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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Ways to Implement Restorative Practices in the Classroom

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 09, 2020 22 min read
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There is more and more interest in moving away from “traditional” school discipline and toward restorative practices. This series will explore what that kind of shift can look like—in practical terms—inside our schools and classrooms.

You might also be interested in a very popular post that previously appeared here: How to Practice Restorative Justice in Schools.

Today, Dr. Sheila Wilson, Maurice McDavid, Timothy Hilton, Ashley McCall, Bryan Harris, and Kara Pranikoff contribute their commentaries on the question “What are practical ways to implement restorative practices?” You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Sheila, Maurice, and Timothy on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

“When You Know Better, You Do Better!”

Dr. Sheila Wilson is a native New Orleanian. She currently works as a 5th grade teacher in Virginia. In addition to instructional leadership, she serves to improve the capacity of students, teachers, and families through her roles as grade chair, lead mentor teacher, family-engagement liaison, and SCA adviser. Dr. Wilson is also an adjunct professor, conference presenter, and self-proclaimed lifelong learner. She is passionate about amplifying instruction, school leadership, and equity:

We are all familiar with the discipline practices of yesteryear, which would likely cause any conscientious educator today to cringe. Corporal punishment/traditional discipline practices were widely accepted and viewed as a means of correcting unwanted negative behaviors. I can vividly remember being a high school sophomore assigned to write 500 lines for being caught passing a note in the classroom. And who can forget the ultimate ... getting paddled in the principal’s office! Even though it didn’t personally happen to me (really), just the idea evoked fear in students of all ages and deterred most from mischievous acts. So, why was corporal punishment acceptable then? Why is corporal punishment no longer an accepted discipline practice in most places? Is punishment designed for those who obey the rules or for others? These questions make me call to mind the adage, “When you know better, you do better!”

Countless studies have shown that traditional discipline practices are no longer effective in today’s schools. In fact, traditional practices were so commonplace in part because the ability to apply an immediate consequence was less time consuming for the one doling out the punishment. However, we now embrace restorative practices because they draw their strength in their ability to empower students to learn from unacceptable choices, to understand their impact, and to grow personally in their ability to make more sound decisions and resolve problems. Restorative practices represent a positive step forward in helping all students learn to resolve disagreements, take ownership of their behavior, and engage in acts of empathy and forgiveness.

There are many ways to implement restorative practices in the classroom. First, teachers can incorporate daily morning meetings to build relationships with students, get a sense of their social/emotional mindset, and set the tone and focus for the instructional day. Teachers can also utilize goal setting with their students as a restorative practice. With goal setting, students take ownership of areas they’d like to improve (academically or socially), and they set realistic and actionable steps to work toward their goal. By providing individual goal conferences, teachers can check in to see if students are on track to meet their goals, and students learn to self-check and refocus as needed. Another useful strategy is when an unacceptable behavior has happened that the teacher allows the offended student to share how the offense made him/her feel. In this way, the offender is able to understand how his/her behavior impacts others and therefore understand the perspective of the other person. Finally, there is great restorative power in having the student who has made an unacceptable choice reflect on his/her behavior in writing by addressing very specific questions like: What choice did I make? How did my choice impact others? Is there a better way that I could have addressed this situation? If I had the opportunity for a redo, would I make the same choice? Why or why not?

There are a number of benefits or restorative practices:

  • Builds relationships
  • Strives to be respectful to all
  • Provides the opportunity for equitable dialogue and decisionmaking
  • Involves relevant stakeholders
  • Addresses harms, needs, obligations
  • Encourages all to take responsibility

Educators have come to realize that you can’t punish a child into doing anything. Instead of simply instituting harsh punishment, we need to teach kids the kind of skills, supported by research, to help them improve their behavior. This is why districts are embracing the implementation of restorative structures in schools across the nation. In building socially responsible students, we must arm them with the ability to think critically, problem-solve, and be able to work collaboratively with others. It will be through their mastery of academic knowledge AND their capacity to engage successfully with others that will ultimately guarantee their future success. Therefore, as educators, we must invest our efforts wisely.

Four Restorative Practices

Maurice McDavid earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in history and Spanish. He has taught middle school history, English, and Spanish, as well as high school geography. He was dean of students for three years and is now in his first year as assistant principal at a bilingual elementary school.:

There are four restorative practices that I have worked to implement in our school building that all work on the same model of restorative justice: community-building circles, norm setting, community circles for content, and restorative chats.

Community-building circles: This practice is great for the beginning of the year, as well as use throughout the year to build a community of learners. This allows the students to get to know one another, as well as the teacher. This practice builds empathy amongst the students and will reduce the negative attacking behaviors that can exist in classrooms.

