The cover article of a recent ASCD Education Update newsletter was titled, The Path to Least Suspensions, which got my attention, although it was the subtitle – For minor offenses, zero tolerance is out and making amends is in – that really got my attention.
Rather than harsher responses involving punishment, schools are “embracing alternative student discipline” which includes strategies like volunteer opportunities, cool-off periods designed to de-escalate a problem before it turns into something bigger, and cultural competency training.
Schools are beginning to view discipline differently, with some seeing it as a commitment to restorative justice. “Unlike traditional punitive discipline policies,” the article explains, “restorative justice focuses on repairing a harm that was committed—whether to another student or teacher or to the school community –rather than simply meting out a punishment.”
Donna Chewning, a school mediator in Richmond, Virginia, admits that “restorative justice can sometimes be misunderstood as being Kumbaya for everybody,” but points out that “schools and districts that have embraced restorative practices are seeing notable outcomes.”
Other strategies mentioned in the article that seem complimentary to Choice Theory include –
+ Restorative Circles, which sound similar to a Problem-Solving class meeting.
+ Time out or cool off areas that are staffed by adults who are there to support them, rather than punish them.
+ In-school, instead of out-of-school suspensions.
+ Teachers learning to use restorative dialogue with students to build relationships and better understanding.
+ Asking reflective questions like What actually took place? How were people affected? What responsibility can you take? How can we come to a solution so this doesn’t happen again? and How can we get along better?
A key piece of restorative justice is about students righting their wrongs or making amends. “Students can clean up the mess that they made,” Chewning says, “and in doing so can learn something.” Students might ask to be sent home for a couple of days – Just suspend me they plead – instead of working through the restorative justice steps, however schools are sticking to the process and seeing good results.
Making amends sounds a lot like Restitution, a school discipline practice Glasser rejected, along with all other forms of school discipline programs, in 1996. I wrote about Glasser’s 1996 decisions in detail in his biography – Champion of Choice. The strong position he took causes me to pause when I see articles like this one. He was convinced that any focus on the student being the problem or on changing the student would backfire and cause more harm than good. Discipline programs at their core, he pointed out, were all focused on changing the student.
It is possible that the trend toward making amends instead of punishing students is showing improvement compared to the awful results of the coercion/punishment system it is replacing, yet at its core can still be missing the mark. The idea of making amends is a more humane, more need-satisfying approach, but it, too, will ultimately backfire if educators are applying it in an externally controlling way. This is what Glasser was trying to alert us to.
Teachers have admitted to me that, after learning about Choice Theory, they eventually resorted to using “internal control” strategies in an externally-controlling way. After experiencing a Choice Theory class they were good at first with being more Choice-Theory-like, but then they felt themselves slipping back into old habits. There is something remarkably appealing about external control.
Making amends can be applied in a spirit of external control, which is not good, however I think it can be applied in a spirit of internal control instead, which can be powerful. It is powerful, for instance, when you see a student resolve a wrong and in the process also see shame being replaced with dignity; it is powerful when you see confidence return and relationships restored.
The book Education, written by Ellen White in 1903, described this very situation –
The true object of reproof is gained only when the wrongdoer himself is led to see his fault and his will is enlisted for its correction. When this is accomplished point him to the source of pardon and power. Seek to preserve his self-respect and to inspire him with courage and hope. Education, p. 292
The spirit of Choice Theory has to be present for the process of restoration to work. Making amends is better than traditional punishment, but if applied coercively will lead to resentful, rather than restored, students.
Happy Fathers’ Day!!
Today is graduation day (June 18, 2017) at Pacific Union College, where I teach in the teacher credential program. We have an outdoor graduation and it is slated to get to 105 degrees today. It is only supposed to get to 92 by the time the ceremony is over, though, so bring a jacket.
Looking forward to The Better Plan 1 class beginning a week from tomorrow here at PUC (June 26-29). It is very need-satisfying for me to witness people in the process of discovering how Choice Theory can change their lives in significant ways!
The two books that I have written — Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators (2005) and William Glasser: Champion of Choice (2014) — both comment on issues related to today’s blog post. There is a chapter in Soul Shapers called Getting Into and Out of Trouble that presents the process of redemptive discipline; and the chapter in Champion of Choice called Decision in Australia gives a comprehensive explanation of Glasser’s decision to reject school discipline programs. Both books are available in hard copy or digitally.