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Phillips K-5 is taking new approach to school discipline this year


Pittsburgh Phillips K-5 has been utilizing a new approach to school discipline this school year.

Called Restorative Practices, the approach is being used in an effort to build a safer and more emotionally responsive school community. The school is one of 23 schools in the Pittsburgh Public School District that has been chosen to implement Restorative Practices as part of a three-year pilot program, funded by the United States Department of Justice.

Restorative Practices goal is to support and facilitate the building of healthy relationships. When individuals develop and sustain positive relationships with others, there is abundant personal growth, capacity for character building, and a high level of achievement in all areas.

Translated into the school setting, this means that students, family members, teachers, administrators, and staff will work to build positive relationships with one another, as this produces the best outcomes academically, socially, and emotionally.

One way that the staff at Phillips has been working towards this goal is by using "Restorative Circles" to build trust, develop a sense of reciprocity, and resolve conflicts. A circle is done by forming a circle of people, and going around the circle, giving each person an opportunity to contribute their opinion to the discussion.

Circles give all students a voice and an opportunity to be seen, heard, and valued by their classmates and teachers. Some examples of circle topics that teachers have utilized include: how to be a good friend, how behavior affects other people, what to do to help someone who is being bullied, why everyone must follow classroom rules, and many others.

These circles have been so helpful in generating meaningful discussions that teachers have begun to implement them in an academic context as well.

Another method to help students recognize how their words and actions affect other people is utilizing "Restorative Questions." There are two sets of questions, one to be asked to the child exhibiting challenging behaviors, and one to be asked to help those affected.

When challenging behavior occurs, a child is asked: What happened? What were you thinking at the time? What have you thought about since? Who has been affected by what you have done? What do you think you need to do to make things right?

These questions have proved to be effective in provoking a deeper reflection in students and help to guide them in determining what needs to happen to make things right.

The next set of questions is asked to those who have been harmed by the actions of others. These questions are: What did you think when you realized what had happened? What impact has this incident had on you and others? What has been the hardest thing for you? What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

The goal of asking these questions is to help the affected persons gain a sense of justice, validation, and understanding.

An additional guiding principle of Restorative Practices is the use of "affective statements." An affective statement is a means to convey how someone else's behavior is affecting oneself; it is essentially another way of saying "express your feelings."

However simple it may appear, this strategy has been very effective in getting students to understand the impact of and take responsibility for their actions. An example of this is, instead of saying "good job, Max," you can say "Max, it made me very happy to see how hard you worked during class today."

Similarly, "please be quiet", can be said affectively, "I feel frustrated when you talk while I'm giving directions." The latter statements hold much more meaning, and show students that teachers are personally invested in their success.

The transition from traditional, punitive disciplinary practices to Restorative Practices has not been without challenges. Using Restorative Practices does not mean there are never punitive consequences such as suspensions for unacceptable or unsafe behavior. However, the goal is to decrease punitive discipline by improving student behavior, through helping students become more reflective about their choices and actions.

The Phillips community will continue to implement them throughout this school year, and for at least two more school years to come. In order for students to make lasting positive changes in their attitudes and behaviors, they must learn to care about how these they are impacting others. Growing their ability to form positive relationships with those around them will aid them in becoming contributing members of their communities, for many years to come.


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