Norm setting: This practice is done using the model of a community-building circle but emphasizes the building of classroom norms together. Oftentimes, rules are handed down by authority and are necessary. Through the norm-setting process, students discuss the values (love, kindness, honesty, etc.) that are important to them in a relationship. From there, students take the values and turn them into action statements describing how they could live out those values in the classroom. A list of action statements or norms are created and can then be edited together as a class. What is awesome about this process is that the norms created are not adult-driven but instead are created as a community and thus has more community buy-in.

Community circles for content: This again uses the community-circle model for the base of practice. The difference is that rather than simply looking to build community, you can use the circle to present content in a class. It is a great discussion model. I have used it to introduce units and gather feedback about students’ background information. The students are able to share openly and yet in an organized fashion, using the talking piece to moderate.

Restorative chats: Restorative chats are used when students do not meet the norms that were established in the classroom. It can be one on one or can be done with the whole class. It is centered around the following four questions:

  • What happened? - This differs from what did you do and allows students to tell the whole story and feel heard.
  • What were you thinking at the time? - This asks students to go back through the mental process they used when making the decision to act outside of the norms. This is a meta-cognitive practice. It allows for reflection on what thoughts and/or emotions may have led to the behavior.
  • Who or what was harmed? - This question asks the student to be accountable for the idea that their behavior caused harm to someone or something. Students are quick to discover that they have harmed themselves and, oftentimes, see how their behavior has harmed a teacher or classmate. This builds empathy.
  • How do you repair the harm? - This question asks the student to think about how they can make the situation right rather than simply serving a consequence that is not directly connected to the action. Students may offer to apologize or clean up a mess created. Students get to be a part of deciding what happens rather than having a decision made for them.

Starting “Small”

Timothy Hilton is a climate and culture specialist with the Fresno Unified school district, in California, where he coaches teachers on classroom management and class climate. Timothy has over 10 years classroom-teaching experience at every level of social studies, ranging from Advanced Placement to English-language development. Timothy is currently a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University in the field of educational policy, evaluation, and reform:

The Restorative practices world is a world that many educators fear simply because they do not know a lot about it. Educators are rarely trained to an adequate level in how to make Restorative Practices (RP) work in their daily lives. Teachers are usually shown the heavy-duty re-entry circles or conflict mediation to demonstrate the power of RP, but this often leaves teachers intimidated, overwhelmed, and asking how this is going to work for them.

The best, and most practical way, to implement restorative practices in the classroom is to start small with some basic restorative skills that can be practiced in your classroom, and even in your life outside of school. These skills are listening, affective communication, and curiosity questions. Once these skills have been practiced, lived, and embraced, then teacher can begin working into the heavier-duty RP practices.

Listening: While the concept of listening seems self-explanatory, we as teachers do not always do it. We are often trying to do a million things at once and, in turn, never really listen to our students. We hear them, but do we listen? In a restorative classroom, there are a couple ways we can demonstrate that we are listening. First is by mirroring their emotions and feelings about a topic. If they are serious when they are telling you something, then be serious as you listen. Second is by demonstrating active listening and paraphrasing. Saying things like, “What I am hearing you say is ...” Third is by being present and validating their feelings. If they are telling you something, make sure you are in the conversation and not planning your grocery list. A big part of being present is validating their feelings. You can do this by making statements such as, " I understand why you are upset.” Or, “I cannot even imagine what you must be feeling, but that you so much for sharing with me.”

Affective Communication: Also known as I-messages, these are powerful restorative tools that can be easily used in every classroom. These statements are done to connect the actions of your students to the impact they have on you. Affective statements require teachers to be willing to be honest and share their feelings. Affective statements follow simple formulas that can be used in every affective statement you make, “I feel/felt _____ when you _____.” Another example is, “I would like/what I need is _____.” The statement frames can be combined or used independently and might look like this, “I felt disappointed when I caught you cheating on the test. " Or,

“I felt sad yesterday when I found out you lied to me because I have always trusted you. I need you to trust me enough to be honest with me. " These questions tie the actions of an individual to the effect they had, something students often forget about.

Curiosity Questions: These are genuine questions you would ask someone to learn more about their situation. Imagine a student just does not seem to be having a good day. You can pull them aside and ask some curiosity questions to find out more. Simple questions like, “How are you doing today?” Or, “You seem kind of off today, is everything OK?” These questions help dive into an issue, but curiosity questions can also help resolve a conflict, “How did it make you feel when Tommy hit you?” or “What do you need Tommy to say to you to feel better?” These are just some very surface-level examples, but many more can be found online and in print resources.

