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School Discipline: Changing From Zero Tolerance to Restorative Approaches

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March 9, 2017

School Discipline:  Changing From Zero Tolerance to Restorative Approaches

Being a member of the School Discipline Committee, I feel pained and failing whenever any child of the school is suspended or expelled for a short or long duration on account of any minor or major violation of school norms.

Whereas disciplinary action by the school often becomes a necessity, nevertheless cases of indiscipline can be reduced if the school administrators, teachers move away from harmful and counterproductive ‘zero tolerance discipline’ policies to ‘restorative discipline approaches’ to amicably address conflict in schools .

Restorative Discipline Approach:

Restorative discipline as a behavior development and modification programme is a practice that proactively builds deeper sense of values among learning community and aims to prevent conflict and wrongdoing. Restorative discipline helps to restore positive and healthy bonds among students, as well as between teachers and learners. Regular, well planned and thoroughly implemented practices of restorative discipline help to inculcate core values in the students.

Restorative Discipline practices:

The concept of restorative discipline, also known as restorative justice derived from criminal justice system where it originated — is to change the culture and climate of a school so that students who demonstrate unaccepted and negative behavior are given a voice and heard as a way to get to the root of the problem. Kicking kids out of school for problem behaviour is a quick, easy response, but it solves nothing and simply breeds more problem behavior. Various researches and studies done in many schools reveal that the schools and classrooms with a high level of restorative practices reduce the cases of misconduct referrals for defiance. It also results in improving the school environment and builds healthy teacher-learner relationships.

Need for Restoratve Practices in Schools:

In schools, we see that overreliance on traditional punitive strategies like alienation, suspension or expulsion of children on minor or major disciplinary issues isn’t working well. While writing this article I was shocked to watch a video that went viral showing students in a classroom badly thrashing and punching a classmate in front of other classmates. Sadly, a month ago a student of class IX was beaten to death by his classmates in Jaunpur. While dealing with such behavioral issues, a couple of months ago, a reputed school taking punitive disciplinary measures forced its students to tonsure their heads publicly. Whether the step was right or wrong is not the issue, but it shows how our schools are dealing with the school disciplinary concerns. Similarly petty theft cases, abusive language among children are issues where a comprehensive strategic action plan is needed to address these incidents.

Advantages of Restorative Discipline Practices:

  • Help students improve their behaviour and strengthen their learning:
  • Help in building trust and respect
  • Help in reducing student misbehaviour
  • Help in strengthening students’ self-regulation skills
  • Respond effectively to problematic behaviour
  • Suggest constructive alternatives to suspension and detention that focus on teaching and learning rather than on punishment

Restorative Discipline Planning and Practices:

Before a school wants to follow restorative discipline practices, it is imperative to have a team of leader teachers and student leaders to assess and review the major discipline issues and behavior concerns of the students to be taken under the restorative discipline practices through out the term or the year. This plan must pin point the key issues taken under restorative practices and the people and resources to be engaged.

Responsibility and Problem Solving:

Unlike the traditional authoritarian approaches where the responsibility of breaking rules or violation is fixed on who did it and face the consequences, restorative discipline practices adhere to what harm was done and how to repair it.It offers the ways to go through the problem keeping in view to solve it and repair the damages. Whereas punitive measures give way to the more problems to come, restorative practices help find solution acceptable to the sufferer and the offender.

Dialogue and Negotiation:

Every institution wants to avoid embarrassing situations caused by undisciplined behavior either by children or other school members. Under restorative approaches the bad behavior is checked by dialogue and negotiation. In resolving conflicts the dialogues and interventions help to resolve conflicts. These practices not only help to mend broken walls but help to strengthen relationships that help to sustain healthy school culture.

Meeting and addressing the unmet behavior needs:

Under restorative discipline practices unmet behaiour needs are seen as natural instincts that must get an outlet diversion and channelization towards right direction. Minor or major cases of unworthy behavior are the outlet of emotional disorders caused by many reasons. Under restorative discipline approaches these matters are neutralized through acceptance and modification. The major tools used to address these concerns are sharing responsibilities, monitoring the causes without stressing upon consequences.

Restorative Circle:

A Restorative circle is a school community dialogue and negotiation programme for supporting those in conflict. Restoratve circle brings together the three parties to a conflict – those who have acted, those directly impacted and the wider school community – within an intentional systemic context, to dialogue as equals. In restorative circle participants invite each other and attend voluntarily. The dialogue process used is shared openly with all participants, and guided by a community a well prepared leader. The process ends when actions have been found that bring mutual benefit. Members in a circle discuss the conflict, argue and end with an aggrement mutually acceptable to the whole group and community at large.

Schools across the globe are undergoing transformation not only in academics but towards improvement in school environment. We need to bring more effective and healthy school culture, bringing school community together. No school or teacher likes to act like a policeman controlling the crowd and no child likes to be seen as a criminal getting punishment for his wrongdoing. Restorative discipline as a school reformation programme saves precious time that is often spent resolving discipline issues. It may also lessen the number of suspension and rustication orders put in files of the schools’ discipline committees.

Ashok Singh Guleria teacher of 21 years standing is a post- graduate in English Literature. He writes on pedagogical issues and children’s behavioural concerns. Currently, he works as Head of Department of English, curriculum planner and Academic coordinator cum Teachers’ Trainer at the Akal Academy Group of Schools run by Kalghidhar Education Trust, Baru Sahib, at Kajri in Uttar Pradesh. The author strives to develop and facilitate the building of a robust and sustainable teaching-learning fraternity embodied with a strong sense of work culture through which initiative and change can emerge in an educational institution. He can be reached out at

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