Sunday, February 9, 2014

Restorative practices - an intelligent approach

We act intelligently when we improve/increase our future options and address the bottlenecks (constraints) that we encounter along the way. On this basis, restorative approaches are likely to be more intelligent than the common punitive approaches used in many schools. 

Suspensions, expulsions, zero-tolerance... may reduce local difficulties in the short term but they rarely represent an intelligent response - problems are not really resolved and are likely to recur and to be extended albeit to other places and other times. 

Quite often, the natural consequences of a punitive approach far exceed the formal consequences imposed by the punitive system: suspensions become pushouts become an uncompleted education, long term unemployment, poverty... and so on.  Yet schools are supposed to be places that nurture intelligence.

Punitive approaches tend take away options from wrong-doers (and from those who have to respond) by placing ongoing constraints on their current and future options. A suspended or expelled student may have few genuine opportunities to learn from their own actions, and to repair the harm they have done. 

Punitive policies, such as "three strikes and you are out...", also reduce the capacity of school staff to explore options that will result in a better future for all. That is, such policies even reduce the capacity of staff to act intelligently. 

Using punitive approaches the initial harm is rarely repaired and on-going costs are likely to increase. Victims may acquire long lasting bottlenecks (e.g, anxiety...) that are very costly, greatly extend the initial unresolved harm and reduce future options.  Without help to repair the harm they have experienced, a seriously bullied student may become a school-refuser and/or do harm to themselves and/or others, all of which reduce the student's future options and life chances. For more, see Compass of Shame.

Using a restorative approach, a wrong-doer is challenged and supported (Social Discipline Window) to 
  • gain insights into what happened and the thinking involved
  • gain insights into the harm that has been done, and to whom
  • take steps to repair the harm that has been done (if at all possible) and
  • remain in school as a civil and productive student within the school and its community
Clearly, using this approach, the 'offender' has a brighter future (more options and fewer bottlenecks) despite the seriousness of their initial actions.

And a student whose harm has been properly addressed in a restorative way is less likely to experience the shame of being a victim and is thus more likely to have an unimpaired future.

Of the two approaches, being restorative is clearly much more intelligent than being punitive.

[Note: The above thoughts were prompted by the TED Talk by  Alex Wissner-Gross: A new equation for intelligence. The talk may not be all that easy to follow at times.  However, its value was that it reminded me about the signs of intelligence]

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Don't dismiss the nay-sayers

The US Department of Education has just released new guidelines that will reduce the use of zero tolerance and punitive approaches to school discipline, especially suspensions and expulsions. The new guidelines promote wide-spread use of restorative practices. 
Great news for many students and for the RP movement?  Maybe. Maybe not! The challenges involved  in scaling up the use of RP will be very significant. And there are a number of voices expressing serious concerns about the move to what they see as soft or weak approaches to poor student behaviour. For example,  consider the views expressed here:… 
Such perspectives need thoughtful consideration by all RP advocates. It would be a mistake to simply dismiss such perspectives as being ill informed about restorative practices, which I believe they are. Restorative practices do not require teachers to 'tolerate poor behaviour' - quite the opposite!!
But... the skeptics and critics could well be right about the likely outcomes in situations where implementation of the guidelines is simplistic, naive, incomplete and/or poorly managed. 
Restorative practices are not 'silver bullets'. They are much more than a set of techniques to fix problems. To be effective they need a context that includes shared values and purposes, an engaged and supporting community, and real moment-by-moment relationships that are deeply valued by all concerned. 
Implementing the new guidelines will not be effective if seen as a simple administrative change to the way in which schools respond to problematic incidents. At the same time, implementation will involve major administrative changes to the way many schools manage problematic student behaviour.
Proper implementation of the new guidelines will require the achievement of sustainable whole school change and will take a number of years. Consider this very useful overview from SaferSanerSchools.org
Anything less could well be more harmful than helpful. Poor implementations could harm the credibility of restorative practices and hence restrict its potential to help improve our schools in particular and our society in general.
The new guidelines will bring new challenges for the skilled and experienced restorative practitioners on whose achievements the new guidelines are based. 
Please don't dismiss the nay-sayers - we have much to learn from each other.