....The strategies have been around for years, said Sally Wolf, the executive director of Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice, in Paxton, and are used around the country and internationally. But the concept still has skeptics, a sentiment she used to share.

"I thought it was too touchy-feely," said Ms. Wolf, whose nonprofit organization trains school staff in restorative techniques. But children "do want to work out things. They do want to be safe."

One noticeable characteristic of many schools using a restorative approach is in the way teachers and other staff members speak with students: They address students in ways that are meant to elicit empathy.

Instead of snapping at a student to stop talking or demanding to know why he or she is interrupting a lesson, a teacher might say, "I spent a lot of time planning my lesson today and I can't get through it," Ms. Richetta said, thus helping students understand how their behavior affects others.

For City Springs teacher Kellie McGuire, the restorative practice approach once seemed as disruptive as her students' misbehaviors. She found herself stopping class frequently to deal with mouthy, misbehaving children. Her attitude, inherited from her previous years of experience at another school was: "Suspend this kid. Get him out of my room."

But she and other teachers learned to build relationships with their students. They gather students, as often as once or twice a day, in a circle. The teacher begins by asking and answering a question. Then students take turns answering the same question. A teacher might ask students whether they've ever broken a bone or what they want to see in their next class president. The goal is for all to share their feelings, express what's on their mind, and learn about each other.

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Tip of the hat to The Notebook.