Research in Brief: Pathways to Positive School Climates

By: Erica Wood


  • This Research in Brief blog is part of the School Mental Health series highlighting work and resources for mental health professionals.
  • This brief originated from the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH) project, which partners with VA school divisions and institutions of higher education to expand support for school mental health services.
  • This brief summarizes a research article about restorative practices and the integration of social emotional learning as a path to positive school climates.
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This article highlights benefits of integrating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices with Restorative Practices (RP) and promoting educator buy-in, ultimately shifting school climates towards relationship building and away from punitive punishments. This synthesis of research offers alternative practices to racially discriminatory zero tolerance policies that promote RP through rebuilding relationships, repairing relationships, and affirming relationships through developing SEL skills. The article emphasizes the success of RP and looking towards the future by integrating RP and SEL development to create a more inclusive and sustainable restorative school culture.


  • Mental health professionals play an integral role in developing and fostering a comprehensive school climate while training teachers and other personnel on how to promote and educate students on SEL.
  • Understanding the positive correlation between RP and positive behavior outcomes perpetuates the work of reducing punitive punishment and discipline that is inherently racist.
  • Promoting the integration of SEL and RP provides students and faculty with the opportunity to build healthy relationships and foster SEL skills that can be used during conflict processing.
  • Using RP in schools and fostering teacher buy-in reduces discipline and overall creates a more equitable school environment for students.

Equity Considerations

It is important to recognize that the educational system is inherently racist and that current systemic discipline practices disproportionately punish black and brown students more than their white peers. When considering implementing RP, it is also important to consider other student identities such as students who identify as LGBTQ+, students with disabilities, and students with previous trauma. Implementing RP and SEL should be done with a holistic approach and should be student centered around building and fostering relationships.

Practitioner Tips

  • Those who are successful in implementing RP are student and human focused, trusting of colleagues and students, willing to recognize mistakes, and creative.
  • It is imperative to invest time and money into training educators in RP to promote buy-in and allow space and time for administrators to integrate RP into existing school structures…patience and persistence.
  • Relationship building is essential to school climate, student success, and teacher retention. Stronger relationships allow for hard and restorative conversations.
  • SEL and RP are rooted in PBIS and focus on tiered interventions and naturally incorporates trauma-informed care.
  • RP has been proven to reduce racial inequities in discipline.


Hulvershorn, K. & Mulholland, S. (2018). Restorative practices and the integration of social emotional learning as a path to positive school climates. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning, 11(1), 110-123. DOI 10.1108/JRIT-08-2017-0015

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Author Bio: Erica Wood is a graduate student in the Counselor Education program at the University of Virginia, pursuing the School Mental Health emphasis offered to trainees through the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health. Trainees in this emphasis complete additional coursework and field experience requirements that prepare them to take on leadership roles in addressing the mental health needs of students in K-12 schools.

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