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’ lense – 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

Donegal ETB implemented a county wide Restorative Practice Project funded by Peace III from 2011-2014. This 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.

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.

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. Peace III funding has enabled an expansion of restorative practices within the formal and informal education settings and has also enabled Donegal ETB to reach out to non-ETB schools and the county’s youth service. This represented a significant step towards the vision of Co. Donegal becoming a ‘restorative county’ for the young people who live here and adults who work with them. This funding deepened ‘the reach of the Restorative Practices concept within those places where some practice exists and nurture[s] new points of growth’ (UU Draft Research Report).

The first phase of the 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), were 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. Staff from all organizations, ninety-nine in total, also participated in training at the end of 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.

This element of the project engaged over 3,250 learners, staff, parents and volunteers in introducing the concept and training. The closing conference for this phase on 3 May 2013 aimed to share learning from the project and look at how to sustain such work in the future. The keynote speaker was Dr Helen Flanagan, a Restorative Education and Projects Consultant with Shares Ltd in the UK. The second phase of the project took place from March-August 2014 when further Peace III funding became available though an extension. Under this phase the schools, Youthreach centres and youth work organisations further embedded restorative practices into their work through training for over 1,400 learners, staff, parents and volunteers, purchasing specialist resources and producing promotional posters and videos.

The schools involved in the project over its lifetime were St Catherine’s V.S., Killybegs; Magh Ene College, Bundoran; Gairm Scoil 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 and the Royal and Prior Community School, Raphoe. The five Youthreach centres are based in Ballyshannon, Buncrana/Glengad, Gortahork, Letterkenny and Lifford.


Campbell, Hugh, Wilson, Derick, Chapman, Tim and McCord, John, Developing a Whole System Approach to Embedding Restorative Practices in Youthreach, Youth Work and Schools in County Donegal (Ulster University, 2013)

Costelle, Bob, Joshua Wachtel and Ted Wachtel The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators (Bethlehem, PA: International Institute for Restorative Practices, 2009)

Cowie, Helen and Jennifer, Dawn, New Perspectives on Bullying (Berkshire: Open University Press, 2008)

Fellegi, Borbála and Szego, Dóra Handbook for Facilitating Peacemaking Circles (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thorsborne, Margaret and David Vinegrad Restorative Justice Pocketbook (Teachers’ Pocketbooks, 2009)

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

Thorsborne, Margaret and David Vinegrad, Restorative Practices and Bullying (Milton Keynes: Speechmark Publishing, 2008)

Thorsborne, Margaret, Nancy Riestenberg and Glean McCluskey, Getting More Out of Restorative Practice in Schools (Jessica Kingsley Publishers December 21, 2018)

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

Thorsborne, Margaret, Foreword by Andrew Becroft, Edited by Vernon C. Kelly, Jr. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EMOTION IN RESTORATIVE PRACTICE: How Affect Script Psychology Explains How and Why Restorative Practice Works, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Thorsborne, Margaret and Vinegrad David, Restorative Practices in Schools: Rethinking Behaviour Management 

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

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


Edward M Kennedy Institute

University of Ulster