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What Are Restorative Practices?
“Restorative practice” has become something of a buzzword coming out of the pandemic. From stark examples of racial inequity and social injustice, to the struggle of parents and small businesses to keep their heads above water, a spotlight has been turned onto many aspects of our society that aren’t OK. More people than ever before are speaking out, calling for change.
So where does the concept of restorative practice come in, what does it entail, and how might these tools relate to the practice of coaching?
“When I think about the word “restorative,” what comes to my mind is healing.” - John Kim
What Coaches Need to Know
The idea of restorative practices comes to us from the social sciences, and seeks to address what we need as humans in order to thrive in community with one another. It’s a collaborative process designed to repair harm at the individual or communal level.
At its core, restorative practices offer us practical skills for taking individual responsibility for our behavior and its impact, while remaining connected to one another.
Restorative practices have been used for a long time in schools and social justice work for the purpose of keeping families and communities intact, and for building rituals around inclusion so that every person inside a group has a voice. The skills associated with restorative practices help people build stronger connections through participating in learning, decision making, inclusion, conflict management, repair and empowerment.
According to the International Institute for Restorative Practices, these processes ultimately help to:
- Reduce crime, violence and bullying
- Improve human behavior
- Strengthen civil society
- Provide effective leadership
- Restore relationships
- Repair harm
One really cool example of how this is playing out on the societal level is in Ireland. That’s right - the Island of Ireland has declared itself a restorative society, one that believes in and integrates restorative practices as a way of building and maintaining relationships, which enable health and wellbeing!
Restorative Practices & Coaching
Coaches are in a great position to support those who’d like to learn about and engage with restorative practices. It can be an especially powerful model to adopt when thinking about how a coaching client is experiencing harm in their own life, and what steps might be taken to resolve the situation effectively. It's also a great set of principles to embody in every aspect of lives.
The core tenants of restorative practices and ethical coaching are closely aligned. Many restorative practices have indiginous roots, and can serve us in every aspect of our lives in society.
Essential restorative skills include:
- Appropriate body language
- Emotional awareness/self-awareness
- Listening with empathy
- Listening for feelings and needs
- Reviewing and modelling good practice
- Restorative conflict management/resolution
- Restorative conversations/language use
The Five R’s of Restorative Practice
The five R’s are widely used as a coaching framework for effectively doing this work. What follows comes from The Conflict Center, a nonprofit organization supported by the University of Denver. These principles are not "new" - they are drawn from indigenous wisdom about how to be in right relationship.
At the heart of every restorative process is a hurt relationship. Without positive relationships, it becomes more difficult for people to lead fulfilling lives. The person or organization that caused harm has negatively impacted the lives of real people and a real group or system. Once the person who caused harm becomes accountable for their actions and begins to make amends, the relationship can start to heal.
If relationships are at the heart of restorative practice, respect is the key ingredient. Respect keeps the process safe. All involved parties are asked and then trusted to show respect for themselves and for others at all stages of the process. Participants employ deep listening, where instead of assuming we know what the other speaker is about to say, we focus instead on what they are actually saying. Even if we disagree with their thinking, we try to understand their perspective.
In order for restorative practice to be effective, everyone must grapple with their own personal responsibility. Participants must be honest with themselves and search deeply in their hearts to discover how they might have had a hand in the matter. Even if the harm was unintentional, the person who caused harm needs to take responsibility for their actions. Ultimately, taking responsibility must be a personal choice and cannot be imposed on someone unwillingly.
Taking responsibility is painful, and it’s something we’ve been trained in our society not to do. Everyone screws up - it’s inevitable. We need to go back to these old practices of what it means to live in community with each other, and make it OK to take responsibility, to say “I wish that didn’t happen, but it did and I’m sorry.” - Noelle Cordeaux
After respect and responsibility have been established, the next step towards healing is the repair process. The person who caused harm is expected to repair the harm that they did to the fullest extent possible, while also knowing full well that not all of the harm can necessarily be repaired. The repair principle replaces thoughts of revenge and punishment, instead focusing on moving forward in a more positive direction.
In order to complete the process, the community/group/system allows the person who caused harm to accept responsibility and begin the reintegration process. The opposite of "cancel culture", reintegration encourages collaboration between the community and the person who caused harm, rather than using coercion and isolation.
This process recognizes the assets that the person who caused harm brings to the table, and what they have learned through the process. By accepting responsibility and agreeing to repair harm, the person who caused harm creates space and trust to be reintegrated into the community.
Practical Application of the Five R's
In the accompanying podcast episode, John and Noelle discuss how these can be used in our personal relationships, including: parenting, friend circles, community groups, and in the workplace.
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