Restorative Discipline Makes Huge Impact in Texas Elementary and Middle Schools
Theft is a major offense — in or out of school — and students caught stealing usually face suspension or other tough discipline measures. But when a theft occurs in a school that has adopted restorative discipline practices, the outcome looks very different.
Consider this scenario from a Dallas, Texas, middle school.
A mobile phone goes missing during an all-female dance class. The owner of the phone reports the theft to her teacher, saying she suspects it was stolen in the locker room while the girls were changing. The teacher must then report the theft to administrators, but what happens next is what distinguishes restorative discipline from resorting to more severe consequences.
Rather than searching out the suspect, assigning blame, and doling out a punishment, the teacher and an administrator gather all the girls in a circle to discuss what happened. Each girl speaks about how she felt sitting in a circle with a student who would steal from someone in their class. They shared what they’d like to say to that student, and what they thought the consequence should be if that person decided to return the phone.
At the end of the circle discussion, the girl whose phone was stolen was asked if she’d like to add anything. She said she needed the phone because her parents work late and she meets her younger sister after school every day to walk home together. If anything goes wrong, the phone is the only way she has to reach her parents.
The next day, the phone turns up in the principal’s office. No one is suspended or otherwise severely disciplined and the phone is returned to its owner.
This effort has focused on students building relationships with teachers in the hopes that in these relationships, problems can be addressed and solved before they become bigger issues” – David Griffin
“This practice is called ‘classroom circling’ and it’s a key element to restorative practice,” says William Jay Sheets, Restorative Practices Coordinator for the Dallas Independent School District. “The foundation is being proactive in the classroom, investing time into your students and really listening to them.”
Dallas-NEA, the Dallas affiliate of the Texas State Teachers Association, collaborated with Dallas Independent School District to pilot restorative discipline programs in six Dallas elementary and middle schools – Caillet Elementary, Dunbar Learning Center, and Medrano, Gaston, Hood and Boude Storey middle schools. A grant from the National Education Association helped fund teacher training in the practice.
The results speak for themselves: Last year, in-school suspensions at the piloted schools dropped by 70%. Out-of-school suspensions dropped by 77%. The number of students sent to alternative school was cut in half.
“This effort has focused on students building relationships with teachers in the hopes that in these relationships, problems can be addressed and solved before they become bigger issues,” says David Griffin, teacher leader with Dallas ISD and a member of the NEA-Dallas board of directors.