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.