We’ve learned a lot about school discipline in recent years. Namely this: zero tolerance, punishment and discipline-by-the-rules are ineffective methods.
The Uphill Battle of School Discipline
We’ve also learned a great deal about the benefits to all involved when we use restorative practices in school discipline to address student behavior. We clearly identify the behaviors we see that are not acceptable for students and usually give them verbal instructions on what to do instead. But we don’t often take the time to teach the desired behavior or to give students ample opportunities to practice those behaviors. Many of the “frequent flyers” to the assistant principal for school discipline are students who haven’t had helpful behaviors taught and reinforced at home. As such, we often find ourselves fighting an uphill battle. To exchange the fight for a partnership, we must model, teach, and reinforce the desired behaviors. But most importantly, if students see this as meaningful, they will be motivated to change.
The Purpose of Rules
From the beginning, schools have had rules. We often establish a predetermined disciplinary action for each infraction. Yes, we need rules and school discipline to maintain order. But we also must recognize that if we only discipline children, we fail to give them the opportunity to “become whole” again. When these are key ingredients are missing, it’s nearly impossible for students to make amends and be invited back into the community. We want students to learn from their mistakes and to do so in a way that enhances their self esteem rather than diminishing it.
The Possibility of Immediate Results
The 5 Radical Minutes program integrates restorative practices into school discipline in easy-to-manage steps. Although it is very helpful for school staff to have specific training in restorative practices and restorative justice, our process allows learning to be gradual and natural. This allows you to start changing classroom and school climate immediately.
The Cognitive Framework of Restorative Practice in School Discipline
Because many students come from homes that accept or even promote behaviors that are unacceptable at school, they may need our help to recognize that school and home are two different environments. When we help students recognize these differences more clearly, they can begin to make an internal shift when they come into the building, leaving more and more “non-school” behaviors outside the door. Some simple phrases can further aid students from troubled homes to recognize that they don’t need some of the behaviors and attitudes at school that they may need at home:
When we’re at school…
In my classroom…
There are some words and phrases fraught with judgment. When we speak about the differences between home and school avoid these:
- right / wrong
- should / ought
- good / bad
It’s important to recognize that at home, it might be considered “right” to take the first hit if someone says something negative about you or your family. So when we say, “… make things right…”, our concept of “right” might be very different from what the student’s family values might say.
The Practice of Restoration Within School Discipline
If a transgression is great enough that it requires specific actions on the part of the school, it is still recommended, to whatever degree possible, that the following steps be included:
- For schools already using the 5 Radical Minutes program, students will already know the framework of speaking for 2 minutes then listening for 2 minutes. Use this same framework with one distinction: Don’t limit the student to two minutes. In fact, we want the student to take as long as needed to in order to feel truly listened to.
We’re going to take turns listening to one another and we’ll have time at the end to see if we can agree on some next steps…
- Invite the student into sharing. Sometimes this means listening to problems that are happening at home and giving him / her the same compassion and kindness that we’re asking for classmates during 5 Radical Minutes activities in the classroom.
Tell me everything you want to say that will help me understand how we got to this moment of you being here to see me about this…
- Talk to thes student about owning behaviors so he / she can take responsibility, make amends and feel whole again vs. being blamed. A student from a troubled home may need a great deal of reassurance that this is not about blame.
- It might be helpful for the student or the adult to write down the specific behaviors that need to be addressed before the student begins sharing.
- When the student ends their sharing time but before the adult starts, the student needs to hear some kind of positive feedback for being honest, recognizing that it is difficult to own up to things we do, even often for adults!
- Look at this as a partnership rather than your job as an authority figure. The student will only change internally if things don’t feel threatening. Use authority only if truly necessary and only afterexhausting other attempts to help the student approach this in a spirit of partnership.
- From a place of kindness, not heavy on your authority, begin with why you are tasked with working with this student:
“As you know, one of my jobs as [your teacher / your assistant principal] is to keep kids safe. That includes making sure kids feel. My job also includes teaching students new behaviors that will help them be more successful in relationships with others….” [go on to cite those tasks that are yours that relate to the difficulty at hand].
- Make a statement about your willingness and your belief that this child has the ability to figure out how to make amends.
The Process of Making Amends
Acknowledging Involved Parties
Can we figure out all the people who were inconvenienced or hurt by your actions? Let’s make a list together.
Appropriate Restitution with Each Party
Making amends with each of these people might not be all the same. For instance, you inconvenienced your teacher. He / she lost teaching time. An apology and a statement of how you intend to deal with things differently in the future might be enough. But if you broke something, look for a way to fix it or replace it This more accurately addresses the loss. Let’s see what we can figure out for each of these people.
- Facilitate the process you and the student come up with together. Be sure that adults who will be a part of the making of amends know the importance of:
- Thanking the student for being willing to come to them and talk honestly about the problem.
- Acknowledging that it takes courage to do so.
- Expressing confidence that the student is learning important life lessons that will serve them well all throughout their whole life.
- Giving the student credit If they see a pattern of honest attempts or improvements in the student’s overall behavior.
- Work ahead of time with other students who will be part of the amends so they:
- Voice appreciation that the student took responsibility for actions and was willing to talk about it with them.
- Let the student know “It’s OK.” Or “I understand,” or “I feel better that you came back to me about this,” to whatever degree is true for them.
This process of restoration in school discipline may take time but helps build trust and relationship with students who have committed the offense. It also provides opportunity to teach, and build a stronger, more compassionate school climate.