If you really stop and think about it, teaching middle school is a pretty impossible proposition. Imagine convincing a room of 15-20 youth going through all the physical and emotional and social turmoil of puberty that complying with your plan for the next 75 minutes involving rigorous academic study is the way to go. And it’s not just middle schoolers. If you haven’t found yourself confused, stressed, uncertain, and burned out by issues related to student behavior, I can pretty much guarantee you weren’t a full time classroom teacher in the 2021-2022 school year (or really pretty much ever). This week’s grand finale of our season of “Bridging the Faculty/Admin Divide” brings together seventh grade English teacher (and host) Dean Julius to discuss disciplinary systems with Dean of Students, Jen Whitt, and Head of Middle School, Clay Elliot. Dean sets the stage below:
. .. While none of us have all the answers, I think this is an enduring, challenging, essential question that all of us are tasked with as educators and administrators: How do we create a disciplinary system that both manifests tangible consequences while also accounting for the social emotional health of our students? Discipline is challenging, and societally, we’ve been working (as institutions of learning) for decades, centuries, to figure out how to do this thing best. It seems that the more we wrestle with discipline—how to best correct student behavior, enact policies that set clear, effective boundaries for students, and develop best practices to factor in the social emotional health of our students—we realize that our old models have failed many of the children we care so passionately about. . .
Skip to what you are most interested in below:
4:07-5:25: Why a good discipline system should be based on the mission of the school, which in our case involves “respecting the dignity of every human,” and why detentions might not be the best way to get there.
5:26-6:32: How restorative justice foregrounds education, why no school can purely enact this model, and the usefulness of a graduated ladder of consequences that everyone understands.
7:15-8:45: A quick definition of restorative justice, and why it is key to find ways for offenders to re-enter the community having learned from the experience.
8:48-10:00: How this looks in practice for us at St. Andrew’s.
10:01-12:05: Jen shares what she has observed to be the most challenging part of this process and shares why being an upstander is a key piece of the method as well.
13:07-17:37: The complex interplay of teacher life reality with these restorative approaches, and why Clay says that it can take 5-10 years to really make a school culture shift in this direction.
17:38-20:58: How these methods fit our often-conservative context of the deep south, a surprising truth about Dean Whitt’s childhood, and the recognition that “it’s messy and it takes time and everyone will eventually get there, but when you’re in the moment, it takes a leap of faith to know that it is going to be okay in a few years.”
21:00-23:45 : Conversations about the need for conversation; the power of circles in restorative justice.
23:47-25:47: Clay reminds us: “[This form of discipline] is hard and tiring, but empathy is hard.”
25:47-29:00: Dean asks for more conclusive data about the way these approaches more fairly treat traditionally disenfranchised groups, and Clay shares some research on outcomes in perceived wellbeing.
29:05-30:18- Jen shares a concrete example of how this all plays out in dress code violations.
30:25-31:38: Why no single system for discipline can fix inequity.
31:40-34:52 – Is there a place for the “teacher voice” and resulting student shame in these approaches?
34:53-35:50: Why Jen likes the word “accountability” more than shame.
36:09-37:25: A surprising truth about the greatest disparity in detention-assignments.
Interested in thinking more on this complex topic? Check out some resources compiled below:
- For a quick and dirty primer on restorative justice, check out this Edutopia piece.
- Here’s another fairly brief introduction to restorative justice.
- This piece complicates whether research fully supports claims about the efficacy of the approach.
- This American Life has a fabulous podcast on the subject, entitled “Is This Working?”
- Here’s a peer reviewed manuscript on the efficacy of RJ if you are into that sort of thing.
- Here’s a pretty comprehensive lit review on the evolution of the practice, implementation, and research on impact.