The Middle Way: Where Protocols and Restorative Discipline Intersect

My thanks to Matt Fost, Lori Harvie, and Aubrey Patterson for contributing to this blog post as part of our “Blog Crawl.” Please follow Matt’s, Lori’s, and Aubrey’s blogs. They are phenomenal #eduleaders.

Who Contributed?

The Sweet Spot for School Administrators

Where is the most practical intersection of protocols and restorative discipline? You know, that place where actions equal optimal social and emotional learning for students, positive student climate, and results for teachers.

At one extreme there’s 100% protocol. This may show up as the new assistant principal who really is making sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. And follows discipline guidelines as if they were discipline universal laws.

At the other extreme, is 100% restorative practice. At this extreme, the administrator may completely ignore discipline protocols, without realizing that part of the restoration process is making things right.
These extremes are probably just theoretical. As a school leader, you know the important role of good judgment.

It could be that where these two meet is a ground where protocols provides structure for decision making, and restorative practice provides principles for decision making. Consistency does not necessarily come from apply procedures in exactly the same way in every situation, but from using well constructed procedures to do what fair with each student.

Protocols, Protocols, Protocols

In Wong & Wong’s book, The First Days of School, the authors set out to provide a good range of protocols that a teacher might seek to implement from the outset. However, the issue with protocols is dealing with the situation when they are not followed. How does a teacher respond when the protocols are violated. Classroom management strategies are often taught in theory, but in practice they don’t always align. Every situation is different. One student may have violated the “stay seated” rule out of defiance. Another student in that same class may have violated it because he has ADHD and staying seated simply isn’t an option.

The issue is the same for the administrator who has to be able to see the situation as a neutral party. Most of the time, the assistant principal was not a witness to what occurred. And, even if he or she was there it is in the best interest of all parties to be able to get a clear understanding of what happened that led to the student being sent to the office. On one hand, the administrator wants to ensure that the teacher feels supported. On the other hand, he or she wants to be able to coach the student through the discipline process and identify where better choices could have been made. And, at the end of the day, if that student and that teacher are going to have to coexist, there has to be some repair to the relationship, which brings me to my next point.

Effective classroom management and effective school building discipline management hinges on RELATIONSHIPS. Without taking the time to build these meaningful relationships, it’s all for naught. Even the most extreme protocol-oriented teacher has to establish relationships in order for their classroom management to be effective. In my classes, it was called adopting the attitude of a scholar. I explained to our students that we were here to learn. We were here to learn the material, we were here to learn from each other, and we were here to learn about each other. We were in this together, I told them. And so, respect for self and others was tantamount to the success of our classroom.

As stated earlier, each situation is different. The circumstances may be different, even if the violations to the protocol are the same. It behooves the teacher and the administrator to be able to ask the student what led to the decision to not comply with the protocol. It is important that the teacher/administrator LISTEN to the student. It is important that the teacher/administrator not prejudge or judge the student as they explain themselves. Being well versed in de-escalation helps tremendously here.

Once the student has an opportunity to explain, the teacher/administrator can devise a plan of action moving forward. The key is that there has to be some action that repairs the relationship. It isn’t always easy, and it definitely isn’t something that happens quickly. But, slowly over time, meaningful relationships will emerge and discipline issues should lessen. It will take some fine tuning, but slowly the teacher/administrator/school will make the management plan their own. And, that is the most important element. This perfect intersection of protocols and restorative discipline may not look the same at all schools. In fact, within a school it could look different depending on the situation and students. In that vein, it is very prescriptive in nature. Almost individualized. And, if you think about that, it makes sense because relationships vary person to person.

The Platinum Rule

The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12), is one of a commonly referenced unofficial guide in restorative practices. This rule is always well-intentioned and often effective, but it doesn’t necessarily land on the equilibrium the giver intends, as it doesn’t include that simple question that moves one from empathy to compassionate action: What would you like from me?

A very simple tool for adults and children is the Platinum Rule, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them, not as you would have them do unto you.” Including caring questions into the established protocols certainly creates opportunity to move from the extremes of if this, then that procedures and the more qualitative grey areas that often characterize restorative practice.

3 thoughts on “The Middle Way: Where Protocols and Restorative Discipline Intersect

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