Restorative Practices

A Restorative Mindset

an interview with Principal David Gardner

David Gardner is a Ferndale High School graduated. He returned to Ferndale Schools as a teacher, Assistant Principal, and now Principal at UHS.

“I refused to be identified as the person who does the discipline as an assistant principal. My mindset has always been as a counselor...I was a young person once, as we all were. It’s a very lonely feeling to have things you want to get help with, that you want to talk about, and not feel like there’s someone that you can connect with.”

David builds rapport with students by actively listening, avoiding rhetorical questions, and remembering to empower and advocate for students in our schools.

An inclusive environment should not end at the door. Continuing restorative practices at home is essential. Talk with your kids regularly at meals or in the car, pause and remember your children are watching and learning from you. Establishing this culture within our homes helps to reduce conflict and more quickly resolve problems when they occur.

“One of the things I say is, ‘Everybody is going to be here, so we have to make sure that we do the work on the relationships that we have, shifting the focus to maintaining and repairing them.”

Increasing communication of thoughts and feelings improves empathy, which directly influences autonomy.

You can watch David's Family University presentation on Restorative Practices below, and follow along with the Google Slides deck, if you would like.

View the Google Slideshow

Students spend a lot of time in school. In classes, clubs, cafeterias and common spaces, students develop complex relationships with classmates as well as adults and other peers at different stages of development than their own. All of these interactions amount to a very dynamic set of variables influencing each child while at school. Guiding these relationships in a positive direction requires a school culture with well defined principles and clearly communicated expectations of behavior, attitudes, and procedures for seeking support. In Ferndale Schools, we guide our school culture with empathy by putting Restorative Practices at the forefront of everything we do.

Restorative Practices means being proactive in encouraging empathy for others and appealing to relationships. By emphasizing proactive culture building, we reduce the need for responsive behaviors such as punishment that may instill shame in students. We believe that all of our students want to do right by their community, and making poor decisions is most often the result of situational effect or mood. By encouraging peer to peer interactions in the classroom, we strengthen those connections that provide a vital support network for our students.

Connection and Belonging is Essential to Make Learning Possible

In Zaretta Hammond's book Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, the author outlines the structure of the brain and the neuroscience that supports this thinking. A sustained sense of community and belonging allows students to remain perceptive for learning, rather than being triggered into fight, flight, or freeze responses by abrasive communication or almost imperceptible microaggressions. For this reason, affirmation and inclusion is essential to a healthy classroom. If a student is intentionally marginalized due to behavior or receives other signals from teachers or classmates that feel threatening, it is innate to the human nervous system to avoid this perceived threat of public humiliation through fight, flight, or freeze.

We can see from this brain-based understanding how outdated techniques of control and rigid discipline systems typically do not work for people who may feel marginalized due to social systems or racialization, and they will ultimately lead to inverse outcomes as the brain is triggered into a fight, flight, or freeze response. We teach Social Emotional Learning techniques to all of our students and staff to empower every person involved to prevent these negative outcomes, but it takes an entire culture and community to truly make every student feel included, valued, and welcomed to participate.

Understanding Equity & Empathy

Equality vs. Equity

Why is empathy so important? Understanding our students and connecting with their experience is the only way to equitable serve their needs. While equality means equal support for everyone, equity means supporting each person as much as they need individually to achieve the same goals. The more we know about students, the more we can support them equitably.

Empathy, not Sympathy

Sympathy includes distance, protecting ourselves from feeling what another person is feeling. Empathy requires being present in the moment and feeling what the other person is feeling, accepting their feelings within yourself, and understanding their experience from their perspective, not your own. This can be difficult, as it requires vulnerability and can often feel painful or uncomfortable. It is essential to feel our emotions and to welcome others to feel their own emotions in order to experience healing.

Empathy Sympathy
Feeling with Feeling sorry for
Supporting and encouraging Doing for or fixing for
Accepting, experiencing, and validating someone else’s feelings Minimizing or Compartmentalizing someone else’s feelings
by comparing to our own experience
Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something

Culturally Connected

Showing empathy to others requires some understanding of their experiences, and connecting ourselves to those experiences. Our school culture is not simply a reflection of OR a response to the world we live in, it is a connection with it. Our intention is to heal the inequities of the world around us through education and understanding. This requires connection, which we seek to accomplish by developing an understanding in our students, staff, and community that includes all aspects of cultural inequities and cultural strengths. With understanding comes the opportunity to include the methods communities have developed to reduce stress and build resilience that fits their unique culture.


A trauma-informed approach is a program, organization, or system that:

  • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential recovery
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization

Levels of Culture

Understanding Levels of Culture helps us to see where we could be more empathetic to our fellow community members, and connect to each other more effectively. The data in this graphic is taken from the work of Zaretta Hammond, explored in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.

Surface Culture

Observable Patterns
Low Emotional Impact on Trust

Examples of Surface Culture include:

  • Talk Styles
  • Cooking
  • Holidays
  • Art
  • Language
  • Music
  • Hair Style
  • Clothes
  • Dance
  • Games
  • Literature
  • Stories

Shallow Culture

Unspoken Rules
High Emotional impact on Trust

Examples of Shallow Culture include:

  • Concepts of Time
  • Acceptable Food Sources
  • Personal Space
  • Eye Contact
  • Ways of Handling Emotion
  • Nature of Relationships
  • Being Honest
  • Theories of Wellness & Disease
  • Tempo of Work
  • Non-verbal Communication
  • Child Rearing Principles

Deep Culture

Collective Unconscious (beliefs & norms)
Intense Emotional Impact on Trust

Examples of Deep Culture include:

  • Decision Making
  • Concepts of Self
  • World View
  • Definitions of Kinship & Group Identity
  • Cosmology (How The World Began)
  • Spirituality & Concept of a Higher Power
  • Notion of Fairness
  • Preferences for Completion or Cooperation
  • Relationship to Nature and Animals

Preventing Punishment

It is important to teach consequences, but we try to accomplish this while avoiding punishment through Fair Process. Individuals are most likely to trust and cooperate with systems–whether they win or lose–when they observe fair process. There are 3 parts to fair process, which show empathy to the accused and encourage empathy in all parties.

Principles of Fair Process

  1. Engagement - involving individuals in decisions that affect them by listening to their views and genuinely taking their opinions into account, being careful not to use judgemental language or rhetorical questions
  2. Explanation - explaining the reasoning behind a decision to everyone who has been involved or who is affected by it
  3. Expectation Clarity - making sure that everyone clearly understands a decision and what is expected of them in the future

(Kim & Mauborgne, 1997)