Restorative practice and Convivenci in schools

The Spanish word “convivencia” is a term without a corresponding English translation. It means living with others in a way people feel comfortable, behaving kindly and cooperating with each other.

From peer mediation to the restorative approach

I am part of a restorative practice association in the Balearic Islands (Spain). I started my restorative path when I was working on peer mediation. At the time (2007), I had collaborated in the design and implementation of a peer mediation programme for the Balearic Islands schools.

Even though I saw value in peer mediation, I was not completely happy with this approach. I felt it was too focused on reacting to conflict, instead of on creating an environment where well-being would flourish.

In our schools, we often talk about “convivencia”. However, it is used in two different ways.

For some teachers, a good convivencia is an environment which allows them to teach without disruption. This notion of convivencia is congruent with the concept of “negative peace”: the absence of visible conflict.

My own idea of convivencia has to do with an environment where all community members feel acknowledged, esteemed, included. Where there is trust and psychological safety. It is congruent with the notion of “positive peace”. If there is no disruption but students (or teachers) do not feel included, accepted, and safe, I do not think that convivencia is thriving.

Going back to peer mediation, I think that if you introduce this program in schools and do nothing else, you will have mediators, but most often conflict will be dealt with by other means and the school culture (convivencia) will not improve much.

A series of coincidences brought me from peer mediation to restorative practices:

  1. I was interested in circles. I was intrigued about how people could have conversations in a circle. For that reason I participated in “Restorative Circles” training facilitated by Dominic Barter (2010). 
  2. On that training Dominic made a quick reference to the social discipline window. Doing some research on the window I found out about the IIRP (International Institute for Restorative Practices).
  3. And through the IIRP I learned that the city of Hull was working towards becoming a restorative city. I made a phone call to Hull’s City Hall and they put me through with Chris Straker, with whom my Local Authority signed a Comenius Regio Programme on Restorative Practices (2011-2013).
  4. Trainers from Hull came to Mallorca and people from Mallorca (teachers, social workers, local policemen) were able to visit Hull.

Our peer-mediation trainers were very interested in the restorative approach. They loved the idea of managing conflict in a circle, as an extension of peer mediation between only two people. We also saw that we could be proactive, build community and promote good convivencia. The community of peer mediation trainers transformed into a restorative practices association, with the aim of facilitating restorative practices training and implementation in schools (2013).

Prevention and provention

Our association restorative approach is based on a multitiered intervention, where prevention has a very important role. We imagine convivencia as a pyramid with three levels of intervention, addressing:

  1. The general population (students, staff, parents)
  2. Situations of risk or small conflict
  3. Situations of more difficult conflict

There are two different ways to approach convivencia:

  1. Focusing on prevention
  1. Focusing on difficult conflict

In order to have a good convivencia we need a pyramid with a solid base. This base is made of things we do daily, not just while we are not experiencing conflict, interventions intended to build community and foster social and emotional education.

The first section of most of our trainings focuses on how to create the conditions that make it possible to have a good convivencia:

  • Building relationships, so everyone feels included and esteemed.
  • Fostering social and emotional education
  • Teaching in a way that promotes a good class climate while taking care of the academic content: using lots of interactive activities, cooperative learning, service learning
  • Identifying situations where there is frequent conflict (for example, after recess, when some students have difficulty with shifting from the playground to the class energy), in order to look for creative ways to manage these situations. In this way, instead of dealing with repeated conflict, we find ways to make things easier for everybody. Solutions may come from either teachers or students.
  • Making ample use of proactive circles to promote community building and participation


Even though schools often request restorative practices training to find better strategies for managing conflict, we find that prevention and what we do on a daily basis are very important to have a good convivencia.

Vicenç Rulan is a school psychologist, and master in conflict resolution and mediation. He has worked as a school psychologist and as a teacher at all educational levels. He has also worked as a convivencia advisor at Balearic Islands Local Authority.

He is a member of the Balearic Islands Association of Restorative Practices, as well as of the research group “Restorative Practices” of the University of the Balearic Islands.