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Restorative Discipline: a Philosophy and Process for Decreasing Discipline Referrals

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A high number of discipline referrals has led to more students being displaced from class at Lufkin High School, Lufkin, Texas for the past and current years. In-school suspension (ISS) and out-of-school suspension (OSS) do not provide students with the same essential learning that would take place in the classroom. Learning is constructed from mutually interactive forms of communication, both verbal and non-verbal between the teacher and student. Therefore, it can be said that students cannot effectively learn if they are out of the classroom.

The goal of restorative justice according to Pavelka (2013) is to provide schools with the opportunity to improve school culture by using disciplinary issues as a chance to create positive resolutions where the needs of the school community and the victim are balanced.

Lufkin High School has begun to implement the restorative approach with regards to discipline referrals. As observed in Table 1, total discipline referrals dropped by 59 following the 2016-2017 school year. As you can see in Table 2, out of placements (ISS/OSS) dropped by 207, but the total ACE placements increased by 22 for the 2017-2018 school year. It is important to identify what restorative discipline is and how Lufkin High School can better implement the practices to lower the total discipline referrals each year.

Preliminary Literature Review

Restorative justice allows schools to integrate the process of resolving conflicts by collectively conferencing with people harmed and those responsible for the harm, according to Calhoun (2013). The process of resolving conflicts allows for students to maintain placement within the classroom setting. The restorative approach includes two key components: 1) those harmed and those responsible for the harm caused, and 2) decisions produced from conferencing are determined among the sufferer(s) and the offender(s). To meet the two key components, three approaches can be followed: 1) Meditation, 2) Conferencing and 3) Circles. According to McCold (2000), in mediation, “a neutral third party provides the bridge for a dialogue between victim and offender. ” The process of mediation involves: (i) communication with regards to how the wrongdoing affected both parties, (ii) sharing information, (iii) establishment of a formal written compromise, and (iv) evolvement of a follow-up plan.

The process of conferencing is like mediation, except conferencing involves other people who were affected by the wrongdoing. First, conferencing involves a series of open-ended questions for participators within the incident. Second, conferencing maneuvers into bargaining of a compromise that all parties agree upon. Third, conferencing can allow an informal stage where all parties can socialize while taking advantage of the opportunity to further reconcile. The process of circles involves two components: healing circles and sentencing circles. Healing circles allow feelings to be discharged by the sufferer. The community involved within the circle is then allowed to share their feelings about the event. The offender can explain his or her actions to the circle. The peacemaker will provide any clarification needed, while also establishing an action needed to resolve the situation. The term ““restorative” means to believe that decisions are best made, and conflicts are best resolved by those directly involved in them”. Conflicts can be both avoided and resolved by implementation of the restorative approach. Restorative practices can be implemented with regards to administration, as well as within the classroom setting. This section of the research paper will identify five restorative practices used in the classroom:

  1. Affective Statements
  2. Affective Questions
  3. Small Imprompt Conferences
  4. Circles
  5. Formal Conferencing.

Affective Statements

Affective statements are constructed using three steps: 1) Identify one’s feelings and the impact perceived, 2) Identify the specific behavior or activity in need of a reaction, and 3) Merge 1 and 2 together in a valid affective statement. Teachers must unequivocally ensure to consider the needs of the students when engaged in restorative practices within the classroom. “The term “affective statements” is just another way of saying “expressing your feelings”. The list of affective statements shown below can be seen on Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel

  1. “It makes me uncomfortable when I hear you teasing Sandy. ”
  2. “I am frustrated that you aren’t listening to me. ”
  3. “I feel sad when you say something like that to John. ”
  4. “I get angry when you talk and joke during my lectures. ”
  5. “I was shocked to see you hurt Pete. ”

According to Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel 2009, p. 15, typical responses used by teachers before implementation of the restorative approach would include:

  1. “Stop teasing Sandy. ”
  2. “Talking during class is inappropriate. ”
  3. “You shouldn’t do that. ”
  4. “Sit down and be quiet. ”
  5. “I don’t want to see you fighting with him. ”

These two lists of statements would provide a trajectory of emotions and actions for students. Teachers must be willing to take the extra step in showing emotions and feelings to students so that students in turn may offer responses that restore relationships between those involved in the wrongdoing. Affective QuestioningAffective questioning is a series of questions where the offender is asked how their actions affected everyone involved in the situation. Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel (2009) offer examples of affective questions to be used by teachers to help those affected by a wrongdoing:

  1. “What do you think when you realized what had happened?”
  2. “What impact has this incident had on you and others?”
  3. “What has been the hardest thing for you?”
  4. “What do you think needs to happen to make things right?”

