Committee for Children Blog

Want to Implement Both SEL and Restorative Practices? Read This

restorative practices, social emotional learning, implementation, administrators, principals

Are you currently implementing a restorative practices or social-emotional learning (SEL) program and now considering implementing both? Are you already using both restorative practices and an SEL program? If so, are you wondering how to better coordinate efforts so they intersect and are not disjointed?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, systemic implementation is essential. The alignment and coordination of programs and practices is pivotal to ensuring both efforts are successful. To implement these practices systematically and efficiently, all those involved in carrying out the practices benefit from having a solid understanding of how restorative practices and SEL can work together. These examples and tips will help you integrate restorative practices and SEL programs to maximize the benefits of both.

Both Efforts Support Similar Outcomes

Both SEL and restorative practices are positive approaches to student behavior in that they promote positive environments and give students direct opportunities to develop and use positive skills. If implemented together and implemented well, both can help to boost the same outcomes, such as improved school climate, student-student and student-teacher relationships, reduced conflicts, and decreases in exclusionary discipline practices such as suspensions.

Tip: Identify which of your school and/or district outcomes SEL and restorative practices will help to improve, and show others how both can collectively support those outcomes. Connect both efforts in your action plan and your measurement of the plan’s success.

Restorative Practices Support the Development of SEL

Restorative practices is a process through which SEL skills are further learned and refined, and it provides a safe physical and emotional environment for doing so. Once adults teach a social skill lesson and model and practice the skill with students, efforts often move to teaching a new skill, and another. If the previously learned skills are never revisited, students may lose or forget to use them. That is where the restorative practice process comes in. The circle process, for example, increases the likelihood students will use their skills because they have regular opportunities to talk about and practice them. The process provides structures for respectfully listening, gaining insight into how others are feeling, sharing feelings and experiences, managing emotions, and much more.

Tip: During circle time, foster increased awareness and use of social skills by asking students to

share what social skills they used and which ones they saw others using.

SEL Helps Students and Adults Navigate the Restorative Practices Process

When students have skills to listen, show empathy, disagree respectfully, establish positive relationships, understand and manage emotions, and handle challenging situations effectively, they can participate in the restorative practice process with more ease and confidence.

  • When a student experiences an emotion during circle time, she can use her skills for managing and expressing those emotions, while others in the circle will need their skills for identifying emotions.
  • Having social skills is helpful for all types of restorative practice circles. Students use their listening, perspective taking, and empathy skills when participating in a circle of understanding, and they’re more equipped to solve a dilemma in a conflict circle when they have problem-solving skills.

Adults can also more effectively navigate and support restorative processes when they use their social-emotional skills because use of skills such as listening and respect for others can foster positive relationships, the core of restorative practices.

Integrating SEL within the school culture and curriculum goes hand-in-hand with the use of restorative practices. Restorative practices provide students and adults with a positive community, process, and opportunity to put their social and emotional knowledge and learning into practice, and social-emotional skills provide the foundation needed to successfully navigate the restorative process and all that comes with it.

Final tip: If implementing both SEL and restorative practice efforts, take time to plan for how you will support systemic implementation. Think about having the same team or department lead and support both initiatives, and if this isn’t possible, ensure time for collaboration across teams.

For more information on how restorative practices and SEL align, check out this Second Step-Restorative Practices Alignment Chart.

Read more of Kim’s articles on the Committee for Children blog, and check out this SEL eBook, which is a collection of articles about SEL as it relates to restorative practices, trauma-informed practices, MTSS, and character education.