Claire Matthews & Michelle Stowe | Blog | 22.02.18

Restorative Practice is a values-based way of being; it aims to consciously build relationships, manage conflict in a healthy way, and CONNECT us to our best selves and to one­­ another.

How often have we heard the saying, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’? How about ‘Culture makes everything possible’? The culture and emotional climate of a school, or indeed any place where people are together, have the opportunity to support true engagement, deep learning and reflection, and to make a difference!

Restorative Practice (RP), as a philopsophy and a set of skills, provides us with the space and practical guidance to develop and improve the emotional climate in every school. RP focusses on proactively building relationships and community through connection to values and is becoming particularly pertinent as we live in an increasingly disconnected world. Relationships are at the heart of wellbeing and learning for eveybody. RP promotes wellbeing, happiness and connection and has the potential to be transformative.

RP supports us to connect to each other and to connect the educational ‘dots’ in creating the environment conducive to effective teaching and learning, maximising capacities of hearts and minds of whole-school communities.  Considering the moral imperative of education and the privileged position we are in as teachers in working with children, young people and their parents, it is essential that we make the connections between all that is happening in educational reform and what is taking place in schools. School self-evaluation and junior cycle reform are providing much of the architecture and vision for reform in the Irish context. Schools are developing a greater culture of collaboration and reflection, looking at what is working well and considering how they might improve outcomes for children in their personal and educational achievement, to empower them to navigate the world in which they live and to become as active as citizens as possible.

Within the current educational landscape of reform many schools and educators are feeling the burden of seemingly constant introduction of new initiatives. We can often feel overwhelmed by the pace of change and perhaps miss the bigger picture of how everything connects together and is ultimately in the best interests of all. In order to engage with reform, to collaborate and to reflect openly and honestly, the school culture needs to be in a state of relational readiness. RP provides a framework and a language in the development of positive relationships to support people to be their best selves, to navigate change and to encourage positive engagement among the school community.

Health and wellbeing is the linchpin to bring about improvement in teaching and learning and ultimately student outcomes. RP needs to be the metaphorical carpet in the building before anything else is possible. This is something that perhaps we know intuitively but not always something we act upon explicitly. We need to adopt a health and wellbeing mindset, a restorative mindset (Hopkins, 2006), a lens through which we see teaching and learning in order to ensure quality of education. Helping us all to understand how we think affects how we feel and engage with the world; the outcomes we create; the impact of a positive growth mindset; how to get the best out of ourselves and each other will impact on how we live in and outside of the classroom. RP is a way to transcend wellbeing from a subject or an area of learning to a way of being, something that is lived and modelled all day every day. Through RP and the explicit building of relationships, empathy and emotional intelligence skills are developed. People learn to actively listen to understand as opposed to respond (Covey, 2004). The potential for conflict is minimised but skills in responding to harm when conflict occurs are put into practice in a way that moves us from a blame/shame/punishment mindset that is often associated with a traditional approach, to a restorative one that encourages us to think, to make amends, to forgive and to learn to do things better the next time. Do we want to teach our children to blame and punish or to think and learn? (Dweck, 2012) The cultivation of these social and emotional competencies are life skills that will remain with our young people, potentially long after the facts that we teach them fade from their mind (Palmer, 1993).

Happy, healthy, resilient people learn and do better. If we create the right relational environment we are more likely to be motivated intrinsically and to bring about the desired outcomes in terms of wellbeing as well as personal and academic achievement for our students. Students ‘learn for wellbeing when their whole experience of school life including all the day-to-day interactions, both within and beyond the classroom, are respectful and caring’ (NCCA, 2017, p. 10). Restorative Practice focuses on explicitly fostering healthy respectful relationships, having high expectations and support for ourselves and each other. Such an approach creates the environment of safety and trust needed for students, teachers and parents to work together, to be creative and engaged, to try out new approaches and to perhaps do things in a more explicitly postive way than heretofore.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together – African Proverb

Bio | Claire Matthews

Claire is Principal of Firhouse Educate Together Secondary School opening in September 2018. She is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant. She taught English and French at second level for 13 years before being seconded to the support services for post-primary teacher CPD from 2012 – 2017.  She has also lectured trainee teachers on the Professional Masters in Education (PME) programme in UCD.

Bio | Michelle Stowe

Michelle is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant. She taught English and Spanish at second level for 16 years and is currently lecturing and supporting trainee teachers on the Professional Masters in Education (PME) programme in Maynooth University. She facilitates CPD courses for teachers in Education Centres throughout the country. She supports organisations and schools eager to realise their potential individually and as a community by facilitating on-site training. Michelle also works with organisations that need support in resolving conflict between people.

Have a look at Michelle’s Tedx! for more information.


Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character

ethic. New York: Free Press.

Dweck, Carol. (2008) Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Hopkins, B. (2006). Implementing a restorative approach to behaviour and relationship

management in schools – the narrated experiences of educationalists.

NCCA. (2017). Guidelines for Wellbeing in Junior Cycle. Dublin: Author.

Palmer, J. P. (1993.) To Know As We Are Known – Education as a Spiritual Journey. New York. Harper Collins.


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