Came across this little bit today from from Amstutz and Mullet’s Little Book of Restorative Discipline:

Discipline from a restorative perspective may be compared to a checking account. if you take money out and make no deposits, you become bankrupt. When a child is disciplined, a withdrawal is made on the relationship account. The relationship itself is based on respect, mutual accountability, and even friendship established within a caring community. If the substrata work of community-building has not been done, the child is bankrupt and has nothing to lose by misbehaving or by being confronted. The child’s motivation to change is limited.

Educators speak commonly of a 5:1 ratio (deposits: withdrawals) in order for students to achieve academically. Whenever a child is confronted for misbehavior, the relationship experiences withdrawal or strain. Accordingly, a teacher would need to provide five affirmations for each confrontation. Both the affirmative/instructional and the restorative arms are needed for learning and motivation to occur in classrooms.

Unless children feel cared for, they may not feel safe enough to risk performing academically or care enough to resist draining life from the community. However, if meaningful relationships are already established before things go wrong, people are more likely to be motivated to work our their differences through conversation than if these relationships are absent.

First, I’ll point out that if you haven’t read Amstutz and Mullet’s book, it’s the perfect introduction to restorative discipline. What’s also striking is the way in which the authors position restorative discipline not as a program to be bought into, but simply a way of thinking about interactions between individuals in a community that can be applied to the least or most significant of school discipline situations.

Even if the analogy is somewhat flawed (more on this in a second), I think it’s a great model for approaching disciplinary interactions with students, whether you’re a teacher or  administrator. It’s unrealistic (if not unreasonable) to expect to be able to make meaningful progress in disciplinary interactions with students if our relationships with those students are depleted or nonexistent. It’s perhaps unfortunate that the ratio should be as extreme as 5:1 positive:negative, but I suppose that can be traced to the inborn negativity bias that most of us carry with us (when we get five compliments and one insult, we’re all more likely to focus on the insult).

But there are two potential problems with this model: first, the model makes more sense for teachers than for administrators. How can an administrator realistically make five affirmations for every confrontation for each student? Or am I looking at this too literally? Can large-scale gestures (greeting all students in the morning, commending students at an assembly) be considered deposits, despite not being administered directly to the individual? Either way, the inability of the administrator to directly affirm each student in the school speaks to the fact that individual teachers really do often have more leverage with students than an administrator might, despite the title authority.

But a second, and greater, problem with the model, is the premise that every disciplinary interaction must be a withdrawal. Is it not possible to simultaneously confront a student for transgressing the norms and standards of the community (i.e., “misbehaving”) while also affirming that student in a way that builds rather than depletes the relationship? Shouldn’t the aim of all disciplinary interactions be for the relationship to either remain value-neutral or add value to the relationship, despite the traditional belief that addressing a violation must by definition harm the relationship?



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