It is our responsibility to provide a safe place for learning. One key to safety is fostering and maintaining caring relationships.
While suspending and/or expelling students is sometimes the only option, more often than not it is shortsighted. In cases where misbehavior is a pattern, the short-term consequence of suspending students results in long-term damage to those students who miss school, and it ultimately damages our community, as young people who miss a lot of school are more likely to drop out.
That’s why we are embracing a new approach to dealing with student conflict and misconduct called “restorative practices.”
As an organization with a responsibility to educate youth, we want to shift to an approach that emphasizes the importance of positive relationships in building the school community, and works to strengthen individual and community relationships by repairing harm when conflict and misbehavior happen.
It goes beyond focusing on rules that have been broken and instead views misbehavior as a violation of relationships that are damaged as a result of wrongdoing.
This is a voluntary approach in which students learn to accept accountability, recognize and
repair the harm their actions caused, and acknowledge their contributions toward a safe school environment.
In addition, it is a collaborative approach that offers a voice to those who have been harmed and lets them have a say in how the damage can be repaired.
Teachers who use restorative practices report that they are actually able to spend less time addressing misbehavior in the long run. Students are held more accountable. They have agreements they have to follow through on, and they have to face the people they’ve hurt.
We’ve only just begun to implement this new approach. So far, only 1,000 teachers and other staff in the San Francisco Unified School District have participated in trainings about how to use restorative practices.
We plan to continue providing professional development along with coaching and modeling to help teachers, counselors and parents learn more about how to implement these practices.
However, in a relatively short time, we’ve already seen amazing results for our kids, and that’s what it’s all about.
Carlos A. Garcia is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.
When responding to conflict, a restorative approach consists of asking the following key questions:
1. What happened, and what were you thinking at the time of the incident?
2. What have you thought about since?
3. Who has been affected by what happened and how?
4. What about this has been the hardest for you?
5. What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?