submitted by Christine Kleiman, Eastern Regional Coordinator
Restorative Practices are based on principles and processes that emphasize the importance of positive relationships as central to building community and restoring relationships when harm has occurred.
Using Restorative Practices to address inappropriate behavior means we have to step away from a former view of bad behavior equals bad person. We want to "separate the deed from the doer".
"The underlying premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things WITH them rather than TO them or FOR them." (The Restorative Practice Handbook, Costello and Wachtel)
As a school looks at making discipline changes from the punitive to the restorative there first comes an awareness or a looking in the mirror at old beliefs. We are asking for those deeply-held notions about the use of power and control, and the urge to punish a student to be changed.
Starting with school administrators; recognizing and understanding that students make mistakes and that in an educational institution we can use mistakes as a teachable moment. When we take the time to use misguided behavior as a leaning opportunity rather than a chance to punish, we start to teach skills of empathy, accountability and reparation to our students.
In a punitive discipline system the adult role is an authoritarian figure who listens to the story of the deed gone wrong to determine who is to blame and then hands out a punishment. Typically a student's response to the punishment is one of resentment, alienation, or shame. This type of punishment (doing something to a student) creates alienation from school, a place where we want our youth to feel that they belong and are valued.
However, when using restorative practices the adult's role is more like a coach or facilitator. They help establish what happened, who was affected or involved, and then seek to guide a student(s) to make it right or repair the harm done (doing things with a student).
Making these types of shifts keeps the adult from being the "judge and jury", to helping build a student's capacity to work things out for themselves. It means taking the locus of responsibility for the well-being of the community off the adult's shoulders and placing it firmly where it belongs-on the community itself.
Restorative Practices can be seen as three different levels.
- At level 1 the school would start out by implementing circles to build relationships, teach to all staff and students how to use Affective Statements, teach staff how to use Affective Questions. Affective Statements and Questions are the base for all Restorative Practices.
- Level 2 provides a more localized deeper discipline intervention by using circles for problem solving and informal conferencing.
- Level 3 is used for the very intense behaviors that would involve a re-entry of youth back into school following a suspension, or expulsion.
These shifts do not come easy but once implemented can form a positive school community where all are welcomed and valued.
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