Amstutz’s goals of restorative discipline, presented with some commentary:

  • To understand the harm and develop empathy for both the harmed and the harmer

I believe this means that the harmer should understand the harm. I’m not sure if this is based on the idea that truly understanding the harm beyond just a surface level is a potential deterrent to future acts, or if this is simply a moral imperative to understand the results of ones actions. I’m also not sure if this is saying that the role of the school leader is to develop empathy or if it’s the role of the harmer and harmed to develop empathy (though I suppose both are good).

  • To listen and respond to the needs of the person who harmed and the person who harmed

Understanding the needs can help us to identify lagging skills and unsolved problems that may be contributing to the harmed behavior. Understanding the needs of the harmed helps us to ensure that the harmed person still feels like a valued member of the community. Some traditionalists would attack this statement as it seems to suggest that the needs of the harmer are equivalent to the needs of the harmed. “Should not the needs of the harmed come first?” they might say. But this is a false dichotomy: the needs of the harmed and the harmer are not mutually exclusive and it’s possible to satisfy both (though if we’re talking about the immediate aftermath of an event, yes, I think we’d all say the needs of the harmed are more important.)

  • To encourage accountability and responsibility though personal reflection with a collaborative planning process

This is a different accountability than the one we are ordinarily accustomed to, which is better described as retribution. Some would say that a student has not been held accountable if he has not been made to suffer for his transgression. This instinct is so deeply rooted in us that it’s hard for even the most ardent supporters of restorative discipline to shake. But there are other ways to be held accountable—by paying ones “debt” to the community, making amends for the suffering caused, successfully reintegrating oneself, and orienting ones behavior toward positive contributions to the community.

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