How School Punishment is Being Replaced by Restorative Approaches

March 8 2017

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Many of us attended schools where, when you broke a rule, violated a policy or just made a poor decision, the discipline you received was often punitive in nature. This approach to discipline is what we characterize as a “catch and punish” model. Traditional school discipline has relied heavily on suspending students from school for many behavioral incidents, including willful defiance, physical violence, using substances and even less high-profile infractions.

Over the last decade a variety of factors have coalesced and contributed to significant changes in how schools address discipline issues. As a result of pressure from the government, coupled with a recognition that suspensions are meted out disproportionately and often don’t result in improved behavior, schools are moving away from “zero-tolerance” policies and toward alternative approaches that are more effective.

In many schools, removing students from class for defiance as a first response has given way to more corrective and restorative responses. Increasingly, administrators are changing their policies and investing in professional development trainings for staff. These training models emphasize restorative practices with a variety of strategies, including using classroom circles to strengthen relationships and respond to conflicts and utilizing more formal restorative conferencing to deal with severe behavioral issues.

As an organization that has supported hundreds of schools in bystander education, strengthening school climates and implementing school climate improvement plans, we view the restorative approach as both timely and incredibly important to school climate improvement efforts.

Here at Community Matters we are excited and hopeful that the restorative practices movement is growing in schools across the country and beyond. We also know that it is not a curriculum or a program that you easily “install” in a school. It’s about educational leaders’ commitment to being courageous and willing to engage in open and honest dialogue with all stakeholder groups.

Treating student misbehavior as an opportunity to connect with a young person, hold them accountable, and enable them to repair the harm and restore the relationship is a powerful way to raise our children. This approach creates schools where we see mistakes as opportunities to learn, grow and improve. Doing so will go a long way in creating character-driven young people, safer schools and a more just and peaceful world.


Community Matters offers trainings in Restorative Practices for school staff and administrators. For more information, see our RP Trainings page or contact LeeAnn Lichnovsky at leeann@community-matters.org



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