Restorative Practices as a Promising Approach to Bullying Prevention

In October 2016 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy, and Practice, the results of a study commissioned by the NAS to determine what we know and what more we need to know about bullying behavior and its impact. Restorative practices is mentioned in the chapter focusing on the research on preventative interventions. In short, despite the growing interest in implementing restorative practices as a way to prevent bullying, little research supports its effectiveness. The panel calls for research in this area in order to support this claim.

That call is being answered. RAND, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is currently engaged in the first randomized control study of the effectiveness of restorative practices on improving school culture and in addressing behavioral issues. The study will also examine changes in suspension rates, staff and student attendance, student achievement, and more. The study goes beyond the existing and smaller scale studies on restorative practices and looks more broadly at effectiveness at the system level, the peer group level and the individual student level.

The results of this study hold great promise in informing the bullying prevention community for several reasons:
  1. The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) is providing the training for the control schools at first, and then once comparison data has been collected, will also train the comparison schools. IIRP has trained over 75,000 people from over 80 countries in their research-based approach to restorative practices. The IIRP Graduate School is the first "world's first graduate school wholly devoted to restorative practices." Highly trained facilitators are inside the schools, training staff and students.
  2. This study is also evaluating the fidelity of implementation of restorative practices at each of the control schools. The implementation of research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs is very difficult to track, probably contributing to the varying degrees of effectiveness shown in fully implemented bullying prevention programs. 
  3. By tracking high-risk behaviors, including bullying, this study aims to show that problem behaviors will be reduced as restorative practices becomes a part of the school. Prior research has suggested effective bullying prevention efforts are comprehensive and school-wide initiatives. 
  4. IIRP has previously shown how restorative practices and bullying prevention programs such as Olweus Bullying Prevention and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) work together.
  5. Most importantly, this study is focused on middle schools, where bullying behavior peaks. 
Some preliminary results of this study will be presented later in October at the 2018 IIRP World Conference, held this year in Detroit, Michigan. 

"The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.” 
~Ted Wachtel, International Institute for Restorative Practices







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