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Progressive Discipline and Restorative Approaches

Progressive Discipline

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The word discipline comes from the same Latin root as the word disciple – discipere – to teach or comprehend. Understanding discipline as a “teachable moment” is fundamental to a positive approach to discipline.
Progressive discipline uses incremental interventions to address inappropriate behavior with the ultimate goal of teaching pro-social behavior. Progressive discipline does not seek punishment. Instead, progressive discipline seeks concurrent accountability and behavioral change. The goal is prevention of a recurrence of negative behavior by helping students learn from their mistakes.
Essential to the implementation of progressive discipline is helping students who have engaged in unacceptable behavior to:

  • understand why the behavior is unacceptable and the harm it has caused
  • understand what they could have done differently in the same situation
  • take responsibility for their actions
  • be given the opportunity to learn pro-social strategies and skills to use in the future
  • understand the progression of more stringent consequences if the behavior reoccurs

Restorative Approaches

Restorative approaches can help schools prevent or deal with conflict before it escalates, build relationships and empower community members to take responsibility for the well-being of others; increase the pro-social skills of those who have harmed others; address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in inappropriate behavior and build resiliency; provide wrong doers with opportunities to be accountable to those they have harmed and enable them to repair the harm to the extent possible.

Taking a restorative approach to discipline changes the fundamental questions that are asked when a behavioral incident occurs. Instead of asking who is to blame and how will those engaged in the misbehavior be punished, the restorative approach asks four key questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who was harmed or affected by the behavior?
  • What needs to be done to make things right?
  • How can people behave differently in the future?

Key Resources

  • “Five Reasons Implementation of Restorative Practices Fails in Schools”(Open external link)
  • “Eight Tips for Schools Interested in Restorative Justice”(Open external link)
  • 10 Components of Effective Restorative Discipline(Open external link)
  • NYCDOE Restorative Whole School Implementation Guide(Open external link)
  • Within the context of using restorative approaches are various restorative practices. They include:

    Circle Process:
    Circles may be used as a regular practice in which a group of students (or faculty or students and faculty) participates. Or a circle can be used in response to a particular issue that affects the community. The circle process can enable a group to get to know one another, build relationships and establish understanding and trust, create a sense of community, learn how to make decisions together, develop agreements for the mutual good, resolve difficult issues, etc. Circles can be effective as both a prevention and intervention strategy.

    Restorative Enquiry/Restorative Discussion:
    Uses active listening and other conflict resolution communication skills. Using a collaborative negotiation process enables an individual to talk through an issue or conflict directly with the person with whom s/he disagrees to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution;

    Peer Mediation:
    an impartial, third party mediator (in a school, a student who has been trained to serve as a peer mediator) facilitates the negotiation process between parties who are in conflict so that they can come to a mutually satisfactory resolution. Mediation recognizes that there is validity to the conflicting points of view that the disputants bring to the table and helps disputants work out a solution that meets both sets of needs. Disputants must choose to use mediation and must come to the process willingly. Mediation is not used in situations in which one individual has been victimized by another.

    Victim/Wrongdoer Mediation:
    when an individual acknowledges s/he has harmed another person and both the person who engaged in the behavior that harmed and the person who was harmed agree to see how the incident(s) can be put right by working with an impartial, third party mediator who has received specific training in victim/wrongdoer mediation. Regardless of the circumstances, the mental and physical health, safety and welfare of the individual who was harmed is of paramount importance when considering this option in a school setting and should not be used when the wrongdoer (individual who has caused harm) may intimidate or coerce or attempt to intimidate or coerce the person who has been harmed.

    Formal Restorative Conference:
    A circle process in which individuals who have acknowledged causing harm are brought together with those who have been harmed. A formal restorative conference is facilitated by an individual who has received specific training in the process. In addition to the individuals who have been directly involved, both sides may bring supporters who have also been affected by the incident to the circle. The purpose of the conference is for both the harm doer and the harmed to understand each other’s perspective and come to a mutual agreement which will repair the harm as much as it is able to be repaired. Regardless of the circumstances, the mental and physical health, safety and welfare of the individual who was harmed is of paramount importance when considering this option in a school setting.