Looking at School Discipline from a Community Lens: More on Restorative Practices
The International Institute for Restorative Practices defines Restorative Practices as "an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities." This focus on communities shifts how we look at behavior and discipline at school, zooming out to see the impact of actions and words on the community as a whole.
Looking specifically at discipline, Restorative Practices remains focused on the community. The goals of Restorative Discipline, articulated by Lorrainne Stuzman Amstuz and Judy Mullet, are marked shift from focusing on the individual alone. They have been adapted here:
- To understand the harm and develop empathy for both those who have been harmed and those who have engaged in harmful behavior. This is a shift from a punitive stance where the focus is on the student and his/her behavior. Restorative discipline also takes into account the harm to people and relationships and seeks to understand why the student engages in hurtful behavior.
- To listen and respond to the needs of both those who have been harmed and those who have engaged in harmful behavior. Restorative discipline recognizes that behavior is a means of communication and seeks to identify the need being expressed. It also looks at the needs of those harmed and the impact on the community.
- To encourage responsibility and accountability through personal reflection within a collaborative planning process. Those harmed and those engaging in harmful behavior are involved in the resolution process.
- To reintegrate those who have harmed others (and sometimes those who have been harmed) into the community as valuable, contributing members. Traditional methods included a consequence such as suspension, without taking into account what would happen to the community when the student returned to school.
- To create caring climates to support healthy communities. Especially in an incident where someone has engaged in behavior that hurts another, the community remains the focus. Caring climates and healthy communities separate the deed from the doer, focusing instead on building and maintaining the strong relationships at the heart of those communities.
- To change the system when it contributes to the harm. This is perhaps the biggest shift from traditional discipline. Restorative practices are also reflective, encouraging schools to examine how policies and practices may worsen the negative impact. In the United States, students of color are suspended and expelled at a much higher rates than white students. States that have acknowledged this disproportionality are using restorative practices and alternatives to suspension as a way to make changes in the system.
With this community focus, misbehavior is not the violation of school rules, it is the harming of people and relationships. Instead of cultivating shame and guilt, restorative discipline breeds accountability and responsibility. Traditionally, justice focused on the one engaging in misbehavior and ignored the people and relationships harmed. Restorative discipline includes those who harm, those who are harmed and the entire community in the justice process.