Restorative Approach to Bullying for Educators

by Emma Bell

Restorative approaches to dealing with bullying in educational settings can be adopted instead of punishment methods, in order to promote corrective action that is constructive and rehabilitative. The ‘No Blame Approach’ and the ‘Common Concern Method’ are two easy to adopt restorative methods for teachers to use to address bullying (traditional and cyber).

Punishment has been found to be relatively ineffective in modifying behaviour for a number of reasons;

  • When the punisher is not present, the punished behaviour generally tends to happen again
  • Punishment may produce side effects that interfere with effective learning, for example fear, anxiety or lowered self-esteem
  • Punishing methods can often reflect the behaviour that is being punished, for example aggression
  • Punishment is most effective when it is immediate and relatively severe, which can conflict with legal and ethical standards
  • Mild punishment is ineffective
  • Punishment may actually become reinforcing attention
The No Blame Approach

The No Blame Approach attempts to teach children who bully others to take responsibility for their behaviour and make amends with the person they aim their bullying at.

A teacher who wishes to put the No Blame Approach into action should carry out the following actions:

1. Interview the victim
Talk to the victim of the bullying to find out the details of the incident and who was involved

2. Organise a meeting with the people involved
The teacher should meet with all pupils who were bystanders to the incident (witnessed the incident)

3. Explain
The teacher should explain to the group how the victim feels after the incident of bullying. This helps to promote empathy among the group. Details of the incident should not be shared with the group and blame should not be allocated.

4. Share responsibility
It is important to make the group aware that as bystanders, they are just as responsible for the incident as the person who carried out the bullying. However, no blame should be allocated.

5. Discuss
Have a discussion with the group about ideas to make the victim feel better. The pupils should lead this discussion. The teacher should not extract promises of good behaviour at this stage.

6. Pass it over to the pupils
The teacher ends the meeting by handing over the responsibility to the group to resolve the problem. The group should be encouraged to work together to make the victim feel better and ensure the incident does not occur again.

7. Meet again
Organise individual meetings with the victim and the group about a week later, to discuss the steps they each have taken to resolve the problem.

The Common Concern Method (Pikas, 1989)

The Common Concern Method of dealing with bullying is similar to the No Blame Approach and is used to address bullying carried out by groups.

The elements of the Common Concern Method are:

  • Everyone involved in the bullying are spoken to individually
  • The instigator of the bullying should be spoken with first, to avoid the risk of retaliation to the victim
  • The teacher should speak with each of the people involved about how they are going to change their behaviour towards the victim
  • The victim is spoken with last to assess how they feel about the situation and discuss how the people involved are going to start behaving towards them
  • The perpetrators are met with by the teacher at regular intervals, for example every two days, to review their progress
  • When the teacher is confident and happy that the perpetrators have changed their behaviour towards the victim, and the victim is feeling better about the situation, the entire group should be brought together
  • At this meeting, the victim of the bullying is spoken about in a positive way and the progress they have made as a group is analysed with the help of the teacher. The teacher also remind them that they will be checked up on again.

There are also many other restorative approaches you can take as a teacher to address bullying among your pupils:


The mediation approach to tackling bullying is a highly regarded restorative approach that is focused at producing a win-win outcome for all involved. Mediation is not about who is right, placing blame on someone or concentrating on the past more than is necessary.

The steps to mediation are:

  • Holding brief, non-confrontational, individual ‘chats’ with each of the pupils involved, starting with the instigators
  • Explain to each individual how the victim of the bullying is feeling and how their actions contributed to that. Ask the pupils to suggest ways to make the victim feel better, or suggest ways if they cannot do this
  • Chat supportively with the victim of the bullying, explaining to them that they are not at fault and letting them know where to find support if they need it
  • Check in with each pupil a week later and agree on long term behaviour
  • Review the situation regularly and watch out for continuing signs of bullying
Restorative Conferencing

Restorative Conferencing can be carried out in a number of scenarios, for example to settle disputes between students, students and teachers or between parents and teachers. This process usually involves the victim of the bullying, the instigator, their parents or guardians and the necessary members of staff.

The steps of Restorative Conferencing involve:

  • There should be a neutral party to facilitate the conference. This facilitator should meet with everyone involved to prepare them for the process and answer any questions they may have
  • At the start of the conference, the purpose of the meeting should be outlined, for example – identifying the harm caused to the victim, the details of the incidents, clarify what needs to happen going forward and explaining why it is important for everyone to contribute to the conference
  • The details of the incidents are discussed, including how each person felt and feels now about it. The victim should speak first and then the instigator, with the facilitator using a non-judgemental tone
  • The facilitator should then invite other people present to speak
  • Summarise what was discussed in the conference and establish the steps agreed upon going forward. A follow up meeting may also need to be arranged
Circle Time

Circle Time is the best known restorative approach to addressing conflict and bullying in schools. This is another group intervention and takes about 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the nature of the situation. Pupils sit in a circle and the teacher facilitates an environment where everyone feels safe and welcomed to talk about the issue. The teacher should encourage the pupils to discuss positive ways to change their behaviour and ensure similar incidents don’t happen again.

Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART)

Aggression Replacement Therapy is a three element approach to dealing with chronically aggressive youth. The three elements are; skill streaming, anger control and moral reasoning.

Skill streaming teaches:

  • Social skills eg. listening, conversational skills, apologising
  • Skills for dealing with feelings eg. expressing your feelings, understanding feelings, dealing with fear
  • Alternatives to aggression eg. negotiating, self-control, refraining from fights
  • Skills for dealing with stress eg. responding to failure, dealing with embarrassment
  • Planning skills eg. decision making, problem solving, goal setting

Anger control teaches (ABC of Anger):

  • A= What triggered the anger
  • B= What was the response
  • C= What were the consequences of the anger

Moral reasoning training attempts to remediate moral disengagement, techniques of neutralisation and cognitive distortions, which often characterise aggressive youth. Cognitive distortions that most often characterise easy-to-anger or chronically aggressive youths are:

  • Ego-centric or self-centred thinking (when I get angry I don’t care who gets hurt)
  • Attributing hostile intent to others when none is intended, therefore assuming the worst (I caught him staring at me so I hit him)
  • Blaming others or external forces for harmful actions (I had to bully her to keep in with my friends)
  • Making little of an anti-social act (everyone sends nasty messages, it’s no big deal)
  • Blaming the victim (it was her fault for going out with the guy she knew I fancied)

O’Moore, M. (2010). Understanding school bullying: A guide for parents and teachers, Veritas Publications.