By Kristy Johnson, head of Middle School
The head of Middle School explains how discipline is addressed with restorative practices.
Middle School is a time when children begin to explore their identity and look to find who they are. While trying on many different hats to see what fits, children will often push boundaries or have missteps along the way. This is, of course, normal and to be expected. However, pushing boundaries often comes with consequences, and there are different ways to approach discipline and repair any harm done.
Restorative justice is an alternative approach to school discipline, which seeks to help students learn from their mistakes rather than shaming, blaming and excluding them from the community. Traditionally, schools have used a more punitive approach to discipline. When a rule has been broken or behavior is not in line with expectations, there is a consequence for the student. Often, the consequences include sitting out of social breaks (i.e., lunch or recess) or perhaps serving detention. While there are times those consequences are appropriate, they do not get to the root cause of the reasoning behind the student’s behavior, nor are they addressing the person harmed in the situation.
In the Middle School at LJCDS, we have begun to address school discipline with restorative justice practices, which strive to build, maintain and repair positive relationships. It brings together both parties involved to talk about what happened, how they feel and the impact on everyone involved. Lastly, they look at what needs to be done to make it right so that healing can begin.
Restorative practices shift the focus away from the traditional victim-offender binary and instead offers a community approach to repairing harm. It can create a complete culture shift. Sometimes in traditional discipline, students will choose not to take responsibility for their actions right away because they are afraid to be punished. The hope is that with restorative justice in place, students will be more willing to take accountability for their actions.
Empathy and treating others with dignity and respect are an essential result of restorative practices. Because restorative practice brings together the parties involved for a discussion, it can bring about a sense of remorse from the offender and forgiveness by those harmed. Plus, it can give students concrete tools for managing conflict moving forward.
Restorative justice can create a culture shift, but it is not a quick change. Training and practice are critical. In August, Ricardo Medina, Ph.D., a UC San Diego professor, spoke to faculty and staff about the restorative approach, and we plan to continue ongoing training. The benefits of using restorative practices will make the community stronger and healthier in the long run, and we look forward to seeing the benefits of this process for our learning community.