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Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child


Co-Regulatory and Restorative Practices

Responding effectively to conflict and challenging student behavior is paramount to creating a safe, belonging-filled environment where great learning happens. Taking a co-regulating and restorative approach means responding to these instances in ways that set students up to navigate these predictable, developmental experiences – managing and expressing themselves, taking and asking for accountability, and getting the supports they need. Co-regulatory and restorative practices empower both individuals and the school community to address root causes (rather than just the symptoms) of issues while building and maintaining trust and relationships.


Shared Goals (for Responding to Conflict or Challenging Behavior)

The general mindset among leaders and staff is that students should be punished for breaking rules (“otherwise there will be chaos,” “that is the only way they will learn,” etc.). It is the adults’ responsibility to keep their classrooms under control and address misbehavior, and the perception is that conflict or challenges are a sign of adult failure.

The goals for responding to conflict or challenging student behavior are getting students to follow rules, keeping things “in control” at all times, and maintaining physical safety (but not necessarily emotional safety) and respect for adults (but not necessarily for students).

Proactive and In-The-Moment Support

There are no clearly defined opportunities for students to proactively seek support for conflicts or challenges they are having. Alternatively, students may know how to raise an issue but are not confident they will be kept safe or supported to resolution.

When challenges or conflict arise, adults often struggle to provide co-regulatory support – exacerbating the situation through their own escalating tone, volume, provocations, intensifying consequences, etc. Adults may construe cultural differences in communication or students’ emotions as misbehavior (e.g., reprimanding a student for expressing frustration “the wrong way”), instead of understanding, acknowledging and validating them.

Consequences and Restoration

Discipline procedures are either highly subjective or so rigid that they do not allow for consideration of the specific student, circumstances, or what will best support the school community (e.g., “no excuses” policies). Students rarely receive additional support following a challenging incident. Consequences are often punitive, exclusionary, or intentionally public shaming (e.g., being sent out of the classroom, in- or out-of-school suspensions). This may often result in inequitable treatment of students based on implicit or explicit biases around race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, etc.

Students are not given authentic opportunities to take or ask for accountability, so relationships remain damaged, the impact of the incident is not addressed, and trust and community are eroded.

Adult Capacity Building and Collaboration

Adults often struggle to manage challenging situations, and they do not regularly receive collaborative support or capacity building on these skills.

This may be exacerbated by a lack of capacity-building opportunities around culturally affirming and sustaining practices, which contribute to implicit or explicit biases affecting responses to challenges with students. Adults may frequently defer to others to “handle” challenging student behavior, which may be ineffective and/or harmful (e.g., unnecessarily criminalizing student behavior by involving a school-based police officer).

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Shared Goals (for Responding to Conflict or Challenging Behavior)

The general mindset among leaders and staff is that there should be predictable, logical consequences for students breaking rules, in order to maintain safety and fairness. It is the adults’ responsibility to keep their classrooms safe and address students’ challenging behavior, conflict and needs.

The goals for responding to conflict or challenging student behavior are safety and belonging – but some classrooms may be focused more on getting compliance, whereas others’ goals may be to promote students’ agency and ownership of the community.

Proactive and In-The-Moment Support

There are opportunities for students to proactively seek out conflict resolution or address challenges, and they are sometimes used, although there may be issues of trust (e.g., a peer mediation program exists, but confidentiality is not always kept). Some students have relationships with adults where they feel comfortable asking for help directly.

When challenges or conflicts arise, some adults are able to provide co-regulatory support for students, while others struggle. As a result, students experience inconsistent support.

Consequences and Restoration

A predetermined set of guidelines for logical consequences may be in place, with the intention of creating predictability and fairness. Some students may experience the same challenges and consequences many times before additional action is taken to get to the “root cause” of the issue.

There are sometimes opportunities for students to take accountability and repair relationships or community (e.g., writing an apology letter). This is usually focused on actions and experience of the “rule breaker” – not others impacted.

Adult Capacity Building and Collaboration

Some adults have the skills to manage challenging situations, while others may struggle.

There may be some capacity-building or collaborative support, but it might not be ongoing or highly effective (e.g., a single training on de-escalation).

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Shared Goals (for Responding to Conflict or Challenging Behavior)

The general mindset among leaders and staff is that when conflicts arise or shared norms and expectations are broken, they should be addressed in a way that maintains and/or repairs trust and relationships. Conflict and challenges are seen as important, predictable experiences and opportunities for growth. It is the shared responsibility of adults to guide students in building the skills to express themselves, take accountability, and advocate for what they need.

The goals for responding to conflict or challenging student behavior (across all classrooms) are to build and maintain a safe, inclusive community by responding to needs, conflict, etc. with supports, consequences and opportunities for acknowledging and repairing harm.

Proactive and In-The-Moment Support

Proactive avenues to seek out conflict resolution or address issues are available to all school community members (e.g., available guidance counselors or school psychologists, peer mediation, community meetings, etc.). Students are clear on how to access these supports, feel comfortable reporting, and have faith that school will keep them safe and help seek resolution.

Adults (both proactively and in a moment of challenge) provide co-regulatory support – modeling and scaffolding through their own tone, volume, body language, verbal prompts, etc. Adults use their understanding of how culture shapes communication, along with their knowledge of the school community, to avoid their own bias affecting how a student is supported or reprimanded. Students are never punished for their emotions – instead, they are acknowledged and validated, even if there will be an accountability conversation that follows (e.g., “I see that you’re frustrated – working in a group can be really hard. Instead of yelling at your partners, let’s …”).

Consequences and Restoration

Challenging behaviors and/or conflicts are seen as symptoms, and there is shared commitment to getting to root causes, which might include skill or relationship building, a change in the environment or adult actions, support for getting to resolution, etc. Consequences are logical and follow a set of guidelines predetermined by the community (including families and caregivers), but with room for consideration of the specific circumstances. Adults’ ongoing work of reflection and learning around issues of identity and culture (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language) ensure implicit or explicit biases do not interfere with students’ being treated equitably in these processes.

Students always have the opportunity to take accountability for their actions (and ask for accountability from others), which is treated as a way to restore trust and relationships, not as public shaming. This process focuses on giving voice and resolution to all those impacted.

Adult Capacity Building and Collaboration

All adults have the skills to manage conflict and/or challenging situations, and they effectively leverage additional support as needed (e.g., bringing in a school mental health professional or another trusted adult).

All staff members receive regular capacity-building and collaborative support on these skills (e.g., trainings, peer observations, feedback and coaching), coupled with the opportunity to do critical reflection and learning on the role of culture and identity in these practices. Staff at all levels regularly review data to ensure equitable implementation of supports and/or consequences to mitigate bias based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, etc.

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Explore the following resources to begin to reimagine co-regulatory and restorative practices in your classroom, school or district
Path 3

Co-Regulating Cues Workbook


In this workbook, educators can hone their co-regulatory supports for students by identifying their own “temperature boosters,” reflecting on challenging student interactions, and planning to incorporate co-regulating moves into their practice.


Path 3 Copy
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