Restorative practices have become increasingly popular in the last few years, but not everywhere. Through our local, national, and international travels to help schools implement restorative practices, we have observed that many primary schools incorporate PBIS to some level of fidelity. What we have also observed is that few primary schools seem to incorporate restorative practices.

Something that we often run into when we work with schools is educators that question the cognitive lift that must occur to answer open-ended questions, to talk about emotions, and to repair the harm of their actions. I will tell you from personal experience that we often underestimate our students’ abilities to do these things. Sure, we may have to do more prompting with younger kids, but sometimes they catch on even faster than the older kids! I even have restorative interventions with my four-year-old and six-year-old. You might think, “well that doesn’t mean anything, he wrote a book about behavior so of course, he should be able to do that,” but I will tell you that my children are some of the most stubborn people on Earth!

Here is an example of an exchange that might occur in your classroom and how to prompt them when they get stuck or don’t take ownership:

*Teacher sees two students arguing about a glue stick
Teacher: Matthew, what’s going on?
Matthew (student with glue stick): Nothing.
Ronnie (student without glue stick): He took my glue!
Matthew: No I didn’t!
Ronnie: Yes you did!
Teacher: Ronnie, I can see that you are upset. Please tell me what happened.
*Ronnie starts to talk…
Matthew: But! But!
Teacher: Matthew, you will get your turn to talk. We need to listen first.
Ronnie: I had my glue on my desk, went up to sharpen my pencil, then I came back and Matthew had my glue.
Matthew: She wasn’t using it!
Teacher: Matthew, I know that you have your side of the story to share, but we must let Ronnie finish.
Teacher: Ronnie, how did that make you feel when you came back and someone was using your glue stick?
Ronnie: Mad!
Teacher: Why did you feel that way?
Ronnie: Because the glue stick is mine and I wanted to glue stuff down.
Teacher: Thank you for sharing that. Ok Matthew, please tell me what happened.
Matthew: I saw a glue stick on the table and didn’t know who it belonged to. I needed it, so I used it. She shouldn’t have made such a big deal about it!
Teacher: Matthew, how would you feel if someone took your glue?
Matthew: I wouldn’t care, it’s just glue.
Teacher: What is something that you own that you really care about?
Matthew: My XBOX
Teacher: How would you feel if someone took your XBOX because you weren’t playing it?
Matthew: I guess I’d be mad
Teacher: I would be mad too! It seems like Ronnie cares about her glue and people care about different things. While glue might not seem like a big deal to you, it did to her. Can you see why she might’ve gotten upset?
Matthew: Yes
Teacher: When we do things that make others upset, we must repair the other words, make things right. How do you think you can fix this with Ronnie?
Matthew: I don’t know
Teacher: If someone took your XBOX, how would you want them to fix it with you?
Matthew: Give it back.
Teacher: And…
Matthew: Apologize
Teacher: Great! Let’s think about this can you fix this with Ronnie?
Matthew: Give her back her glue.
Teacher: Yes, that’s the first step! Then what?
Matthew: Apologize.
Teacher: Ronnie, if Matthew did that, would you feel good about things?
Ronnie: Yes
Teacher: Ok Matthew. She seems ready.
*Matthew hands Ronnie the glue stick
Matthew: I’m sorry.
Teacher: Great job! I love that you made a great choice!

A look inside the scenario above:
  • The teacher stayed cool, calm, and collected.
  • The teacher focused on what Matthew cared about and used that to build empathy when he didn’t immediately have empathy for Ronnie.
  • The teacher reinforced good decisions made by Matthew.
  • The teacher let each student speak. A lot of times we jump to conclusions or don’t hear students’ thought processes.
  • The teacher asked open-ended questions.
  • The teacher asked Ronnie if what Matthew proposed was ok with her to fix it. This makes her feel listened to and validated while also helping mend the harm caused by Matthew.
Kids need to be given a voice and be heard in the classroom. By giving this to students, they feel more connected to the classroom community, therefore, having more buy-in to keep the classroom community positive. Restorative practices work with all ages and I urge you to try it out for yourself!

To dive deeper restorative practices, check out our article, Best Practice Restorative Actions.

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Restorative Practices Work With Primary Kids! was authored by:
Brad Weinstein

Brad Weinstein is the primary content creator for TeacherGoals and oversees the organization's strategic vision. Brad is passionate about fostering equitable teaching and learning practices that help all students succeed.

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