A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty
SECTION V: RESTORATIVE APPROACHES
The Dignity Act’s underlying premise is that preventive and non-punitive intervention, in response to incidents of discrimination and/or harassment, is the best way to achieve school environments free from harassment and discrimination. Schools are therefore encouraged to use a wide range of intervention measures to address discrimination and/or harassment, including, restorative practices, conflict resolution, peer-mediation, and counseling, rather than over-relying on exclusionary methods of discipline, such as suspension.
Understanding discipline as a "teachable moment" is fundamental to a positive approach to discipline. It has been in particular the experience of the New York City Department of Education that restorative approaches can help schools prevent or deal with conflict before it escalates; build relationships and empower community members to take responsibility for the well being of others; increase the social skills of those who have harmed others; address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in inappropriate behavior and build resiliency; provide wrong doers with opportunities to be accountable to those they have harmed; and enable them to repair the harm to the extent possible.
Taking a restorative approach to discipline changes the fundamental questions that are asked when a behavioral incident occurs. Instead of asking who is to blame and how will those engaged in the misbehavior be punished, the restorative approach asks four key questions:
Restorative practices may include:
- Circle Process: Circles may be used as a regular practice in which a group of students (or faculty or students and faculty) participates. A circle can be used in response to a particular issue that affects the community. The circle process can enable a group to get to know one another, build relationships, establish understanding and trust, create a sense of community, learn how to make decisions together, develop agreements for the mutual good, resolve difficult issues, etc. Circles can be effective as both a prevention and intervention strategy.
- Restorative Enquiry/Restorative Discussion: Uses active listening and other conflict resolution communication skills. Using a collaborative negotiation process enables an individual to talk through an issue or conflict directly with the person with whom s/he disagrees to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution.
- Victim/Wrongdoer Mediation: when an individual acknowledges s/he has harmed another person and both the person who engaged in the behavior that harmed and the person who was harmed agree to see how the incident(s) can be put right by working with an impartial, third party mediator who has received specific training in victim/wrongdoer mediation. Regardless of the circumstances, the mental and physical health, safety and welfare of the individual who was harmed is of paramount importance when considering this option in a school setting and should not be used when the wrongdoer (individual who has caused harm) may intimidate or coerce or attempt to intimidate or coerce the person who has been harmed.
- Formal Restorative Conference: A circle process in which individuals who have acknowledged causing harm are brought together with those who have been harmed. A formal restorative conference is facilitated by an individual who has received specific training in the process. In addition to the individuals who have been directly involved, both sides may bring supporters who have also been affected by the incident to the circle. The purpose of the conference is for both the harm doer and the harmed to understand each other’s perspective and come to a mutual agreement, which will repair the harm as much as it is able to be repaired. Regardless of the circumstances, the mental and physical health, safety and welfare of the individual who was harmed is of paramount importance when considering this option in a school setting.