A Restorative Approach to School Disciplinary Systems

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dr green
Dr. R. Stephen Green – Superintendent, DeKalb County School District

Dr. R. Stephen Green, Superintendent of DeKalb County School District in Georgia, recently shared his opinion on the need for discipline culture change in education. His op-ed in the Atlanta’s WXIA Channel 11 was inspired by new changes in the way his schools handle discipline after it was recently reported that DeKalb County Schools have five of the top 10 schools with the most suspensions in the state.

“We’re not really proud of that”, said Superintendent Green, “Suspension should not routinely be the first consequence when a student runs into an issue of discipline. A de facto suspension policy for discipline violations teaches students a lot about punishment … but not so much about problem-solving, self-control, or compassion for others.”

He clarifies that respect and discipline must be central in the education experience for the young people that move through his schools. But, pushing bad behavior outside of the classroom and onto the streets is not the role of the education system.

In addressing his district’s particular challenges Dr. Green notes, “People in favor of strict, zero-tolerance guidelines point out, often with good intention and deep sincerity, that teachers, administrators, and other students should never have to put up with bad classroom behavior. In DeKalb, we want appropriate penalties for inappropriate behavior … but the last thing we want is play any part in the destruction of a young adult life before it even begins.”

Restorative approaches differ from punitive disciplinary systems by connecting the wrongdoers and those they harm and Dr. Green is seeing those approaches be more effective at shaping positive classroom culture:

“In DeKalb, our restorative system of discipline will focus on the whole child … not just the bad a child does.

A newly created Student Support and Intervention Division will guide our efforts to address the diverse needs of students and families. Understanding that behavioral problems can result from issues in the home – issues in which entire families may need help – we’ll work to provide intensified wrap-around support for this ‘whole child.’ This support may include counseling, social work, psychological services, and community connections.”

In 2015, the Texas Education Agency and the University of Texas Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue reported to having launched Restorative Discipline training sessions in 10 Education Service Centers across Texas resulting in “an 87 percent drop in off-campus suspensions and a 44 percent decrease in total suspensions [after the first year]. After the second year, the trend of lowering suspensions continued, and the overall school climate improvement was reflected in improved student performance.”

Dr. Green will implement the effort in 12 DeKalb schools during the 2016-17 school year with more joining in 2017-18.

Learn more about systems developed to assist schools with discipline through student behavior tracking.

 

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