs-led and values-based. It highlights the importance of relationships for emotional wellbeing and resolving conflict, preventing harm and building resilient communities. The approach works by building a consistent and congruent approach to the building, maintaining and repairing of relationships. The approach allows decisions to be made with reference to five core Restorative Principles:

  • Everyone has a unique perspective
  • Our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviour
  • Our actions have a ripple effect
  • We have needs that connect us to people and purpose
  • The people best placed to find solutions are the people themselves.

Whilst the implementation of restorative principles and practice in the school setting will continue to directly address issues of behaviours and relationship stress, it has always been about much more than this: a restorative culture in schools, places a high value on the quality of relationships within the school community. The restorative culture is one where mistakes – be they academic or social – are seen as points of learning. This significant culture change within schools has repeatedly evidenced sustained positive shifts in the strength of relationships, types of behaviour, academic attainment, and attendance/exclusion figures.

Now in the time of Covid, the specific application of Restorative Practice to potentially fractured communities is even more pertinent. It is essential that there be a forum for dialogue. The absence of such a forum promotes othering and polarisation.  Restorative advocates have the opportunity to showcase what these dialogue opportunities look like, now.

RESTORE represents the encapsulation of a restorative guide to schools, responsive to the need for a relationship focus to schools in transition. The seven letters of the word RESTORE have emerged from a reflection on the current Covid 19 crisis and its impact on us all, but particularly on schools: the students, the parents and caregivers and the school staff. When considering this impact, and in looking ahead to when schools reopen more fully, it is clear that schools will face a particular set of diverse needs, from both staff and students.

This initiative seeks to support schools in their strategic thinking in preparation for reopening in whatever shape that takes, and in their operational planning for the return of the pupils. It is hoped that this thinking and planning will take into account the gravity and scope of what we have all been through.

Each letter of the word RESTORE focuses upon a theme of the culture we seek to create.

Recognition - that everybody will have been affected differently by the pandemic. In recognising the diversity of experience and impact, we ‘see’ the other. We also recognise that we have been changed by this experience and that this will require support and adjustment. Time and space are needed to accommodate this new ‘normal’.

Empathy - for the differing ways people are dealing with this extraordinary event. It is important that we as educators find opportunities to develop empathy amongst children/young people, and adults (staff, parents) to acknowledge that we may have had different experience of Covid-19 during lockdown. Challenging or difficult behaviours can often be a sign that a child or young person is struggling to manage their emotions. According to Marshall Rosenberg, every violent reaction is the expression of an unmet need. Now more than ever we should be responding to unmet needs with empathy.

Safety - both physical and emotional safety will have been threatened and need to be restored. Our need for safety can be addressed by getting in touch with this need in ourselves, articulating it to others, listening to others, and then discussing how we can all behave so that our collective need for safety is addressed.

Trauma - individual and collective trauma will make itself shown and will need help to heal. Trauma is now a collective as well as an individual experience. The challenge lies in how the school community can process this. In addressing the healing of collective trauma, school communities can use relationships, being present for one another and the reflection that we have all been affected by this event.

Opportunity - to rethink what matters and reshape what we do and how we do it. There is an incredible opportunity for us collectively and individually to rethink what matters and to reshape our actions and methods. The disruption that we have experienced from ‘life as normal’ has brought an opportunity for us to reflect on what really matters.

Relationships - reconnecting and (re)building inclusive and responsive relationships.Relationships are the essential foundation for a positive school experience. A priority for restoring school communities will be rebuilding relationships, repairing relationships where there has been harm and creating capacity for rebuilding trust and responding to needs as they arise.

Engagement - in our own health and well-being and with the issues that affect us. The common thread is that everyone’s experiences will differ and that their needs are unlikely to be the same. The provision of a forum for the acknowledgement of this allows for connection made through artful listening and an engagement with the individual’s agency over their situation.

RESTORE also provides a methodology of application and resources, which enables immediate application. Feedback already received shows that school staff resonate with and value this approach. They reconfirm that it is only by working together and recognising our shared humanity that we will come through this crisis.  Without capturing the voice of affected individuals, without leaning into what we don’t understand, without valuing the other and our relationship with them, we miss out on a quality of community-building never more needed than at this time of shared loss, dislocation and stress.


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Author | Janine Carroll on Behalf of the RESTORE Collaborative Group

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