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BC expanding restorative practices to improve school climate, student success

Filed in Archive by on August 14, 2019

When nearly 2,700 Bethlehem students in grades 5-12 responded to a School Climate survey in 2018-19, one thing was clear: while students largely felt supported by faculty and staff they were feeling less confident when it came to student-to-student relationships.

At the time, 55 percent of students reported that they did not believe “students talk about the importance of understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others” and nearly 65 percent said they do not feel that “students stop and think before doing anything when they get angry.”

“Of all the data we collected, we were most concerned with what appeared to be a lack of trust and understanding between students,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “It was a disconnect that caught us by surprise.”

One of the ways Monroe said the district is hoping to boost peer relations and improve the overall school climate is to address student conflicts and disruptive behaviors using restorative practice in all Bethlehem schools K-12, beginning in the 2019-20 school year. Restorative practice, she said, is a way of approaching student discipline that puts a greater emphasis on repairing relationships than on traditional consequences for student misbehavior. 

What are restorative practices?

Restorative practices are about building and restoring relationships. A restorative school climate is one where there is a sense of belonging, safety and social responsibility for everyone in the school community. When student behavior becomes an issue, restorative practice is a process by which a student acknowledges wrongdoing, takes steps to correct any harm that has been done and then is welcomed back into the school community.

Restorative practices are meant to foster a culture that promotes dialogue and healthy relationships between students and teachers. It is also designed to reduce discipline referrals including in-school and out-of-school suspensions in most situations. Suspension or expulsion may still be used for serious or violent offenses. 

Benefits of restorative practices in schools, include:

  •     A safer, more caring environment
  •     Giving a greater voice to those directly impacted by decisions or actions
  •     Promoting personal accountability
  •     Building empathy among members of the school community
  •     Allowing for better-connected students
  •     Improving student outcomes by reducing suspensions and other referrals that mean time spent out the classroom

What does a restorative approach to conflict look like?

When conflict occurs, students are encouraged to understand the impact and consequences of their actions by asking a series of key questions, including

  •     What happened, and what were you thinking at the time?
  •     Who has been affected by what happened and how?
  •     What have you been thinking about since this happened?
  •     What needs to be done to make things right?

“Last year, our elementary schools introduced RtI for Behavior,” said Monroe. “This Response to Intervention model is a tiered model aimed at promoting positive behaviors and preventing disruptive behaviors before they become a problem,” said Monroe. “Restorative practice will help us build on these efforts and address the consequences that should take place when problems do occur.”

 Monroe said classroom teachers K-12 will discuss ways to implement age-appropriate restorative practice as part of the RtI for Behavior training that takes place throughout the school year.

Additional information on restorative practices will also be shared with parents at Open House events throughout the district.