Restorative Practices in Schools

Discipline that Restores

A growing number of school districts have adopted restorative justice practices as a discipline process in the place of suspensions and expulsions. Punishing a disruptive student by taking him or her out of the learning environment is counterproductive. It fails to address the problems a child is facing at school or at home. In fact, research indicates that a single suspension in 9th grade equates to a 32 percent risk of the student dropping out of school and an equal percentage risk of entering the justice system.To address conflictive issues teachers confront in the classroom with students that can lead to suspensions and expulsions, RJMP offers training in Discipline That Restores (DTR). DTR is a step-by-step classroom discipline process designed to increase cooperation, mutual respect, and responsibility among students and teachers. Using the restorative justice skills and strategies, the DTR program trains educators and administrators in the DTR process, helping them to create a more positive learning environment while actively reducing suspensions and expulsions.

Learning Objectives:
Participants learn strategies to create respect, cooperation and responsibility in their classrooms and schools. Respect Agreements provide positive behavioral support for students and teachers while clarifying norms and expectations. Assertive speaking, affective statements, affective questions and active listening skills improve constructive communication. A peacemaking strategy addresses hurts and violations, and a problem-solving strategy addresses disagreements; both are grounded in the researched theory and evidence based best practices of Conflict Resolution Education, Peacemaking and Restorative Justice. Participants will learn a range of restorative practices to foster connection and a positive school/classroom climate as well as to address harm, from informal affective statements, affective questions and informal conferencing to more formal restorative circles and formal conferences.
Participants learn how to implement restorative practices in the classroom as a standalone classroom management approach, and how to support the school-wide discipline plan (whether restorative or other approach).

In this course, a process for classroom discipline, problem solving, and conflict resolution is examined based on restorative justice.  It is a process that gives the parties involved (teachers, students, parents, and other members of the school community):

  • a chance to repair the harm done and mend relationships.
  • a chance to tell their side of the story and feel heard.
  • a time to understand better how the situation happened.
  • a chance to understand how it can be avoided another time.
  • feel understood by the others involved.
  • find a way to move on and feel better about themselves.

Students feel that they are treated fairly and respected since they have been trusted to find solutions for themselves by making things right. Because they have been listened to, people in conflict are more ready to listen to others’ perspectives and emotional responses, and so empathy is developed.  This can change the choices made in future situations as mutual respect and consideration develop.

In contrast, punitive disciplinary responses:

  • cause resentment rather than reflection.
  • are rarely considered fair.
  • do not repair relationships between those in conflict and can make them worse.
  • leave those labeled as wrongdoers feeling bad about themselves leading to further alienation.
  • can often leave those who react with punitive discipline feeling uncomfortable and frustrated and wishing there was an alternative.

Why are schools adopting restorative justice?

A growing number of school districts have adopted restorative justice and Discipline That Restores as a discipline process in the place of suspensions and expulsions. Punishing a disruptive student by taking him or her out of the learning environment is counterproductive. It fails to address the problems a child is facing at school or at home. In fact, research indicates that a single suspension in 9th grade equates to a 32 percent risk of the student dropping out of school.

Through Discipline That Restores (DTR), students and teachers are empowered to constructively resolve their conflicts. It allows the teacher to express to the student why their behavior is unacceptable, lets the student take responsibility for that behavior, and provides an avenue for both student and teacher to develop a clearly outlined agreement to ensure the behavior does not happen again.

Districts that have adopted Discipline That Restores report a stronger campus community, reduced bullying and fights, and a significant reduction in suspensions and expulsions. Students feel safer, teachers feel safer, and with reduced conflict and tension in the classroom, the learning environment becomes much more positive and productive.

DTR is easily adoptable and customizable for schools to implement restorative justice on their campuses. With AB 420 recently signed into law limiting suspensions and expulsions for the reason of “willful defiance”, the State of California is now strongly encouraging schools and districts to launch restorative justice discipline.

For information about the School to Prison Pipeline,  a term used to describe the increasing patterns of contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems as a result of the recent practices implemented by educational institutions, click here.


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