How Can SEL Support Restorative Practices?

SEL in Practice: Resolving Conflicts through Restorative Justice

Sometimes, good intentions can work against you. Research shows that when punitive practices such as expulsion and suspension are used too frequently, schools/programs are actually less safe, have lower academic achievement and face increased dropout rates.

For these reasons, organizations are moving away from punitive forms of punishment and are turning toward restorative justice. Restorative justice brings together students who are engaged in conflict and promotes resolution through dialogue, accountability, forgiveness, and remorse and restorative action.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an important element of restorative justice and can help strengthen and improve your school or program’s disciplinary practices.

Restorative vs. Punitive Discipline

Schools and out-of-school programs have long experimented with zero-tolerance policies. This method is problematic because much research shows that students who are suspended one or more times are more likely to drop out. Additionally, punitive discipline responds to negative behavior with a negative action —­ it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem (and therefore doesn’t work to prevent it in the future), or work to resolve the conflict or repair relationships.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, allows students to work through conflict in a constructive way and tackle the underlying causes of the negative behavior. Organizations who implement restorative justice have experienced many benefits, including:

  • Reduced bullying
  • Fewer student conflicts
  • Decreased suspension and expulsion rates
  • Stronger school communities
  • Increased academic focus and achievement

Additionally, students report feeling safe and supported in their learning, feeling empowered by being able to resolve conflicts on their own, and having higher confidence levels.

Restorative Justice in Practice

There are many ways to implement restorative justice in educational settings. A popular model is through “dialogue circles” where students who’ve engaged in conflict sit facing one another. A mediator helps them voice grievances and talk through the conflict. Aggressors are given an opportunity to share remorse, and all individuals are encouraged to come to a mutually-agreed upon resolution.

Organizations can also use restorative justice strategies proactively to foster a safe and supportive learning environment. Regular class meetings can give students the chance to talk through a problem before it erupts in negative behavior. Educators can help students practice restorative justice conversation in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, etc. Schools and programs also can offer a restorative justice elective or leadership club.

How SEL Supports Restorative Justice

SEL and restorative justice go hand-in-hand. Talking through conflicts helps teach and strengthen skills such as communication, self-efficacy, and problem-solving. By listening to others, students learn to be more respectful, consider different perspectives, practice impulse control, and reflect on how their actions affect the people around them.

Restorative justice is an effective, sustainable, and equitable alternative to punitive disciplinary methods. It gives youth a better opportunity to overcome conflict and avoid the risks associated with suspension and expulsion.

SEL is an important aspect of restorative justice, and it teaches students how to effectively communicate with others and work through problems in a constructive way. These skills are critical to their success in school and in life.

Learn more about how SEL can support restorative justice in your organization. Contact Aperture Education today.

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