What’s with all this restorative crap?

The title of this post is a little tongue-in-cheek, but basically reflective of a few staff members’ concerns about “what happens” to kids when they’re sent to the office.  Now, my hope is that this doesn’t come across as defensive, or as an attack on a few of my staff members because it’s neither.  It’s a reflection on an experience I had as an administrator this past year. 

About a week prior to school ending, a couple of unhappy staffers approached our federation (our teachers didn’t have a site steward last year) raising issues with the way discipline is carried out in the school.  The federation rep suggested that we use part of our last staff meeting(3 days before school ended) to air concerns, questions, etc. which my principal and I were happy to do.  We had always been looking for input and feedback from the staff with regard to our code of conduct, our continuum of interventions, and so on, but the staff, with the exception of maybe two people, had remained vastly silent over the school year.

So on the agenda it went.  And I was surprised at some of the comments:

  • “Kids shouldn’t want to go to the office.”
  • “Kids should be afraid to go to the office.”
  • “Kids shouldn’t know why they’re going to the office.”
  • “We never bothered sending kids to the office because we figured there was no point.”
  • “Kids get away with too much.”
  • “There are no consequences. All you do is play or read when they should be in trouble.”
  • “You don’t suspend kids.”
  • “You cater to parents.”
  • “My last school tried this restorative crap and it failed miserably.”

Hmmm…

The first thing that went through my mind was that somehow I had failed as an administrator to get what was at my core across to the staff.  How could they think that?  Short of wearing a cheerleader outfit, I am always championing the value of restorative practices, how it can work in conjunction with traditional sanctions in certain serious cases, not replace them altogether, how it strengthens relationships between students, teachers and parents, how it has deep, durable effects on kids who have been through the process in some way (remember those boys and the n-word?  Not only have they not had any issues since then, they always ask to do a circle, or suggest it to peers.  They even want to create a testimonial video on RP!).

I can’t for the life of me think of a reason why I would ever want a student to be afraid to come to my office.  If a student does not want to come to my office, I have done a disastrous job as an administrator.  My office should be a place of safety and privacy.  If a student is in crisis and in no state of mind to talk – let alone listen – but they like basketball, then yes, I am going to shoot a few hoops with them (in heels I might add!) to get them to a point where we can have a chat.  If I have a student who is lashing out at others and doesn’t understand the social cues others are presenting, then yes, I may use a board game or legos to try and talk through the issues with them.  This does not eliminate consequences outright, but falls within a continuum of interventions that may be used as appropriate.

We work with parents when their child is in crisis, or has made some poor choices, or is presenting with some serious behaviour.  We reach out to other resources to support parents.  And parents are usually happy to work with us as well.

What we don’t do is yell at students, challenge them, confront them so as to trigger an angry outburst, or get into a power struggle with them.  We don’t judge parents, blame them or ignore them.  We don’t blindly suspend without first taking the time to consider if there are appropriate alternatives, or how we can partner a sanction with something restorative if that’s what’s needed.  We don’t demand compliance for the sake of compliance, we don’t simply do things TO kids, but WITH them.

I always want to have the conversation.  If anyone is unhappy with, or has questions or concerns about how we approach interventions as an administrative team, then come to me.  I LOVE talking about this, I’m passionate about kids and how to support them in good times and in bad, when they’re angels or little devils.  I LOVE working with parents who’s kids are going through rough times – often we’re the first people to either work with them or notice that something may be going on.

Now, the staff at my school is wonderful and there has been some exciting learning going on this past year.  But some have very different ideals about “discipline” (separate people from practice), but that I can work with.  The staff meeting was intense, uncomfortable at times, but the conversation was necessary and cathartic.  Not everyone will have walked away agreeing, but most staff members came back to my principal and me with positive feedback and a new appreciation with regard to our core beliefs.  And some helpful suggestions came out of it too, such as the idea of a communication form between teachers and the office.  What was really exciting for me was that we were finally talking!  Yes, it was literally the end of the school year, but at least the gears were in motion.  If this experience lessens the “complain-in-the-staffroom” effect, then I’m all for it.

Now, the question for myself for my own learning – how was it not apparent before?

4 thoughts on “What’s with all this restorative crap?

  1. I am a classroom teacher and have had these conversations on both sides of the argument. I get it, but I must confess I don’t always walk the walk. I think your staff have headed down the road of communication which can lead to understanding of all sides, building relationships where people feel that they can discuss hard issues (because the easy ones are easy!). This is a huge step for many staffs.
    My reactions to your post were interesting to me. I spent some time thinking about what you had written. I am not sure I want to share all of my thoughts, but thank you for making me think this morning.
    Sarah

    • Hi Sarah – thanks for your comments. I agree that the biggest step was the beginning of the conversation. My principal and I thought we had done what was needed/appropriate to get the information “out there”, but clearly the perception was the opposite, for whatever reason. And that’s fine. It’s all about the learning. Now that the bubble has burst and people are more open to having the conversations, I’m excited about it.
      Erin

  2. Erin~
    As an educator who strives to build relationships with each of my students, I really appreciate the idea that there is no set way to deal with situations that come to the office. I believe that each student is unique and comes to us with their own bag of perceptions, ideas and experiences. Our role as educators is not an easy one, and your job as an administrator sometimes can be even more difficult. You have to be the support to the people (teachers) on the front-line, but never appear that you are over-riding, conflicting or challenging anything that the classroom teacher is doing. I commend you for striving to meet challenges individually!!
    I believe in the restorative process. In fact, I think far too many students are taken out of classrooms, suspended and ‘punished’. We as educators need to find the root problems for the behaviour issues that we deal with on a daily basis. THAT is why we are differentiating curriculum, creating inquiry learning classrooms, bringing up issues of social justice. If I came to a point with a student that I needed them to be removed from my classroom, I would appreciate a principal/vice principal using restorative measures to get to the root of a problem. It is only when we do this that we truly know a student, and can effect change in the lives of the youngsters under our care.
    ~L

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