Restorative Justice ‘Hack 1 – Let’s Talk’

This second digest is of the first ‘Hack’ from¬†“Hacking School Discipline”, called ‘Let’s Talk’, whose main idea is that you need to get students talking in order for to help them understand why they did what they did; who was affected by their action(s) and how; and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again and to repair the harm that was done to others. Again, the premise is that punitive consequences don’t get to the bottom of an issue, so situations are liable to repeat themselves.

To accomplish their aims, the authors suggest mediation between the ‘offending’ and ‘casualty’ parties. They list out seven steps to go through, which are taken directly from the book:

  1. Identify the conflict and the guilty party. Before the mediation, take time to find out what happened. Get the full account from the students’ perspective individually.
  2. Invite all stakeholders to participate. Basically, who are the main people that had a role in the incident you’re dealing with?
  3. Communicate the goals and values of the mediation. Provide a map for how this mediation is going to come to a conclusion.
  4. Create a calm and supportive environment. Only by remaining calm and by remaining invested in the mediation process can students get anything out of it. You can give them a two-minute time out before they come back in if they feel upset, but make sure they know that if they choose not to engage with the process, then the punitive consequences will follow.
  5. Recap and share perspectives. Essentially, get each side to tell the facts about what happened, as they see them. Keep accusations, assumptions and blame out of it.
  6. Repair and reinforce positivity. Get the parties to brainstorm how they can repair the damage of their actions with the stakeholders involved.
  7. Build therapeutic rapport. Basically, reintegrate the parties back into the classroom and the wider school setting in a more positive state of mind than when you started.

Again, I get the idea of wanting to air things out and get to the bottom of issues in order that they are dealt with and aren’t liable to repeat themselves. I reserve judgement on how effective I think this will be in practice in our setting until I’ve read more of the book (probably to the end). A few thoughts of my own then on what I’ve read so far.

The whole system depends on participation (no sh*t, Sherlock). I mean, I’m thinking of my students’ initial reaction to this process and it would probably go along the lines of “What? Pffffffffffffffft!” – and that’s putting it politely. Even my reaction to this initially was,¬†“Why go through all this when I can give them a detention, be done with it and get on with my planning, running a department, teasing my cat with a laser pen, etc?” So, you need buy in – from the staff, first of all. Then train them properly in how to do it. If staff buy in, the culture is created and reinforced and so the expectation is set, which students will meet because that’s the way it’s done here. They won’t know any better. Without this basic step, you’re going nowhere. P.S. I’m not saying I agree with this system. I’m just saying, if you’re going to do it, how to do it. By the way, everyone needs to have confidence that this initiative will still be around and monitored with the same vigour that it was when it began, otherwise, you’re not going to have effective implementation from the start.

Also, if you’re going to go ahead with this, the consequence for not engaging with this process needs to be big enough to get the students to participate in the mediation. If you tell students, “OK, well, in that case, you can do your 30 minute detention”, you’re likely to get a whole bunch of students take the 30 minute detention. Who wants to sit there talking about feelings and confronting their actions when they can sit in silence for 30 minutes with their heads on the desk and then go home? Time served. Done. So the question is, what is a big enough stick? Copying out a Telletubbies script for an hour?

So in summary, the premise is good. Let’s see what the rest of the book says. After all, these are all lovely theories, but if they aren’t practical and effective in the real world, then they’re useless.


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