Student-Led Restorative Practices

By SEL in Action Community

This conversation is part of a series led by Innovation in SEL grantees from across the country. SEL in Action community gatherings invite educators to exchange promising SEL practices, co-create solutions to challenges, and tap into peer support. This summary reflects key themes and takeaways from the conversation.


A number of educators in the community are actively working to integrate restorative practices (RP) in their schools as an alternative to the traditional punitive approaches to discipline. This in and of itself is commendable, but what’s more is an interesting trend within these restorative practice projects that calls for attention.

  • What does it look like when students lead restorative practices?
  • How do efforts to elevate student voice and leadership intersect and strengthen the implementation of restorative practices?

On the evening of January 22, 2020, a small group of educators from across the nation came together to discuss and share what’s working to position students as restorative practice leaders amongst their peers. This is the summary of that conversation.

Shifting from Adult-Led to Student-Led

What role do we give students? As tree turtle shared, “Oftentimes, we’ve only given the students we serve the role of student. But, in the wake of conflict, if we give children the opportunity to learn and make amends, then we empower them and give them the role of caretaker.” This seemingly small shift in how we think about students, their role, and their capabilities within a learning community makes a huge difference in how we approach mediation and discipline in schools.

Schools often “fall into a punitive model because restorative practices require time and space to listen,” shared Sara Olivieri of Rochester, New York. Student voice has the power to transform a whole school culture, but first the adults have to create the necessary time and space to listen, witness, and let students lead. It requires an openness to considering how power is concentrated and distributed, and a willingness to allow for a shift from adult-led to student-led. Further, systems that foster students’ intrinsic motivation and self-discipline enable them to lead and lessen the need for external discipline in the form of punishment.

What Makes a Good RP Student Leader

We discussed a few different types of student leaders:

  1. Students with social capital can be excellent peer leaders. These students might not be on the honor role, but they are amazing humans and others are drawn to them. They are natural influencers.
  2. Students with a desire to serve their peers and community can lead. This is not a role for someone looking to add a line to their resume or college application. Students must have a genuine interest in helping others.
  3. Students who have adopted the role of bully or agitator in the past can, with training and support, go through a transformation process and become effective restorative practice leaders.

Examples of Student-Led Restorative Practices

We learned of a few programs in place that are empowering young people as leaders of restorative practices, and we know there are even more examples in the community that we’d love to add here.

  • Led by the University of Michigan, TRAILS is a program that trains school mental health professionals in effective practices, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, to help students deal with both common and serious mental health issues.
  • Rochester School District has several ROCRestorative programs that engage students as restorative practice leaders. Circle Keepers are trained to facilitate community building circles. A student task-force assesses the degree to which schools are restorative and propose action steps. RocResponders are trained in restorative language, restorative questions, and active listening to help their peers.
  • Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut has created a student peer ambassador program. The program began as a student leadership effort but has branched out into other realms such as restorative practices. The young ambassadors are thriving and, among other responsibilities, are helping to facilitate restorative practice circles.
  • Peace Team student leaders at Glencliff High School in Nashville, TN have mentored students, designed and facilitated Solidarity Circles in response to difficult national events, trained teachers, mediated conflicts, and more.


Here are a few resources that were shared during the conversation:

Where To Go From Here?

So much was shared during our community gathering and yet it felt as though we only scratched the surface and there’s so much left to learn and discuss. Would you like to learn more about restorative practices? Have an example of something that’s working to prepare students as leaders in RP? Let us know by emailing Meredith at, and help us shape an upcoming conversation.

Thank you to all who joined this online community gathering!