Discover the Difference: Restorative Practices

by Diocese of Des Moines | July 8, 2021

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Representatives from five Diocese of Des Moines Catholic schools traveled to St. Patrick Catholic School in Elkhorn, Nebraska to attend a two-day workshop on restorative practices.

Those in attendance were: Jon Aldrich and Gretchen Watznauer from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School; Misty Hade from St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic School; Jennifer Raes from St. Anthony Catholic School; Monica Morrison from Holy Trinity Catholic School; and Jodi Halligan from St. Joseph Catholic School. 

The workshop, hosted by the Archdiocese of Omaha Catholic Schools Office, helped school administrators develop a social-emotional framework for their schools that includes restorative practices. Chris Nelson and Beverly Tate, master trainers, prepared by the International Institute of Restorative Practices, facilitated the workshop for over 30 administrators from multiple dioceses throughout the Midwest. 

School administrators overwhelmingly acknowledge the value social-emotionalgraphic learning (SEL) plays in an educational system plagued by growing social inequality, bullying, aggression, and violence. However, the challenge in fostering a caring school culture centered on SEL is the lack of training and professional development to support school administrators in this quest. According to a 2017 survey, 98 percent of K-12 principals believe SEL is teachable and reduces educational inequalities. Nevertheless, these same administrators note that the challenge in promoting SEL is a lack of guidance in implementing such programs (Mahfouz et al., 2019).

When Diocese of Des Moines administrators were invited to attend the workshop, they jumped at the opportunity to learn more about restorative practices as part of a SEL framework. "This workshop was an exceptional experience that provided an opportunity to collaborate with other administrators outside of our diocese," shared Halligan. "The restorative practices we explored during the workshop will allow us to be more proactive when addressing student behaviors as we implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in the coming school year."

What are restorative practices?

Restorative practices view wrongdoing or problem behavior as a violation of people and relationships rather than a violation of the rules. The focus is on the victim(s). The offender must accept responsibility for his or her actions and the damage caused by those actions. The concept of restorative practices is hardly new. Such practices originated with many indigenous cultures from New Zealand, Australia, Central Europe, Asia, and North America (IIRP, 2021). 

Why implement restorative practices?

All humans desire to be treated with dignity, have a voice and be heard. These qualities are core to our humanity. Thus, there is considerable value in shifting from a punitive approach to promoting social bonding and community. In addition, restorative practices are perfect in a school setting, as young people have a tremendous capacity for change and growth (Johnson, 2019). Moreover, restorative practices align with Catholic social teaching by protecting the dignity of every person involved, teaching collective problem-solving, building community, and promoting forgiveness. 

Benefits of restorative practices in a school setting

While research on restorative practices in schools is relatively limited, one study noted, "students with greater exposure to restorative practices in school reported expecting to go further in their studies, while another found greater social-emotional competencies and social skills," (Velez et al., 2020).

Additionally, a qualitative study (Ortega et al., 2016) found school-based restorative practices are a positive alternative to zero-tolerance policies and punitive discipline. The study noted schools that implemented restorative practices:

  1.  Empowered students to take ownership of challenges, issues, and conflict.
  2. Improved relationships for students, faculty, and staff.
  3. Experienced less destructive conflict.
  4. Encouraged constructive dialogue.
  5. Demonstrated academic and social improvements.

Initially, the five schools in attendance at the June workshop will begin implementing restorative practices this fall as part of a holistic approach to improving student behaviors and social cohesion. However, the goal is to have all diocesan schools using Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) employ restorative practices in the classroom.

Schools that successfully implement a PBIS framework see a reduction in major disciplinary infractions and out-of-school suspensions, increased prosocial behavior, and improved academic achievement among students. Restorative practices complement this framework and can support schools in implementing PBIS with fidelity.

"Restorative practices support our PBIS framework by providing clear, explicit routines and expectations to build a better classroom and school community," said Hade, of St. Luke.

The Diocese of Des Moines Catholic schools includes 16 schools in 23 counties in central and southwest Iowa. Catholic schools in the Des Moines Diocese build Christ-centered, collaborative, inclusive partnerships with parents, students, and parishes to provide innovative academic excellence and inspirational faith formation. To learn more about the Diocese of Des Moines Catholic schools, visit or email



International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP). (2021). Defining Restorative History. Retrieved June 27, 2021 from

Johnson, C. (2019). D.C. Prosecutors, Once Dubious, Are Becoming Believers In Restorative Justice. Retrieved June 27, 202 from

Hamilton, L. S., Doss, C. J., & Steiner, E. D. (2019). Teacher and principal perspectives on social and emotional learning in America's schools: Findings from the American Educator Panels. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, RR-2991-BMGF. 

Lyubansky, M. (May 18, 2016). New Study Reveals Six Benefits of School Restorative Justice. Retrieved May 27, 2021 from

Mahfouz, J., Greenberg, M.T., and Rodriguez, A. (2019). Principals' Social and Emotional Competence: A Key Factor for Creating Caring Schools. Retrieved May 28, 2021 from 

Ortega, L., Lyubansky, M., Nettles, S. and Espelage, D. (April 28, 2016). Outcomes of a Restorative Circles Program in a High School Setting. Retrieved June 27, 2021 from /10.1037/vio0000048.

Velez, G., Hahn, M., Recchia, H., and Wainryb, C. (2020).  Rethinking Responses to Youth Rebellion: Recent Growth and Development of Restorative Practices in Schools. Retrieved June 26, 2021 from

Diocese of Des Moines

The Diocese of Des Moines, created in 1911, serves people over a 12,446 square mile area in the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, including 23 counties.