Online Resources for Support

Ashley McCall is a 3rd grade English/language arts educator at Chavez Multicultural Academic Center in Back of the Yards (Chicago) where she serves as a teacher representative on the local school council. She is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna and a member of the Teach Plus Board:

Many districts that are new to restorative practices are under the impression that it is a program to implement. It is not. Restorative practices are about shifting the mindsets and developing the capacity of stakeholders (students, families, teachers, administrators, receptionists, cafeteria staff, security staff, etc.) so they are invested in the culture and climate of the building and accept responsibility for maintaining a safe, enjoyable, and productive environment for all involved. When stakeholders are invested and properly trained, we are able to effectively sustain healthy school climates and respond effectively to breaches in our social contract.

If you are looking to shift toward more restorative practices in your school, you need buy-in across stakeholder groups. Consider how you (and a diverse group of stakeholders) will make a case for and create a sense of urgency around restorative practices at your school. Consider how you can use data as a reflective tool (rather than a tool for shaming and punishment) to drive conversations around the culture, climate, and current disciplinary practices.

When you have buy-in, you need ongoing training from experts. A three-day training on what restorative practices are, what they look like at other schools, and what tools you can use is not adequate and will likely leave your staff worse off than you began. Assess where you are as a school and determine what square you need to start on. If your campus has not yet mastered strong relationships and relationship building, consider Capturing Kids Hearts for staffwide professional development. If your school is strong in relationships but eager to develop specific restorative tools such as restorative conversations, talking circles, or peace circles, consider applying for a Restorative Practice Coaching Project for your school.

Lastly, let the nonadministrative staff take the reigns. Teachers need to be at the forefront of their own mindset shifts and supporting the development of our colleagues. For example, as a part of a University of Chicago Teacher Leadership Impact fellowship this year, my colleague Lindsay Singer developed a restorative practices resource for Chavez staff titled Connecting the Dots: How Restorative Justice, Social and Emotional Learning and Speaking and Listening Standards Come Together. Some of the key elements of this tool are that it is standards-aligned so teachers can connect the dots on why we should do this work and how it maps onto the Common Core State Standards and the REACH Evaluation. The tool is comprehensive and meets teachers where they are. Individuals can find a strategy they want to focus on and track their development in that area throughout the year. The tool is also collaborative so staff can contribute resources that are working in their classrooms and breathe life into this shared professional-development resource.

Check out the Restorative Practices Guide and Toolkit created by the Chicago public schools’ office of social & emotional learning, in collaboration with the Embrace Restorative Justice in Schools Collaborative. Evaluate where you are, make your case, collectively build/revise a vision for your school’s climate and culture, communicate and make sure everyone can articulate the vision, outline a flexible short- and long-term map for bringing that vision to life, and evaluate implementation on an ongoing basis with quantitative data and qualitative data from all stakeholders. Remember that this is a long-term process. No one can undo decades of zero-tolerance-policy culture (or a no-suspension culture) in one academic year. Policy change does not result in overnight changes in practice, but we can each sharpen our restorative mindsets every day.

Conflict-Resolution Sentence Starters

As a career-long educator, Bryan Harris has served in a variety of roles from classroom teacher to district-level leader. Now working full time as a trainer, his work focuses on topics ranging from student engagement to teacher resiliency. Find out more at his website:

At the heart of restorative practices—in fact, it’s right there in the name—is helping students learn how to repair and restore relationships after a conflict, hurt, offense, or fight.

The sad fact is that far too many of our students enter school without effective conflict-resolution skills. This includes the skill of recognizing when you’ve done harm to someone else and how to fix it. Notice that I didn’t say that kids don’t have any conflict-resolution skills. The fact is that they do—it’s just that many of the skills and communication methods they’ve acquired are not healthy or productive.

So, as teachers and leaders, what do we do?

First, start by helping your students understand that conflict is a normal part of life. It’s unavoidable. But the existence of conflict doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means that you spend time around other people; and when you spend time around other people, there will be occasions where you disagree. Knowing how to effectively handle conflicts is a significant life skill. To learn more about the nature of conflict, check out Larry’s Classroom Q & A post from February of 2018. Along with several other experts, I offered some ways to help students think about and resolve conflict.

The first step is knowing that conflict is normal and cannot be fully avoided as long as you interact with other people. Once we help our students understand this very important idea, helping them develop and refine skills that communicate remorse is a great next step. In other words, teach them the power of an apology.

When students know how to sincerely offer and genuinely accept an apology, it serves as the foundation to restore broken relationships.

Have you ever seen something like this before?

Student A (we’ll call them the offender) sheepishly walks over to Student B and says, “Sorry.” They mumble the word under their breath while looking directly at the ground, arms folded the entire time.

