MECS Blog

A Restorative Approach to Discipline

A Restorative Approach to Discipline

Thursday, 14 June 2018  | Karissa - Assistant Principal - Secondary

On June 22, 2004, 6 young men of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA were home from college break when they decided to set fire to Mood’s Bridge (a historic covered bridge). The bridge held both cultural and historical significance for the community, and was a great loss for the townspeople of Bucks County.

With each of the young men facing up to 3 years in jail for their crimes, the International Institute for Restorative Practices were provided the opportunity to facilitate a ‘restorative conference’ which would seek to bring together all affected parties involved in the incident; representatives for the townspeople and emergency services, the 6 young men and their parents/supporters.

The conference, which saw 24 people gathered together in a circle conversation, was an opportunity for all participants: perpetrators, ‘victims’ and supporters, to talk about the impact of the crime through a sharing of their feelings and emotions.

Whilst the normal response of such crimes would be to just ‘lock ‘em up’, the restorative conference provided the opportunity to move the 6 young men from a potential cycle of deep shame through to a place of restoration, empathy and forgiveness. These young men were able to ‘see’ the impact of their actions, take responsibility for them and take part in restoring what had been broken: both property and relationships.*

Last week, Di (Assistant Principal - Primary) and myself, attended a two-day training conference on Restorative Practices. Capably facilitated by David (Behaviour Matters), we were given the opportunity to expand our knowledge, understanding and practice of restorative approach to discipline (Restorative Practice); which has long been the approach to discipline upheld by the MECS community.

As both our Focus On Identity and Student Discipline and Behaviour Policy indicate:

“We have high expectations for responsible and loving conduct by students. We are committed to working with students so they adopt these expectations as their personal standards. Imparting this type of discipline works best when it is demonstrated by example, and is accompanied by discussion and encouragement.” (Focus On Identity – FAQ’s - What is MECS’ approach to discipline?)

“Correction and punishment should always be restorative. It should be consistent with the school’s task (directed towards protection and enhancement of the learning environment) and appropriate to the nature of the offence, if possible, restoring any damage to work, property or relationships. When being corrected, students should be encouraged to seek forgiveness and to make restitution and apologise where appropriate in order to restore normal relationships”. (Student Discipline and Behaviour Policy)

Whilst none of our students are being charged with arson, or any ‘crimes’ of such notoriety (as in the Bucks County example), they are daily negotiating relationships, identity and values… which, along with the growth, comes mistakes, poor choices and negative behaviours.

Through the use of a simple 4-question process, staff are able to work with students who have been involved in challenging behaviour, or those that have been harmed by other’s actions. These restorative questions allow students to tell their stories, express underlying feelings and emotions, and practice empathy.

The four questions to respond to challenging behaviour:

What happened?

What were you thinking of at the time?

Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?

What do you think you need to do to make things right?

The four questions to help those harmed by other’s actions:

What did you think when you realized what had happened?

What impact had this incident had on you and others?

What has been the hardest thing for you?

What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

This Restorative Practice approach empowers our teaching staff to be more responsive, and more supportive. It is about re-affirming, re-connecting, and re-building the social and emotional fabric of relationships within the school community. This does not mean that there is no room for detentions and suspensions. (The young men in Bucks County were still ordered to pay restitution and serve 18 days in prison). However, it is also not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to discipline. The Restorative Practice approach is largely driven by the desired outcome for the individual: to transform, renew and rebuild relationships; with others, with self and with Christ.

The Restorative Approach recognises and values the fact God has created us to live in community with others; and as such that we are ‘hard wired’ to want to share and increase positive feelings and emotions, share and reduce negative feelings and emotions, and remove things that get in the way of us being able to express our feelings and emotions.

As both Di and myself now use our new knowledge to teach and further equip our teaching staff to be active participants in Restorative Practice, and as we partner with you to care for, to teach and to encourage our young people, may we never lose sight of the Truth and Hope of the gospel; that although shame pronounces us guilty and deficient, Jesus pronounces us guiltless, and promises that His grace will be sufficient for us in all our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

*“Burning Bridges” is a 35-minute documentary about the arson of Mood’s Bridge, a historic covered bridge in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA, and the restorative conference held in its wake. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBMIEManHoA


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