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Restorative practices changes school culture

Written on November 8th, 2011

John Knox Christian School in Woodstock is a better school than it used to be since adopting restorative practices, says Michael Meinema.

The principal and COO says restorative practices teach students life skills such as how to solve conflict, how to listen to another person express their feelings, and how to have the opportunity to express what you are feeling.

“I think that these types of life skills completely change the culture while kids are here,” he says.

“We’re better off for this because our kids are better served by this practice being a part of our school community. Our hope for this is that they’ll continue in it, that it will make them better citizens one day, better workers one day,” he tells the OACS News.

Meinema says restorative practices is the school’s philosophy of how to treat others. The school has been using the approach for approximately six years.

The idea to bring in restorative practices stemmed from the former principal seeing fairly significant line-ups to the office to deal with how children were treating one another in class and on the playground, notes Meinema.

At the time of introducing restorative practices, staff members received training through Shalem Mental Health Network and reading materials.

Restoring brokenness when something happens is at the root of restorative practices. For example, if a student pushes another on the playground it is not just about the incident that occurred but that there was a break in relationship.

Students are taught about restorative practices in the classroom and it is modelled in having restorative circles. In the circles, whoever is holding the talking piece is the person whose turn it is to talk.

Sometimes circles are formal events, ensuring to honour everyone involved in the situation, and may involve bringing in parents.

Meinema says restorative practices are being integrated into “rightful living.” Students learn how to treat each other better because they are being taught the life skills of how to work through conflict and what behaviour is expected.

He adds he sees very few students coming to the office because they are doing conflict resolution on the playground, and when students do visit him in the office it is to ask him to facilitate a circle.

For schools interested in restorative practices, Meinema suggests starting small. For example, having a group of teachers read through a restorative practices book and discuss what it could look like in their school.

He says people can connect with schools that have set the path as resources for their own journeys.