Came across a fascinating excerpt in Amstutz and Mullet’s Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools that got me thinking about how teachers view restorative discipline:
So why does punishment continue to be the dominant feature in school discipline? The most obvious answer is that it is quick, easy to administer, and seems to meet the criterion that “at least something was done.” Teachers often feel frustrated when they send students to the office because of misbehavior, only to have the students sent back after a conversation with the administrator. This often does not seem like an adequate response. Many students are not willing to face the harm they have done, nor to take responsibility for their behavior. When this happens, punishment may seem necessary to restrict opportunities for more harm.
Compare that with some quotes from teachers and union reps in an article from last fall about the problems associating with implementing restorative discipline in LA schools:
But teachers in LA and elsewhere complain their classrooms have devolved into chaos because students understand there’s no real consequences for bad behavior.
“My teachers are at their breaking point,” UTLA school representative Art Lopez wrote in an email to union officials cited by the Times. “Everyone working here is highly aware of how the lack of consequences has affected the site. Teachers with a high number of students with discipline issues are walking a fine line between extreme stress and a (sic) emotional breakdown.”
Eighth-grade math teacher Michael Lam also said the restorative justice methods don’t work, and the situation allows rowdy students to undermine their classmates’ education.
“Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?” he questioned. “I’m afraid our standards are getting lower and lower.”
So how do we look at this? Often when implementation of a specific program goes wrong, the immediate culprit to be blamed is a “lack of buy-in” among the teachers implementing the program. It would be easy to say that the administrators in Lopez’s school went wrong in not eliciting “buy-in” from the teachers before beginning the restorative discipline program.
But I don’t think that’s the way to look at it.
“Buy-in” is not just something you “get.” Authentic support for a program or initiative isn’t something that comes automatically, even with good training and support. Many people think you need “buy-in” before you can have a successful initiative; more likely it is that when an initiative is successful, “buy-in” results automatically.
But what does it mean for an initiative to be successful? I don’t mean that the initiative yields results (although that is important). I mean that the initiative meets the needs of those involved in the initiative.
In the example of implementing restorative justice in Mr. Lopez’s school, the program clearly did not meet the teachers’ needs to feel supported in creating and maintaining a productive learning environment. They are not seeing the intended changes in student behavior and thus do not support the program.
Now there are those who would say that the teachers here are being stubborn, traditional, or close-minded and refusing to give the program an honest shot. I can’t speak to whether or not that is true of these teachers.
But in my experience, I have found teachers–especially teachers of challenging populations–remarkably open to new ideas, if for no other reason that their jobs are so incredibly challenging that anything that works is welcome. (If you were drowning, would you reject a buoy because it didn’t like the way you think a buoy should look?)
Initiatives are extremely difficult to manage, and administrators need to be extremely judicious before embarking. Often, an initiative needs to work before it can garner authentic support. Equally often, an initiative needs authentic support before it can work.
None of this is easy.