Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

RESTORATIVE PRACTICES: From Candy and Punishment to Celebrations and Problem-Solving Circles

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

RESTORATIVE PRACTICES: From Candy and Punishment to Celebrations and Problem-Solving Circles

Article excerpt

Norwood Elementary, a Title I science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) school in Baltimore County, MD, recently realized that traditional behavior management programs and processes were not working with our students. Over time, we discovered more successful approaches, and restorative practices became our way to transform the culture and climate to one of enduring peacefulness, persistence, grit, and compassion. The data below helps prove we are on the right track.

This past school year, our behavior interventionist kept track of the following trends and documented the numbers. We then analyzed this data:

* 55% decrease in office referrals;

* 49% decrease in time missed from instruction;

* 55% decrease in physical aggression;

* 97.7% of students feel safe in school; and

* Over 20,000 minutes back in classroom compared to last year.

We asked ourselves the following questions:

* Do restorative practices change behavior?

* Do restorative practices foster a peaceful culture in a school?

* Can we improve in the area of behavior management using restorative practices?


Norwood STEM Program is an innovative, 21st century, restorative-practice school. Norwood is a Title I school with a diverse population of 520 students. The families want better for their children and support the academic program. The children want to go to college because of our many connections with Towson University.

The challenge for our community was the switch to restorative practices in place of rewards and punishment. We are a school try- ting to make a difference for our population, one that is lasting and has effects beyond the walls of our schoolhouse. Many parents, teachers and students have fixed mindsets on traditional behavior management. These are hard to change, but at Norwood we are starting to change mindsets. Our students are immersed in a collaborative community of problem solvers. We embrace mistakes as a natural part of child development and provide a toolkit of resources through our character education programs. Furthermore, we do not believe in teaching character in isolation, but we infuse it throughout the curriculum, school day and every possible aspect of our culture. Students collaborate daily, working in small groups in the classrooms to build relationships. The teachers work on building relationships with our parents and students. We work hard to make a large school into a village, family and team.

Norwood institutionalized restorative practices as the behavior plan to change the culture. Instead of rewards and punishments, there is a support system, problem solving process and virtuous ways to communicate all that we learn and practice. We live by the peace code with empathy, persistence, grit, compassion, self-control and zest to guide us.

Seven years ago, a book, Choice Theory by William Glasser, arrived. We intensely embraced the mission of meeting our students' needs of survival, love and belonging, freedom, power and fun. This was our breakthrough telling us that we needed to change things when it came to discipline. We put kids' needs first in our decision making in how to interact with all students, especially stress kids.

We had consistent, theoretical, and practical training with continual debriefing after practice, support, creative brainstorming, and critical analysis of what was working and what wasn't. We all became action researchers. We took ownership of learning our students' needs and which strategies best met those needs. We took good care of our kids.

While we were taking care of our students' needs, we were missing out on the teaching focus. What did they need to learn to be responsible for their behaviors? So, we embarked on learning responsibility-centered discipline.

Teachers practiced identifying the Give 'Em Five strategies of supporting, expectations, breakdown, benefit, and closure from Larry Thompson, a responsibility-centered discipline guru, when interacting with students in crisis or when a problem occurred. …

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