Restorative practices in schools: international experiences

Every year, the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) organises its conference. This year the renowned institute has chosen Budapest as the venue for its European conference. Partners Hungary Foundation also participated in the second day of the conference. Plenary presentations The Thursday day was opened by John Bailey, President of IIRP, who spoke to hundreds of [...]

Every year, the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) organises its conference.

The prestigious institute has chosen Budapest as the venue for its European conference this year. Partners Hungary Foundation also participated in the second day of the conference.


Plenary presentations

Thursday's day John Bailey, President of the IIRP, who has introduced and facilitated the introduction of restorative practices in hundreds of struggling schools in the US. In his introduction, he stressed that working with restorative techniques is a continuous learning process, more akin to discovery. When they start working with a school, an important part of the work is to get to know the institutions and the people, in order to find together the methods that work for them. But the focus is always on community building and conflict management to repair the damage done to relationships.

For 6-12 months, they only investigate the circumstances and set up working groups in the school before they start working with the pupils. They are currently running three projects on the following topics:

  • how the restorative environment at school influences risk factors (school drop-out, depression, etc.)
  • how the restorative environment affects learning outcomes
  • how to create a restorative environment in Pittsburgh's 50% schools.

They work to provide schools with concrete, usable tools. He also stressed that structured discussions, conferences and circle models are only effective if they help to manage conflicts outside school.

They involve ALL school staff (teachers and staff) and PTA members who come into contact with students: they believe in building a functioning and sustainable system with the participation of all stakeholders. Experience has also shown that there needs to be some kind of compulsory "push" to really encourage change, and therefore an examination at the end of the process.


Nicola Preston works with children with special educational needs in the UK. She studied restorative practices at the IIRP. In public education today, the emphasis has shifted very much towards performance - at the expense of community. The good question would be how to engage students in learning - with the help of the community. Also, there has been a surge in the number of children with special educational needs, and diagnosis plays a very important role in parents' lives to explain why their child is not performing well. While he does not deny the validity of the diagnoses, he points out that many of the students do not have a positive attitude towards learning because of the bad experiences and humiliation they have faced. Nicola Preston stresses the importance of community attachment and a positive school climate, which increase self-esteem and reduce feelings of shame, thereby improving students' academic performance.

He cited as an example a school where he taught where the proportion of children with special educational needs was 33%, which had decreased over time to 10%. Although the risk factors in the lives of the students remained, the school environment had changed, which had led to significant improvements. Neuroscience research shows that activities that evoke positive feelings in students reduce stress and anxiety and shame about learning. For this reason, social and emotional learning becomes of paramount importance, and this requires a safe and positive environment in which it can take place.


Dr Belinda Hopkins has been working with restorative techniques for twenty years. In her lecture, she emphasizes the importance of inner recognition when we realize the importance of restorative techniques and how they help us. There is great community building power in the process of forming a common story out of different individual stories. The process must always be tailored to the participants, there is no single salvation method.

He was also not afraid to mention the difficulties. There is little funding for training, and there is often a lot of resistance from teachers, often due to fear of change. He considers it important to innovate and rewrites his course material practically every year, as he is constantly learning himself. You have to be creative and learn about other people's methods. Empathy, understanding each other and listening to each other helps a lot.


Sára Tóbiás E. an aggression management psychologist, spoke about the Mérei programme. Created in 2008, the programme, prompted by the teacher beating stories, was a response to teachers' perceptions of helplessness, powerlessness and lack of support. An action plan was drawn up under the leadership of Margit Németh, with the help of experts such as Jenő Ranschburg, Pál Bilkei and Tamás Vekerdy. The programme was implemented in 168 educational institutions, mainly children's homes and primary schools. The programme included the following elements:

  • Crisis line
  • Training and supervision for teachers
  • Tools developed for managing aggression: training DVDs on restorative techniques, personal help in putting together lesson plans. The materials and cases compiled in the teaching material were discussed by the teachers with the students.
  • Own website
  • Cooperation with other NGOs.

The complex institutional development programme has involved 25 institutions over two years. During this time, they trained teachers as restorative facilitators and worked with students using forum theatre techniques. They also used external facilitators, produced training DVDs, organised case conferences and supervision.

Among the difficulties, the rapporteur mentioned the teachers' resistance: it was difficult to get them to open up to the new method and it was difficult to persuade them not to try to resolve conflicts alone and without authority. Unfortunately, after two years the project came to an end, which was a short time to achieve lasting success.

However, feedback from teachers suggests that the programme has given them real tools to deal with conflicts in school, and that disciplinary meetings have been replaced by restorative conferences.


