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Restorative Discipline

by Diana Benner

“One of our students wrote some unflattering things about another student,” said the principal. “Since this is happening on student-owned devices, we don’t have much control over it. They are using something called YikYak.” John, a sixth grader at Generations Middle School in West Central ISD in Texas, avoided the protections the technology department had put in place. While some technicians supported geo-fencing, the superintendent decided to try a new approach he had heard another large urban middle school relied on.

Restorative Justice (a.k.a. Restorative Discipline)

The theory of restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and/or in small groups. It’s a growing practice at schools around the country. Ideally, the goal is to bring students together in small groups where they can talk with their peers, ask questions, and air their grievances.

Restorative discipline requires students to talk out problems and seek their resolution. This most often involves them sitting in a circle with everyone involved. The end goal is a campus culture that embraces relationships that can head off conflict. The main target of these approaches has been middle schools. The reason why is that students are considered to be in their roughest developmental period. As a result, middle school students tend to act out more. (Source: San Antonio Teachers Warm to New Approach)

The Goals of Restorative Justice

Restorative justice’s three main goals, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, are:

  • Accountability. Restorative justice strategies provide opportunities for wrongdoers to be accountable to those they have harmed, and enable them to repair the harm they caused to the extent possible.
  • Community safety. Restorative justice recognizes the need to keep the community safe through strategies that build relationships and empower the community to take responsibility for the well-being of its members.
  • Competency development. Restorative justice seeks to increase the pro-social skills of those who have harmed others, address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in delinquent behavior, and build on strengths in each young person.
    (Source: Implementing Restorative Justice)

Identifying Your Campus’ Need for Restorative Justice

Does your school need restorative justice? If digital citizenship is just a once a year practice, your campus may experience a rise in inappropriate actions. Here is a quick checklist to determine if you have a need to implement a restorative discipline approach in your school:

  1. You realize that the zero tolerance approach has been ineffective in your school.
  2. Suspensions, expulsions, and arrests have risen and your efforts have been unsuccessful in controlling them.
  3. Students, parents, and teachers are unhappy with your school’s approach to discipline.
  4. You realize that your current staff is unable to handle the load.
  5. All staff express a general lack of knowledge on how to deal with issues as they arise.

Dealing with Dastardly Digital Deeds

School districts, like Ed White Middle School in Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas, are already relying on restorative discipline to address dastardly digital deeds (Read evaluation of the approach at White MS). The main approaches for restorative justice include the following (Source: 8 Tips for Schools Interested in Restorative Justice):

  1. Explain the benefits of restorative justice in order to engage all stakeholders.
  2. Provide professional learning opportunities on restorative discipline to all stakeholders.
  3. Deal with conflicts using the “Ignore and walk away” approach.
  4. Form a circle to deal with inappropriate actions to talk it out.
  5. Prepare to allocate time to accommodate circle discussions. These can take a few minutes or up to an hour.
  6. Be consistent in the application and use of restorative discipline strategies and circles.
  7. Assist students in learning how to facilitate classroom circles.
  8. Practice restorative justice coaching conversations and classroom circles often with everyone.
  9. Hire a restorative justice coordinator, in addition to your school counselor.


A final point to consider: Restorative discipline has been around for a few years. Consequently, you can now find Professional Learning Networks on social media outlets. For example, educators are having active conversations via Twitterchats and Voxerchats. To learn more about restorative discipline, try joining the conversation.

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