Restorative Practices

Improving relationships between people and communities

Restorative Practices (RP), based on the philosophy and principles of restorative justice, provide an underpinning ethos and philosophy for making, maintaining and repairing relationships and for fostering a sense of social responsibility and shared accountability. Donegal ETB has a long history of promoting the use of Restorative Practices throughout its schools, centres and FET programmes with students, learners and staff alike.

An Introduction

What it Involves:

  • Viewing wrongdoing through a ‘relational’ lens – understanding that harm has been done to people and relationships
  • Understanding that when such harm is done, it creates obligations and liabilities
  • Focusing on repairing the harm and making things right

When harm has been caused by inappropriate, sometimes thoughtless, negative behaviour then all sides need:

  • a chance to tell their side of the story and feel heard
  • to understand better how the situation happened
  • to understand how it can be avoided another time
  • to feel understood by the others involved
  • to find a way to move on and feel better about themselves
How does Restorative Practice work?

Restorative Practice can take many forms including using restorative language, having restorative conversations, holding circle time, restorative conferencing etc. When things go wrong you:

  • Involve those responsible for and those affected by the behaviour in solving the problem
  • Provide high levels of support for all parties, whether perpetrators or those affected
  • Address the needs of all those involved in harmful incidents
  • Provide strong messages and reminders about what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable

Restorative questions to help those harmed by others actions include:

  • What happened?
  • What did you think when you realised what was happening?
  • What impact has this incident had on you? On others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What needs to happen now to make things right?

There are many challenges in implementing an organisation or institution-wide approach since the restorative way challenges deeply-held notions about power and control and the urge to make things unpleasant for someone when they have done something wrong or ‘misbehaved’.

Restorative Practices and Donegal ETB

Co Donegal has a progressive history of promoting restorative practices in schools for some years which can be traced to a 2004 initiative, Restorative Justice in Schools, supported by the HSE West. A number of Donegal ETB schools were involved in this initiative.

Donegal ETB then implemented a county wide Restorative Practice Project funded by Peace III from 2011-2014. Restorative Practices is based on the philosophy and principles of restorative justice and involves viewing wrongdoing as harm that has been done to people and relationships, that when such harm is done it creates obligations and liabilities and focuses on repairing the harm and making things right. Relationship building and respect are crucial components.

The Peace III funded project enabled an expansion of restorative practices within the formal and informal education settings. This represented a significant step towards Co. Donegal becoming a ‘restorative county’ for the young people who live here and adults who work with them.

It was implemented over two phases. In the first phase fourteen out of the county’s twenty-seven post-primary schools, along with the six Youthreach centres, Donegal Youth Service and Foróige embarked on this project in May 2011 to work towards embedding restorative practice in their organisations over the following two years. The schools and Youthreach centres involved in the Peace III funded project were St Catherine’s Vocational School, Killybegs; Magh Éne College, Bundoran; Gairmscoil Mhic Diarmada, Arranmore Island; Errigal College, Letterkenny; Finn Valley College, Stranorlar; Crana College, Buncrana; Moville Community College; Gairmscoil Chú Uladh, Béal an Átha Móir; Mulroy College, Milford; St Columba’s Comprehensive School, Glenties; PCC Falcarragh; Carndonagh Community School; St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny; Rosses Community School, Dungloe; Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Raphoe; Ballyshannon, Buncrana, Glengad, Gortahork, Letterkenny and Lifford Youthreach centres.

The first phase of the Peace III funded project had three elements to it—research, training and organisational activity. The University of Ulster’s Restorative Practices Team (Dr Derick Wilson, Tim Chapman and Hugh Campbell), was commissioned to conduct the project’s research element which sought to ascertain the level of development and delivery of restorative practices in participating organisations as a means of resolving conflict situations and restoring relationships. It also looked at developing a whole system approach to embedding restorative practice in these schools, centres and youth work projects and designed a method of measuring and evaluating progress throughout the lifetime of the project. The research report Developing a Whole System Approach to Embedding Restorative Practices in Youthreach, Youth Work and Schools in County Donegal resulted from this.

Staff from all organisations, ninety-nine in total, also participated in training in November 2011 to enable them to further the use of such methods in their organisation. In addition fifteen staff also undertook a Post-Graduate Certificate in Restorative Practice through the University of Ulster.

From September 2012 until May 2013, participating schools, Youthreach centres and youth work organisations availed of a modest amount of funding to use as they saw necessary to further embed Restorative Practice into their centres amongst staff and young people mainly through non-accredited training and the provision of restorative practices resources.

The second phase of this project, which involved further organisational activity, ran from 2013-2014 when further Peace III funding was made available.

In total this project engaged 3,250 students, staff, parents and volunteers in introducing the concept through training and other activities.

Donegal ETB implemented a further county wide Restorative Practices Project funded by Peace IV from 2018-2020, having applied for this funding in 2016. It also aimed to embed restorative practices skills and knowledge in the organisations over its lifetime and engaged 800 students, staff and youth work volunteers from thirteen out of the county’s twenty-seven post-primary schools, along with its six Youthreach centres and one youth work organisation (Foróige).  The project was launched in October 2018 with activity commencing shortly after this and finishing in May 2020.