Mundrucz Anett, the head of the Green Rooster Lyceum, briefly explained the special nature of the institution to the participants. Their secondary school is attended by students who have dropped out of other schools because they have attention deficit disorder, special learning needs, very difficult circumstances and/or addiction problems. For ten years they have been working with restorative methods in student-student, student-teacher, teacher-teacher conflicts. They consider it important to treat students as equal partners and want to get to know them in order to offer them real support. A restorative approach helps students to integrate into the community and achieve better results in their studies.


Eva Fahlström works with restorative methods and psychodrama. In a Roma settlement in Pata Cluj, on the outskirts of Cluj Napoca, she is involved in community planning in the fields of education, housing, employment and health, with the help of facilitators trained by her. The ambitious objective is to overcome 700 years of mistrust between Roma and non-Roma people. A common attitude is that when they want to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged groups, they work for them rather than with them, thus undervaluing people. To illustrate this, Eva says that in Sweden alone there are more than 4,000 Romanian beggars. The Swedish government has called on the Romanian government to take action, and the Romanian government has replied that it is doing its best. However, no one asks the beggars if their children go to school, if they have health insurance or if they have tried to find work. The conversation goes over the heads of those being talked about, not with them.

Eva welcomes open conflict because it is easier to deal with disputes in the open.

The first step in the process is engagement, the second is discourse, the statement of the problem. This is followed by clarifying expectations on both sides. These three steps come up again and again as we work through the story, as we learn more and more details.

A restorative environment is in fact a space of safety and freedom of expression. It can be a source of conflict if the parties are not in the same space. One of the difficulties of project work is not to focus on the achievement of the goal, because you cannot rush ahead, it is the process that matters. And in the process, it is important to construct common stories that serve as common denominators and sustainable cooperation. The process is to break down the problem into its details until all parties are looking at the same picture. Only then can you strategise and then implement sub-goals, make mistakes and learn from them.




During the afternoon there were more than ten short workshops to choose from. Several workshops ran in parallel during the three one-hour sessions. I ended up attending the following.


1) Nicola Preston talked about shame and stress associated with learning, which research shows slows memory and reduces learning ability. On this topic, she recommends the writings of Silvan Tomkins, John Braithwaite, Graeme George (,

shame compass is a chart showing possible reactions to shame, developed for use in school-based restorative practices.

Positive feelings are interrupted by a feeling of shame/ humiliation, and the transition from negative feelings to positive ones is provided by surprise/ shock.

We will listen to an excerpt Daniel Reisel: The neuroscience if restorative justice TED talk on how shame and stress significantly slow down memory and learning ability, so the role of social and emotional learning is huge. When stress is reduced, performance improves significantly. Education would therefore have a big role to play in creating a positive emotional and social environment in which learners can really bring out the best in themselves.

During the informal discussion, the following valuable ideas were shared by the participants:

  • While diagnosing the various learning difficulties helps us to provide appropriate support to learners, it is important that these diagnoses do not become labels or stigmas, as they also generate a sense of shame.
  • Involving students in the curriculum can help to improve performance, as they can feel that teachers are working with them, treating them as partners.
  • It is important to teach good communication from an early age so that children avoid feelings of shame and incompetence. Indeed, a large number of residents in the juvenile detention centre have been found to have language or communication problems.
  • In a school community, it is important to have a relationship that creates an atmosphere in which positive feelings can eradicate feelings of shame.
  • For further reading on this topic, see Vernin C. Kelly: The Art of Intimacy.

2. Jan Ruigrok, a provocative coach from the Netherlands, came to the conference. In his workshop he tried to show that provocation can be restorative. He put together a diagram that can be used in schools to illustrate possible attitudes in the "school dance floor":

The figure shows that restorative communication is the focus of cooperation, the Thomas A. Harris causal I'm theirs or (ik=én, jij=te), which Harris developed based on Eric Berne's theory of transaction analysis. The red part is what Jan Ruigrok calls the drama triangle. The person who speaks from any of the positions in red (pursuer/threat, victim or rescuer) expects his partner to respond from these positions. The speaker says that in such cases, for example, provocation can help the speaker to move towards the green field, in which assertive, vulnerable and cautious expressions can be made. Listeners express doubts about whether the provocation of the person from whom they really expect help is well received by the parties. The speaker acknowledges that the method is a fine line and needs to be the result of a considered decision, but in his experience it has so far proved to be the right one.

The conference was very informative and inspiring, thanks to the well-prepared, experienced, professional speakers and the information provided. In addition to the experience, the participants were enriched with Ted Wachtel's book Dreaming of a New Reality, which discusses the effects and methodological tools of introducing restorative techniques in schools. The organisers have promised to make all the presentations from the conference available on their website, so it is worth following the from page.

    Want more information on this topic? Contact us!