The restorative approach aims to reach students in a verbal form, where students communicate with teachers and administrators to find solutions to wrongdoings. Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel (2009) also offer examples of affective questioning to be used by teachers when challenging behavior:

  1. “What happened?”
  2. “What were you thinking of at the time?”
  3. “What have you thought about since?”
  4. “Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way have they been affected?”
  5. “What do you think you need to do to make things right?”

Small Impromptu Conferences

“The purpose of a small impromptu conference is to address a problem to keep it from escalating and to resolve the problem quickly, ” according to Costello. Having the ability to end a conflict before it arises is a technique that should be implemented by both teachers and administrators. Conflict among students oftentimes is created from lack of communication, therefore small impromptu conferences can provide a quick solution to a developing problem. Teachers and administrators can continue a step further by following up with the student(s) after a small impromptu conference. This follow up can provide students with the opportunity to communicate with the teacher or administrator again to ensure no hard feelings and the students can move on from the small impromptu conference held previously.


The symbolism of circles represents a sense of wholeness and community. Schools can strengthen both communication and relationships by conferencing while sitting in a circle. Sitting within a circle also creates the feeling of connectedness, according to Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel (2009). Teachers can implement circles within their classrooms but should be reminded that circles are intended to solve problems and build relationships, not to take up an entire class period. “The most common way to do a circle meeting is to arrange students’ chairs in a circle, ask a question and have students respond in turn going around the circle”. Problems are less likely to occur if students feel connected within a classroom setting. Formal Conferencing There are two types of formal conferencing: 1) restorative conferencing and 2) family group decision making or (FGDM), according to Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel (2009).

Restorative conferencing involves a trained facilitator who explores the situation with all participants involved. The facilitator follows a specific script with a series of open-ended questions to engage the participants in meaningful and purposefully conversation. Family group decision making are conferences established to decide or create a plan of action for a young person. Family members must have alone time with the young person for the (FGDM) conference to be deemed successful. The facilitator or professionals must leave the room so that the family can communicate together. The restorative practices identified do not always prevent discipline problems, rather they can be implemented to help limit discipline problems. This action research proposal will look into ways schools handle discipline and identify ways restorative justice can be implemented so schools can change the way they handle discipline.

School Discipline

Schools must look at the way punishment is handled. This continuum offers a perspective for administrators to identify how one perceives the potential actions of wrongdoing. The figure shows one end of the continuum being strict and harsh (punitive), while the other end shows nurturing and supportive (permissive) responses that administrators deal with regards to school discipline. The restorative approach moves away from the punitive-permissive continuum towards a social discipline window.

The social discipline window offers four resulting combinations as compared to the punitive-permissive continuum. The left side of the window identifies control (limit-setting, discipline) on a low to high scale. The bottom part of the window identifies support (encouragement, nurture) on a low to high scale. The social discipline window offers a better example of punitive and permissive responses. For a response to be punitive, it would need to be high control and low support. For a response to be permissive, it would need to be high support and low control. Another response to wrongdoing blends low control and low support, where a school or classroom has become irresponsible or incompetent and therefore has spun out of control according to Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel (2009). The last available response to wrongdoing would blend high control and high support, where those of authority refuse the possibility of inappropriate behavior, but instead implement their control in a caring and supportive manner according to Costello, Wachtel & Wachtel (2009). Compared to the punitive-permissive continuum, the social discipline window allows educators and those in authority to implement procedures WITH students and not necessarily TO students. Restorative justice aims to move the pendulum of school discipline from one that punishes students’ actions, to one that restores student communication, respect for others and repair of relationships.

Clifford emphasizes three specific shifts from standards forms of schools and classrooms, to restorative forms of schools and classrooms. As Lufkin High School shifts towards a restorative approach, it can be noted that Lufkin High School still implements zero-tolerance polices in regard to certain aspects of school discipline.

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Restorative Discipline: a Philosophy and Process for Decreasing Discipline Referrals. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from
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