The main objective of the Peace IV funding was to promote positive relations characterised by respect, where cultural diversity is celebrated and people can live, learn and socialise together, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance. Donegal ETB’s project built on the principles developed within the Peace III project and worked towards maintaining the status of Co Donegal as a restorative county. 

Donegal ETB’s Peace IV funded project also had a number of elements to it:

  1. Provision of a range of Restorative Practices (training) activities and events within the participating organisations;
  2. Provision of accreditated training for a smaller number of staff (28) to deepen understanding and increase and leave a lasting legacy of skills long after the funding has disappeared through the delivery of a Postgraduate Certificate in Restorative Practices by Ulster University;
  3. Provision of a number of masterclasses in Restorative Practices by leading Restorative Practice experts for 50-75 participants across the county;
  4. Completion of an evaluation of the project to contribute to future learning.

The schools involved in the Peace IV funded project over its lifetime were the Abbey Vocational School, Donegal Town; Crana College, Buncrana; Deele College, Raphoe; Errigal College, Letterkenny; Finn Valley College, Stranorlar; Gairmscoil Chú Uladh, Béal an Átha Móir; Loreto Community School, Milford; Moville Community College; Mulroy College, Milford; Royal and Prior Comprehensive School, Raphoe; Scoil Mhuire Secondary School, Buncrana; St Catherine’s Vocational School, Killybegs; St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny; Ballyshannon Buncrana, Glengad, Gortahork, Letterkenny and Lifford Youthreach centres and Foróige.


Campbell, H., Wilson, D., Chapman, T. and McCord, J. Developing a Whole System Approach to Embedding Restorative Practices in Youthreach, Youth Work and Schools in County Donegal (Ulster University, 2013)

Costelle, B., Wachtel, J. and Wachtel, T. The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators (Bethlehem, PA: International Institute for Restorative Practices, 2009)

Cowie, H. and Jennifer, D. New Perspectives on Bullying (Berkshire: Open University Press, 2008)

Fellegi, B. and Szego, D. Handbook for Facilitating Peacemaking Circles (2013)

Finnis, M., Building Relationships, Improving Behaviour and Creating Stronger Communities (Independent Thinking Press, November 2019)

Fronius, T., Darling-Hammond, S., Persson, H., Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., Petrosino, A., Restorative Justice in US Schools (Wested Justice and Prevention Research Center, 2019)

Gregory, A., and Evans, K.R. The Starts and Stumbles of Restorative Justice in Education: Where Do We Go from Here? (Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center, 2020)

Hopkins, B. (Editor), Restorative Theory in Practice: Insights into What Works and Why (London/Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015)

Hopkins, B. Restorative Classroom Practice (Mortimer: Transforming Conflict, nd)

Hopkins, B. Just Schools: A Whole School Approach to Restorative Justice (London/New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2004)

Hopkins, B. The Restorative Classroom: Using Restorative Approaches to Foster Effective Learning (1999)

International Institute for Restorative Practices, Start Off the Year with Restorative Practices (IIRP)

Kelly, V. and Thorsborne, M. (Editors), The Psychology of Emotion in Restorative Practice: How Affect Script Psychology Explains How and Why Restorative Practice Works, (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014)

Pranis, K. The Peer Mediation and Mentoring Trainer’s Manual (London: Optimus Education, 2007)

Pranis, K. The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005)

Roffey, S. Circle Time for Emotional Literacy (London/California/New Delhi: Sage Publications Ltd, 2006)

Restorative Practices in Schools (Milton Keynes: Speechmark Publishing, 2008)

Thorsborne, M. and Vinegrad, D. Restorative Practices in Classrooms (Milton Keynes: Speechmark Publishing, 2004 / Abington: Routledge, 2017)

Thorsborne, M. and Blood, P. Implementing Restorative Practices in Schools: A Practical Guide to Transforming School Communities (London/Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2013) 

Thorsborne, M. and Vinegrad, D. Restorative Justice Pocketbook (Teachers’ Pocketbooks, 2009)

Thorsborne, M. and Vinegrad, D. How to Resolve Disciplinary Matters by Enabling Those Involved to Repair Harm Done to People and Relationships (Alresford, Hampshire: Teachers’ Pocketbooks, 2009) 

Thorsborne, M. and Vinegrad, D. Restorative Practices and Bullying (Milton Keynes: Speechmark Publishing, 2008)

Thorsborne, M., Riestenberg, N. and McCluskey, G. Getting More Out of Restorative Practice in Schools (Jessica Kingsley Publishers December 21, 2018)

Thorsborne, M., Burnett, N. Foreword by Nancy Riestenberg, Restorative Practice and Special Needs: A Practical Guide to Working Restoratively with Young People, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Thorsborne, M. and Vinegrad D. Restorative Practices in Schools: Rethinking Behaviour Management 

Whalen, J. J., Classroom Circles: A Toolkit for Building Relationships and Strengthening School Communities (Austin: ED311, 2019)

Whalen, J.J., Question prompts for Staff Circles

Wilson, D., Campbell, H. and Chapman, T. Some Ideas to Consider to Promote Developmental Restorative Responses Within or Between Schools, Youth Work Projects and Youthreach Centre (University of Ulster/Donegal ETB, 2012)

Zehr, H. The Little Book of Restorative Justice (The Little Books of Justice and Peacebuilding) (Good Books: 2002)


Edward M Kennedy Institute

University of Ulster