What are “Restorative Practices”?
Restorative Practices, or RP, is a framework rooted in relationship building and rebuilding, designed to create a culture of equity and belonging that rethinks how we view conflict and results in healing and learning. The Burlington School District, in partnership with the Burlington community, embraces Restorative Practices ensuring that all, including those who have been harmed, will have their needs and experiences recognized and acted upon, thus creating a supportive climate of empowerment for all. In some cases, students may be separated from their assigned school building, but never completely separated from their education.
Why Restorative Practices in BSD?
Restorative Practices have been shown to have a positive effect on school climate, culture, and academics (including improved student attendance, test scores, and graduation rates), and on outcomes related to discipline policies and practices including reductions in discipline referrals, violent and serious incidents, and punitive and exclusionary discipline responses.*
While these are powerful reasons enough to shift to a restorative approach to education, teachers and students will point to more personal reasons for why it is important. Students report a greater sense of belonging, voice, and empathy while teachers report greater experience of connection with students and satisfaction in their jobs. To learn more about why RP is important, read Understanding the “Why?” of Circles by Annie O’Shaughnessy, M.Ed, a BSD consultant.
*Adapted from Jon Kidde’s Restorative Justice: A Yardstick for Schools and Restorative Justice in Schools: Outcomes and Indicators
Implementing Restorative Practices
What Does Success Look Like?
We know we are embodying Restorative Practices when we are…
Focusing on building and repairing relationships
- Every student has (at least) one adult at school they trust and can talk with
- District employees feel valued, heard, and respected
- Responses to harm seek to repair the harm done to those impacted
Engaging in collaborative problem solving
- Arriving at solutions by involving those affected and impacted
- Creating a safe environment and empowering all to have a voice, especially those who usually aren’t heard
- Creating the opportunity for everyone to understand how our actions impact others and take responsibility for them
- Building classroom norms and expectations together and working together to address situations when they’re not followed
Empowering change and growth
- Approaching situations when things go wrong as an opportunity for growth and learning for everyone involved, and especially for whoever caused the harm
- Creating the environment in which everyone can take responsibility for their actions
Giving voice to people who have been harmed
- Working together so that solutions meet the needs of those harmed
Giving voice to those who have caused harm
- Allowing growth, personalized learning, and inclusion to occur
Planning for reintegration into the school community
- Finding ways for all to feel safe and supported through and beyond the transition
Overall Organizing Structure of RP in Burlington
The work is being led and implemented through the work of several teams:
RP Strategy Team: The Strategy Team exists to maximize collaboration and communication between the various teams of this initiative. The Strategy Team works to ensure follow-through on goals, strategies, and tasks across all teams and schools to ensure RP is universal implementation in BSD. It is representative of District and building leaders, and includes outside consultants and school board representation. We strive to model a restorative disposition in everything we do.
RP Evaluation Team: The Evaluation Team is charged with collecting and analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data to ensure progress toward overall goals. This Team collaborates closely with University of Vermont College of Education and Social Services.
RP Training Team: The RP Training team is charged with creating, developing and offering training to Board, faculty, staff, students, and teams in pursuit of long and short term goals and as needed. The team is composed of BSD staff and outside RP consultants.
Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC): The RPC is a learning community of BSD professionals—representatives from each school’s Equity Council, Designated Employees and Restorative Practitioners—who convene monthly. The RPC builds capacity to narrow the achievement gap and improve the District’s culture and climate through training, support, and resources. It is focused on promoting intentional community and relationship-building restorative practices at each site.
RP Communication Team: The Communication Team’s purpose is to communicate with all stakeholders in Burlington, including students, staff, parents, law enforcement, and partners, in order to share what restorative practices are, how RP is being implemented, and where the District is headed. The Communication Team helps promote a shared language and vision that educates, informs and encourages partnership in the work.
RP Sustainability Team: The Sustainability Team charged with advocating for and securing ongoing funding to resource the work.
RP Youth and Family Engagement Team: The Youth and Family Engagement Team is charged with keeping authentic student voice and leadership embedded in the work at every level. The team is composed of students and staff and guided by the organization Up for Learning.
Reimagining Behavior Systems Team: Formed in 2020-21, this team is responsible for assessing discipline practices at BSD and seeking to replace traditional punitive practices with Restorative Practices in order to reduce disparities in school disciplinary actions.
Safety Taskforce: This team was formed in 2020-21 to look at the role of SROs in schools and alternatives to SROs.
