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Restorative Practices

Inclusive conversations that build belonging

May 25, 2023

Dr. Mamie L. Pack leads the WGU School of Education’s Healthy Learning Initiative. She is a frequent contributor here in the Learning Community. In this article, she helps us understand the meaning and value of Restorative Practices – a practice that is being deeply integrated into faculty, student, and staff interactions in the Teachers College.  

Editor: WGU is committing time and resources to build out a Healthy Learning Initiative that you are leading. What is at the core of your work in Healthy Learning here at WGU?

Dr. Mamie Pack: We have three guiding principles:

Build a sense of belonging. Research indicates that students who feel a sense of belonging are less likely to drop out and more likely to engage and complete successfully. Belonging also supports a healthy working environment for faculty and staff. 

Commit that all individuals can learn. By committing to this tenet, our faculty and staff embrace an open mindset that allows us to serve each student as an individual, meeting them where they are in their unique journey. 

Create healthy working and learning environments where all students and faculty can thrive. Healthy learning and working environments create a feeling of safety, belonging, and dignity among teams and build resilience. 

Editor: The foundation of the first year of Healthy Learning work has focused on researching and implementing a restorative practices framework. How do you define restorative practices?

Dr. Pack: Restorative practices focus on repairing harm through inclusive processes that bring together students and educators by shifting the focus from punitive measures or punishments to reflective learning. Restorative pedagogies lead to transformative practice. Done effectively, restorative practices create positive and equitable school cultures and learning communities and strengthen relationships between students, faculty, and the school/university community.

Editor: How is our Healthy Learning framework integrating Restorative Practices?

Dr. Pack: We integrate restorative practices in our healthy learning work as an alternative to punitive disciplinary practices, not only for students but also for faculty and staff. 

We come in with empathy at the core and focus on Resolving conflict, Repairing harm, Equipping learners, Healing relationships, and Accountability.

Editor: Does the research support this model as more effective than traditional methods?

Dr. Pack:  Research shows when implemented effectively, restorative practices improve the learning environment, promote positive relationships, and promote safety, inclusion, and respect. Restorative practices integrate effective social-emotional learning initiatives along with diversity and inclusion best practices – all things we value here at WGU.

Editor: Let’s talk about what this looks like in practice. How do faculty know what to do if they’ve only been trained in the more traditional, punitive measures with verbal warnings and written reprimands as primary tools to change behavior or outcomes?

Dr. Pack: In the School of Education, we are modeling what we want our students to experience and do.

We created a comprehensive, integrated, research-based professional development model around this work. This ongoing learning, training, and support prepare our leaders, faculty, and staff to create healthy learning environments.

The goal is to create an environment where faculty are trained, supported, nurtured, and encouraged to engage in professional learning, act with integrity, assume responsibility for student learning, respond to the needs of a diverse education population and the greater community, and collaborate effectively with others.

Editor: That’s a worthy goal where everybody wins, but how do you go about implementing a framework to get from here to there?

Dr. Pack: It starts with a conversation. We come in from a place of empathy with a ‘dignity for all’ attitude, whether we are having a conversation with a student or a faculty member. We want our faculty to be seen, heard, and valued just like our students, so we try to do this work alongside them. Restorative practices happen with someone, not to someone. We're allowing them – whether student, faculty, or staff - to take ownership, engaging them in the conversation and we're encouraging them to learn from the process.

Editor: Can you give us an example of what this kind of conversation might look like with a faculty member? Can you walk us through a hypothetical scenario, please?

Dr. Pack: Sure. From the beginning, we focus on teachable moments and not on behavior management. One thing we are seeing a need for is more multi-generational support. Our Healthy Learning framework seeks to highlight the benefits of cross-generational work with students, faculty, and staff. Our students range in age from their teens to their 50s and onward, and our faculty also span several generations. 

Age differences can have a direct impact on the way we use and understand language. Age stereotypes and assumptions directly impact our interactions with others. As an online university, we communicate a lot via email and video and intergenerational learning opportunities are proving very productive.

We create ongoing targeted professional learning sessions to support the professional growth of our faculty. These topics include learning how to collaborate and adjust to the unique perspectives, needs, behaviors, lived experiences, and intersectionality of students so that everyone is seen, heard, and valued. 

We begin by working with our leaders to develop healthy team norms and a safe space to do transformative work. Our professional learning includes helping our faculty develop self-awareness. This includes helping them to be aware of how stereotypes and biases impact the way they support students and work with their peers. We learn how to resolve conflict without creating harm, and in a way that values the voices of others. This builds a sense of trust and often heightened collaboration between faculty and students. By acknowledging each other’s strengths, contributions, and differences, we span these generational gaps with respect and productive conversations.

Editor: It's clear how this process is restorative and resolves conflict. Can you give us a similar type of scenario that involves this empathetic approach with a student?

Dr. Pack: Yes. Again, it’s not a focus on behavior management but instead a focus on teachable moments. We practice conflict resolution and provide regular feedback to our students. We model what we want them to understand about having respectful conversations. 

"We want to be able to talk about opportunities for professional growth in a way where no one is shaming the student for not knowing. Shame has no place in education." - Dr. Pack


Dr. Pack: We want to congratulate our students for standing up for themselves and advocating for themselves. We want to see and respect their lived experience while also having the responsibility to help them grow so they can be successful educators and transformational in their communities. So, we lead by example, and we start by creating safe spaces for empathetic conversations. They see us working alongside them to make their correspondence more professional which will help them in life and work in addition to their learning journeys. We are building something better with them.

Editor: This is a different approach to the feeling of being sent to the Dean’s office.

Dr. Pack: Indeed, and it’s infinitely more inclusive, fair, equitable, and productive. We want our students to know we celebrate them for being courageous and choosing to improve their lives by coming to us to expand their education. Many of them are making incredible sacrifices to do so.


"Building trust is inherent in this work. When we're talking about creating a healthy learning environment and we're building that sense of belonging, a big part of that is creating an atmosphere of trust. We want to display empathy. We want to help people build self-awareness." - Dr. Pack


If you see me as someone who is actively supporting you, not coming in to shame you, you will be more receptive to what I’m trying to share. You’ll see that I’m here to partner with you to navigate the space you’re in. I talk a lot about brave space and safe space. We are equipping our faculty to create those brave spaces for constructive conversations where students can self-reflect and grow. In turn, the leaders in a university have to create brave and safe spaces for their faculty and staff. When we do this people can show up authentically and bring their best. That is how we are going to create and sustain a healthy working and learning environment.

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