Student B (we’ll call them the victim) reluctantly says, “That’s OK,” while also looking at the ground and counting the seconds until they can run away.

In this all-too-common scenario, both students are likely embarrassed, and the conflict is not resolved. While some of the right words were used, Student A didn’t truly apologize, and Student B didn’t authentically accept it.

Imagine how different that interaction would be if students used specific words and phrases that communicate remorse for the offense and acceptance of an apology. It might sound like this:

Student A: “I am sorry for drawing that picture of you and showing it to your friends. I realize that made you feel sad. I promise I’ll never do that again. Will you please forgive me?”

Student B: “Since you promised to never do that again, I accept your apology.”

Notice the difference in the words. A great first place to start is by teaching students, by the use of sentence starters, which words are most effective at offering and accepting an apology. The following examples are great places to start:

How to Offer an Apology

  • I apologize for ...
  • It was my fault that _______ happened. I apologize for letting it happen.
  • I realize that....
  • I realize that _____ was my fault and I am sorry for making you feel ________.
  • I am truly sorry that I did this. I want to make things better. Tell me how I can do that.

How to Accept an Apology

  • I accept your apology. Make sure this does not happen again.
  • Because I know you will not do this again, I accept your apology.
  • I’ll accept your apology because....
  • Because you know that ______ was wrong, I accept your apology.
  • Because you know that ______ hurt me, I can accept your apology.

To get more examples, click here to download a free two-page guide I’ve created that outlines five essential reasons that offering and accepting an apology is an important life skill for students.

Four Strategies for Promoting Restorative Practices

Kara Pranikoff is an elementary school teacher at a public school in New York City. Her book, Teaching Talk: A Practical Guide to Fostering Student Thinking and Conversation (Heinemann, 2017), shares many ways to keep the balance of classroom discussion in the hands of the students:

It was a beautiful springtime morning in New York. I walked into the yard to pick up my 2nd graders, and they swarmed to me, ready to begin our day.

Hudson stood atypically off to the side. Bending down to meet his eyes, I asked what was going on. “I don’t want to talk about it now,” he said quietly. “But may I give a public-service announcement when we get up to our room?”

“Public-service announcements” were statements that students needed to share with the rest of the community. Often these were messages that would increase our efficiency. (Can everyone place their jackets on hooks so that the space stays neat?) Or messages that would help us work better together. (Remember, we need to have a calmer science class so we can do our experiment.)

“I’d like to speak with everyone, even before we unpack,” he requested. I was unsure about the content of his message, but it was clear that Hudson needed to begin our day.

Students entered the class, placed backpacks at their tables, and moved directly onto the rug. Hudson took a seat in the front corner of our meeting area, and I settled onto the bench in-between his peers.

“I’m feeling a little sad today,” he began. “I just want everyone to know that last night my great-grandmother died. I want everyone to know that I might not want to play very much today.”

The class responded with care. Some had questions that were typical of 2nd graders trying to get the literal facts: How old was she? How did she die? Then Hunter, Hudson’s closest friend, raised her hand. “How can we help you feel better?” she wanted to know.

Restorative practices are essential for a community to care for each other and grow together. Our best learning happens when we feel safe and secure. This priority requires attention each day in order to bring together an entire classroom of diverse students.

The tools which enabled the students to listen and support Hudson in his time of need were put in place in the fall—nurtured and practiced each day—so that by springtime they could be used, with independence. Here are some essential ways to develop these habits of mind:

Have discussion in circle every day

It’s said that one way to achieve closeness with others is to eat with them. It’s not just the literal nourishment but the connection which is fostered by close physical proximity. The classroom equivalent is to set aside a space where the whole community can gather and face each other in a circle. This creates an area of inclusion where students can share their thoughts and ideas.

Make space for students to speak and respond to each other independently

Students’ ownership of their shared space requires the ability for them to express their thoughts freely. Speaking in partnership or small groups can be woven into every day so that sharing and building ideas, independent of the teacher, is a regular practice.

Invite the lives of your students into the classroom

Restorative practice honors the full being of each student. For this to happen, students must have the freedom to share what is on their mind. We must embrace the child as a whole, enabling them to express the joys that happen both inside and outside of school, as well as the struggles.

Begin your day together

Each day we transition from our home space with family to our classroom community. By gathering as a whole class first thing every morning, we make a commitment to welcome our day together. We can set our intentions and get our minds ready for what is coming ahead in our shared learning.

Thanks to Sheila, Maurice, Timothy, Ashley, Bryan, and Kara for their contributions.

(This is the first post in a two-part series)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are practical ways to implement restorative practices?

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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