Restorative Practices: 5 Keys to Successful Implementation - Part 2

February 18 2015


  • Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters
    Rick Phillips
    Founder, Community Matters
  • William Grace Frost, Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters
    William Grace Frost
    Former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series in which we are outlining 5 key strategies for successful implementation of Restorative Practices (RP). If you haven’t already read Part 1, we recommend that you review it before reading this second part. In the first part we addressed two of the 5 key strategies:
- Strong Leadership / Leading Restoratively
- Creating a Learning Organization

In this second part, we will cover:
- Staff Engagement / Overcoming Resistance
- Using Systems Thinking
- Strategic, Incremental Implementation

Staff Engagement / Overcoming Resistance

There are numerous factors that contribute to the success of change initiatives. One of the primary drivers in the success of implementing restorative practices begins when leaders and staff adopt the long view. That means understanding that integrated, significant and sustainable change takes time, and in the case of schools, likely 3-5 years. Integrating RP requires a shift in core beliefs and that doesn’t happen overnight. Establishing realistic expectations upfront will keep the drop-outs and naysayers to a minimum along the way.

Remember that ultimately, it’s all about relationships, and you only need a 10%-20% acceptance rate to hit your ‘tipping point’ of adoption. So to help ensure the success of your RP program implementation, consider these other key elements of effective engagement:

  • Involve yourself in the process; do not make the mistake of announcing the “big change” and then standing apart from the development and the practice;
  • Start by creating a safe place for people to be themselves and trust that their ideas and concerns will be heard;
  • Use staff circles for your meetings so that people can get comfortable with the form;
  • Find out who has experience with RP or other approaches like it; build on what they already do and know and use their experience as a resource for the group;
  • Utilize a collaborative decision making process which is the fastest way to eliminate resistance and build community trust;
  • Employ Roger's Diffusion Model (know the characteristics and needs of each group):

- Focus on Early Adopters
- Pair Early Adopters with Early Majority for modeling and support
- Innovators may have good resources and may be enthusiastic advocates
- Don't give up on your Late Majority and Laggards, they can end up being your strongest allies; maintain pressure and support and put the onus back on them to produce evidence and come up with alternatives
- Maintain high pressure and expectations with high support and encouragement

Using Systems Thinking

Systems thinking has to do with understanding and regarding the whole while working with the individual parts. Everything is interrelated and therefore each aspect of your RP initiative has a degree of influence on everything else – people, structures, processes, goals, etc. Since everything is connected, each aspect moves the system closer to being either successful or unsuccessful.

Begin with a series of questions such as these to assess the starting point for your organization, district or school:

  • What’s the current need and how can Restorative Practices address it?
  • Are you clear about the overarching goal? (e.g., creating a safe, connected, caring, inspiring school climate)
  • How do the "parts" and pieces of your system support or hinder progress toward that goal?
  • What are the interrelationships of the "parts" and how do they relate to the "whole"?
  • How receptive is the culture to a relational approach?
  • How can RP inform programs already in place? What are the interrelationships?
  • If you currently have PBIS, how might using circles to determine behavior expectations increase buy-in and lessen resistance? How might adult supervisors benefit from being trained to hold students accountable for the behavior agreements they themselves created while supporting them to do so?
  • If you are currently using SEL, how might the development of SE skills like self-awareness and self-management support the implementation of RP?
  • Is a realignment of policies and procedures necessary?

There are many more questions that can be incorporated here, but the key is to keep your eye on the prize and consider the whole. Everyone and every aspect of your implementation program has a contribution to make towards your success.

Strategic, Incremental Implementation

There is no single "blueprint" to successful implementation as each school or district has its own unique set of circumstances, but regardless of your situation, there are several key actions that will comprise your roll-out strategy:

  1. Identify advocates and resistors
  2. Identify and engage leadership
  3. Establish baseline data, e.g. current suspension rates
  4. Provide initial introduction to staff, families and community partners and elicit feedback
  5. Utilize staff circles to maximize engagement
  6. Provide professional development
  7. Provide a school-wide presentation of RP to students
  8. Utilize community building circles, affective statements and restorative dialogue
  9. Begin formal conferencing
  10. Maintain ongoing monitoring of progress and feedback loop
  11. Revisit and update discipline policies
  12. Report progress to stakeholders and celebrate success!

The ultimate goal of RP is to achieve a school culture where “how we treat each other” is as important as “what we learn”. A school culture which builds social capital – relationships, connections, trust and community. By understanding and using the 5 key strategies outlined in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series you will be well on your way to successfully transforming your schools from the inside-out.

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