There has been much discussion regarding the impact on schools implementing restorative practices and the assumed loss of discipline for our students and our schools.
Let us be clear, restorative practices do not replace disciplining students, but rather teaches students the accountability and competency to develop healthy relationships with the people they have wronged. Restorative practices teaches students valuable strategies to help them continue successfully in their schools, and eventually, in the workplace.
The key to any discipline or accountability system is the establishment of positive relationships. The restorative process is a means for restoring relationships that have become negative or emotionally hurtful between student and teacher, student and student, or student and staff member.
It is critical that a positive, mutually respectful relationship be established if future behaviors are to change.
Schoolwide and district discipline expectations and consequences have not been supplanted by restorative practices. All students will be provided restorative support and access to staff trained in restorative practices.
However, depending on the severity of the infraction, a student’s situation may be processed through a more traditional approach, possibly involving suspension, expulsion or law enforcement.
Traditional consequences have been suspending students to their homes and neighborhoods with a great deal of unstructured time on their hands. Often, the students are angry about being suspended and disappointed that they were not provided the opportunity to address the issue that led to the suspension.
They often resent being sent away from most likely the only highly structured and caring environment in their lives. Nothing has been resolved in their world and they return to school not knowing how people will respond to them.
They have not found resolution for the issue that prompted the suspension; they have not had the opportunity to problem-solve with the adult or student they had a conflict with; and they have not been taught the more appropriate way to positively operate in the real world.
Rather, they return to school lacking the very skills that will help them navigate a more successful path in the future.
Most importantly, the school staff has not had the opportunity to effectively work alongside the student to repair the damage that has occurred in their classrooms and their teacher-to-student or student-to-student relationships.
Staff is also working in an environment that feels unpredictable because the student has returned and nothing has been resolved. Skills have not been taught to ensure that the behavior will not be repeated in the classroom.
The student reports back to class with only a false sense of bravado due to the lack of conversation about the harm that others have experienced with that student.
At McLane, the restorative process is one part of a comprehensive disciplinary system for a school. This system has been developed with specifications for our school created collaboratively by administration, teachers, restorative teacher coordinator, trained restorative practices coach, student resource officer and other support staff.
A major component of the McLane restorative process is the introduction of “class meetings” in homerooms, which focus on specified topics with the goal of discussing issues that get in the way of positive school relationships and schoolwide expectations of citizenship. Class meetings build community and relationships between teachers and students.
This proactive approach at McLane has been of utmost value. Teachers and administrators, along with the school resource officer, meet at the onset of the school year and discuss strategies to positively engage students and build positive relationships.
Professional learning is provided to assist staff in creating routines and classroom procedures that pre-empt conflict or severe incidents of misbehavior. Teachers are offered solutions and guidance regarding how to access the disciplinary support system of the school in the event a hostile or volatile situation arises during the instructional day.
Furthermore, resource officer Lee Harris is a visible, accessible presence on our campus throughout the school day, establishing positive, interactive relationships with both students and staff.
With the implementation of restorative practices at McLane, staff members are learning other ways to positively engage with challenging students, students who engaged in fights have not had a second occurrence on campus, and the campus climate is calm with few times of tension and unrest.
Teachers have expressed their appreciation for the restorative process and the other components of focused accountability for students including ongoing reviews of very comprehensive behavioral and misbehavior data.
We invite those interested to learn more to visit our school.
Scott Lamm is principal of McLane High School, and Rick Santos is the vice principal.