Staff Implementation Stories
“I use restorative practices every moment of every day at BHS. To my understanding, restorative practices are not a tool to pick up and put down, but rather an attitude to carry throughout the day. It begins with holding the door for colleagues in the morning, saying hello to Jonathan at the top of the stairs, attendance questions to allow for student voice in class, and meeting with Student Support between classes to check in on disruptive students to bring them back to class.” BM, BHS
“I have been using ‘ thumb check-ins’ every day with my preschoolers. In September, they did not know where their thumbs were. Yesterday, eight out of ten students were not only able to successfully locate their thumbs but also check in with themselves and express how they felt, even my non-verbal students. Goes to show, nowhere is too small to start and every student can participate.” OS, Pre-K
“Since the October in-service, I have found myself hitting the pause button in my interactions with K -5 students in the lunchroom. It can be a very loud environment with many students and few adults. I have often referenced (in my mind) PAIR, or a restorative lens, to slow down, listen to understand and repair harm. Referring to a restorative lens is becoming more of my ‘go-to’.” KG, Elementary
BSD RP Accomplishments and Timeline
Building-Based RP Leadership Teams
A roster of building-based RP Leadership Teams can be found here.
Resources for Parents
Parents may wonder what it means for our schools to be taking a restorative approach. First and foremost it means that the District has made the commitment to institute practices, policies, and procedures that ensure the safety, dignity, and right to learn of each and every student. It also means that the District has committed to prioritizing the building of relationship and community so that when challenges arise, each member feels the support needed to rise to the challenge and restore what has been harmed.
This means that as implementation continues, parents, students, and staff will see more and more ways in which harm is repaired collaboratively with the focus being on meeting the needs of the person who was harmed. Parents of students who have been harmed or have caused harm are encouraged to ask to become actively involved in the process of repairing the harm.
Here are some resources that can help you learn more about Restorative Practices. We will be adding to this list of resources soon!
- A Quick Overview of Restorative Approach in schools by the Scott Foundation
- For a comprehensive guide to restorative approach in schools read Jon Kidde’s excellent guide written for Vermont’s Agency of Education: Whole-School Restorative Approach Resource Guide.
- “Understanding the Why” by Annie O’Shaughnessy can help you better understand what RP is beyond a different way to respond to harm.
- Restorative Justice On the Rise, visit their home page and scroll down for a wide variety of podcasts on restorative justice in schools and community.
- The Restorative Way, for a wonderful selection of thoughtful posts from a veteran practitioner and consultant visit here.
- What is Restorative Conferencing? A description of the aspects of restorative conferences
- And for a comprehensive selection of curated resources visit the Vermont Restorative Approaches Collaborative website resource page here.
If you feel you or your student has been harmed, please contact:
Henri Sparks, BSD Director of Equity and Safe and Inclusive Schools
Phone: (802) 864-8411, ext. 23208
Email: hsparks (at) bsdvt (dot) org
Resources for Building Classroom Community
For help implemententing RP into your classroom, a specific activity, or school, contact:
Mika Moore, BSD RP Coordinator
The Circle Process Guide, a practical guide for leading circles that includes icebreakers, self-regulation tools, tips, template, and more. Developed for BSD by Annie O’Shaughnessy.
Introducing and Developing Community Building Circles in MS and HS Advisory or Classrooms by Annie O’Shaughnessy. This short document provides a step by step guide and 6 circle scripts for getting started.
The Circle Keeper’s Handbook by Kay Pranis. From a leader in the country on the circle process comes this powerful guide. A great compliment to Annie’s Circle Process Guide.
FAQ and Common Challenges in Circles. This is a combination of Oakland Unified School District’s tips for challenges in circles and a collection of FAQ’s from Annie O’Shaughnessy’s work with educators across the state in collaboration with the BSD training team.
Restorative Justice lesson plan from Teaching Tolerance
Circle Process Graphics and Handouts from Living Justice Press
Advancing Racial Equity – Vermont NEA
Talking Circles: For Restorative Justice and Beyond: A TT awardee discusses how Talking Circles empower her middle school students
Baby Steps towards Restorative Justice, a veteran teacher writes about her journey with restorative practices.
Reflections on the Inner Journey, Kay Pranis writes about the inner work required of us when we commit to being restorative.
Discipline With Dignity: Oakland Classrooms Try Healing Instead of Punishment by Fania Davis
For responses to harm and conflict:
Discipline That Restores, from Fresno Pacific University—a great resource with tools and perspectives.
Restorative Approaches Collaborative is a collaborative of Vermont trainers, consultants, and researchers who have collaborated to offer support to schools in Vermont. Visit their website here.
Chicago Public Schools Restorative Toolkit. A beautifully designed and comprehensive guide.
Restorative Justice Partnership: Denver and Beyond. This is a new and exciting resource with free webinars on a wide range of topics.