Engaging Students and Parents in Building a Restorative School Culture

February 5 2018


Today more and more schools are implementing a restorative practices approach in their school climate improvement efforts. However, too many schools fail to recognize the importance of fully engaging two critical “stakeholder” groups: students and parents/families.


In far too many schools, students play a passive role, being treated more as consumers, rather than contributors. Many studies have shown that when given the opportunity, support and necessary skills, most young people are ready, even eager to take an active role in building a school culture where “it’s cooler to be kind, rather than cool to be cruel.”

However, empowering youth requires seeing students through a strength-based lens, not a deficit based one; viewing young people as assets and not problems. Too often schools view “youth voice” as a means to recruit student leaders from the more traditional “pool” of student council and student leadership representatives (high GPA, positive role models, etc.).

In doing so, their efforts often fall short of the desired results, leaving nontraditional student-leaders on the outside, looking in. These often “outlier” students are “diamonds in the rough” and “leaders in waiting”. In our experience, they’re a powerful and untapped resource for improving school climate and safety.

Comprehensive youth empowerment begins by cultivating a fundamental belief in the ability of children and youth to accomplish great things, a belief in the inherent strength of young people. This belief must be enacted in the ways we live, relate, and behave; in these ways, the belief becomes systemic rather than situational.

With more than 30 years serving as a champion of youth empowerment what I know to be true is the following; when we provide young people with the opportunity to have their developmental needs met for purpose and power, they are not only less likely to choose high risk or anti-social behavior, but also more likely to grow up to be the leaders and citizens we need them to become.


In the case of families, it is critical they’re involved early in the process too, that the administration is working with them, and not doing things to or for them. It’s also important that families understand the reasons for the schools moving away from a more traditional and punitive approach towards the restorative practices approach.

When school administrators fail to recognize the importance of building family engagement early in the process they run the risk of families feeling uninformed, confused and ultimately defensive and resistant - outcomes that can have negative consequences on the program’s full adoption and ultimate success.

So, here are the 5 keys for building and gaining family and parent support.

Consider doing the following:

1. Host a series of introductory information meetings at a variety of times of day so that working parents have options for attending: these are opportunities for families to learn about restorative practices, and to contribute their ideas in the early stages of implementation;

2. Conduct webinars and use social media platforms to provide on-going opportunities for learning and additional input;

3. Identify and invite parent leaders to be a part of the leadership group responsible for the restorative practices planning and implementation.

4. Create information packets for students to take home that inform parents of the many benefits of restorative practices; also coach students regarding the importance of their parents being well informed;

5. Secure the services of a consultant to provide expertise, support, technical assistance and planning; there are many best practices that a consultant can help you incorporate into your planning so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

In addition, we recommend using existing platforms of communication with families that you have found work well, such as; school website and newsletters, open houses, student activities, sporting events and other activities that parents typically attend, local news outlets, and parent teacher conferences as some effective methods of communication.

When families are seen as a key stakeholder group and invited to participate early on in the process, successful implementation and ongoing sustainability of the restorative practices approach is likely.

At the end of the day, effectively implementing, growing and sustaining a restorative practices culture requires the engagement and empowerment of young people and their families.

To learn more about how to “wake up the courage” of young people in your schools and communities and to engage parents/families, please contact us at Community Matters.

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