For years, traditional discipline tactics have stood in the way of the student-teacher relationship. Out-of-class punishments, suspensions, and a “go to the office” approach to students that act out have been the norm for many years. Studies have shown that suspension in particular, while commonly used, is extremely ineffective at correcting negative behavior in the long term.
So what other option is there? Uncooperative behavior must be acknowledged by faculty, but continually removing students from the classroom is not solving anything either. At Gateway High School, we’re looking at alternative measures to strengthen our relationships and learning outcomes. We’ve found reports on Restorative Practices to be extremely promising.
Restorative Practices is a social science that suggests an alternate way of doing things. This approach focuses on building and repairing relationships as issues come up, instead of putting them out of mind. The basis of this science is that freedom of emotional expression creates a stronger sense of community. Once that community is built, students will feel a responsibility to uphold it.
Late Psychologist Silvan Tomkins created the “Nine Affects;” nine individual levels of human emotion that range from the most positive (joy) to the most negative (anger and judgment). He hypothesized that while most of the Nine Affects count as negative emotions, it is the freedom to express feelings across the entire spectrum that allows for a healthy environment.
We can see how Restorative Practices allows the development of mutual respect in the following situation: Instead of sending a student away from the class after an outburst, teachers are encouraged to step outside with the student. Together, they engage in an open discussion about what happened, walking through the thought process of the student. Through the safe expression of emotions, the student feels heard, and the teacher gains a deeper understanding of the situation.
This one-on-one discussion is just one of the tools used to allow the unguarded feeling of emotions. Many teachers also implement Peacemaking Circles. These are gatherings of students involved in a situation that caused a negative effect, paired with a teacher to lead the discussion. The circles are a safe place for students to get to know each other, repair the harm done, and develop deeper relationships that carry forward into the regular classroom setting. Instead of removing all parties from the school as with traditional disciplinary measures, this therapeutic tool encourages them to face each other. By taking on a detailed discussion of the problem, students can express what they may have had trouble saying in the first place.
A review of Restorative Practices from St. Catherine University found that the implementation of Restorative Practices “reduced suspension rates, reduced behavioral referrals out of the classroom, improved attendance, decreased expulsions, decreased student fights, and [decreased] general student misbehavior.” These positive outcomes provide an optimistic basis for using this approach. And while these tactics will likely take more effort than merely sending students away, over time these protocols will lessen outbursts and provide a more pleasant place of study.