Punitive discipline models for students may be falling out of favor at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools as the district prepares to adopt corrective action policies based on restorative practices.

Those practices were briefed to district officials last week by Dr. Philip Holmes, who was asked by Dr. Rydell Harrison to develop a plan that would inculcate them in all 20 local schools.

“One of the really important tenets of restorative practices is this idea of student voice, whether it’s in a formal circle to discuss something that has gone wrong […] or whether it’s just a Monday morning five-minute check-in,” noted Holmes. “It provides a structured way to hear student voice — to give students an opportunity to speak and be heard.”

Speaking in his capacity as interim executive director of professional learning, Holmes explained that restorative practices are based on a concept called the social discipline window.

That concept cites four approaches used by authority figures to address behavioral issues, with the most effective approach involving more collaboration and less coercion.

“Whenever we would do consequences, I’d think to myself, ‘What’s the kid learning; what are they learning from this; how do I put a consequence in place that makes them learn'” he asked. “Restorative practices — this training makes those practices explicit.”

According to a planning document drafted by Holmes, the goal of implementing restorative practices throughout the district is to “eliminate issues of discipline disproportionality.”

The practices are already employed at McDougle Elementary School and may be associated with a decrease in student discipline referrals that Harrison relayed to board members.

“We see that the number of students with multiple referrals goes down, and so it’s not just a matter of addressing the behavior, but it’s a matter of being preventative so that it doesn’t continue,” he affirmed.

An envoy of board members attended a conference held last year by the Institute of Restorative Practices, which was founded in 2000 by Ted and Susan Wachtel.

The Wachtels espouse that people are more cooperative and “more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”

“Some people look at this and say, ‘Well, yeah, that’s easy to do if you’ve got a bunch of really compliant kids,'” mused Holmes. “This initial implementation comes from a place with kids who had all experienced trauma, had all experienced school failure, were all in a position where school was not where they wanted to be, and it needed to change.”

Restorative practices are expected to be fully ingrained in the district by 2020, with the initial phase of implementation focusing on select grade levels and schools.

Image from IIRP.