Posts Tagged student discipline

College Campus Discipline That Works

Published by — Revenge may be satisfying, but it rarely leads to positive change.

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Here’s a clear, real-life illustration of the use of Restorative Justice (RJ).  Skidmore professor David Karp tells the story of how the college handled two virtually identical incidents before and after the implementation of a RJ campus discipline system.  Karp literally wrote the book on College Campus Restorative Justice initiatives.  He’s a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, where I heard this story.

Both incidents involved young men who were very drunk.  In their stupor, each had lost the key to their dorms.  Each had the genius idea of getting back into the dorm by climbing through a first-floor window.  Each had the ill luck to choose the single room of a female student.  Each scared the bejeezus out of that young woman.

CASE #1:  The young woman complained, rightly, to the campus Disciplinary Board.  When she met with the Board, she gave her testimony and left.  Separately, the young man also met with them.  The Board imposed a set of sanctions on him as a condition of staying on campus.  Key was that he was to have no contact with the girl.

Separating a wrong-doer from the victim seems to make good sense.  Don’t subject the victim to further exposure with the guy who hurt, or in this case, scared her.  But the girl remained fearful.  Could it happen again?  Had he targeted her?  Was he still a threat to her or anyone else?  Surely you’ve had the experience of letting your mind go wild with negative possibilities when you don’t know anything about the random person who did you wrong.  I was once robbed and remained frightened for months afterwards, not knowing exactly what threat to us was lurking out there.  The unknown can be terrifying.

So, though sanctions had been imposed, they didn’t stop the feelings involved.  In this case, the offender became resentful of the girl for getting him into such trouble.  Yes, he made a bad mistake, but he felt more harshly punished than he deserved.  And as happens on gossipy college campuses, she found out that he was angry, provoking yet more feelings — more fear, defensiveness, anger.  Then he heard that she knew he was angry, which just made him madder.  As Karp says, “worst case scenario.”  The tensions grew with no mechanism for resolution.  Full-on kicking him out would have been too severe, so they were stuck.  Ultimately the Board’s decisions didn’t do anyone much good.

CASE #2:  The basic facts are the same, though a bit more serious because the female student was just getting out of the shower.  She screams.  He screams.  They’re both terrified.  He pushes past her, so there was some physical contact.

When she filed her complaint, she was offered the Restorative option, which was new to Skidmore at the time.  She could either take him before the Discipline Board per usual, or both of them would go to “conference,” which is to say a supervised, facilitated conversation.  RJ options are always voluntary.  First and foremost, the victim chooses.  And if the offender refuses to participate, the matter goes the traditional route.  A trained facilitator talks to each party separately about what to expect and what they would want out of the face-to-face meeting.

The young woman came with three specifics she wanted to discuss:

1.  She wanted him to understand her fear.  Her terror was not an abreaction.  A naked woman, alone and confronted by a male intruder, fears many things, not the least of which is rape.  So they talked about rape.   And that led to the two of them considering how they could work together to help others understand the ugliness of rape itself and the fear of it.

2.  Why was he so drunk?  What is it about college that excessive drinking is the entree into most social circles?  Was it even possible to organize an alcohol-free social event that would actually be attractive to Skidmore students?  He agreed to work on arranging one as part of his reparations to her.

3.  Why is it so easy to climb in a first-floor window?  This good question was not for the boy, but for the college itself.  As a result of this particular conference, Skidmore literally changed the first-floor windows.

In other words, the RJ process opened up important conversations, all of which had ramifications beyond the two students.  They were no longer strangers.  And they weren’t potential enemies either.  The icing on the cake was that the incident generated ideas and actions aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.

The traditional kick-out system focuses on the establishment of guilt or innocence and punishing the guilty.  Restoration examines the context in which the offense took place and works to heal both the parties involved — and to change that context, when needed.

Revenge can be very satisfying.  But it rarely teaches anything positive.  Vengeance against the many drunk college men who’ve behaved very badly over the years hasn’t done a thing to prevent more drunken young men from doing the same.

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI school department and the RIDataHUBFor more, see or contact her at The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.


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Winning the Discipline Wars Takes Restoration

Published by — Kicking the kid out doesn’t really hold the kid accountable or teach him how to behave.

(Photo: Youtube, Creative Commons)

In Fordham Institute’s weekly Flypaper blog, David Griffith offers a tantalizing hope in a piece called “How to end the discipline wars.”  He asks, “Is there a more annoying manifestation of our political and cultural divisions than the debate over school discipline?”  Good question.

He outlines what he and I both find to be a weirdly polarized, even adversarial, set of attitudes towards discipline.  And he says he has a sensible resolution.  I read on with relish.

To understand the “war,” understand its combatants.  On one hand are the schools whose priority is the sanctity of student learning.  Not unreasonable.  Students who are on task deserve to be free of disruptions by miscreants who are not.  So, these “no excuses” schools are unrepentant about responding to misbehavior with strong negative reinforcement, including suspension, expulsion and a variety of punishments.  Their techniques include shaming, such as posting students’ names in yellow for those on disciplinary warning and red for those who will be punished.  Many parents appreciate the strict orderliness of schools.

On the other hand, Griffith points out, is the growing restorative practices/justice movement, which works to get to the root of the misbehavior.  Is the kid signaling that she’s got issues at home or mental-health problems that need addressing?  Is his incessant swearing learned in a home that swears constantly?  Or is it willful rottenness?  The consequences needs to respond to the reason for the misbehavior.  The if/then legalism of traditional discipline systems have prescribed punishment for each infraction – but it fails to teach, heal or solve problems.  How can the misbehavior be prevented from happening again unless we know what triggered it?

Because of its focus on healing, teaching, and cooperation, restoration is more work on the front end.  But the if/then approach wins only short-term compliance, at best.  At worst, it can cause resentment and disengagement.

Griffith’s solution to punishment is to create “alternative learning settings.”

Oy.  So, the solution is to sequester the “bad kids” where they won’t disrupt the so-called “good kids.”  Griffith admits that this is not a radically new idea.  True.  Education as an industry often gets rid of the unwanted kids by creating separate “programs targeted to their needs.”

Spin it all you want, but ostracism is punishment, plain and simple.  And the programs I’ve seen look for all the world like prison prep.  Still, Griffith says, “I think it’s time for a broader and more honest conversation about alternatives to suspension that honor the majority’s right to an education.”

Ah, but herewith lies the rub:

Define the line between the good and the bad kids.

On a given day, school staff can point out those kids who are doing what they should and those who aren’t.  The distinction is clear.  But it’s a snapshot in a kid’s life.  Years ago one of my kids’ friends was a goody-two-shoes girl — who soured overnight.  When her parents told her they were getting divorced, she acted out.  Her behavior became atrocious; her manner rude; her grades slipped; she ran from class and she ran from home.  She was a serious pain to get back on track.

But Griffith’s solution for her schooling would have been to give her an “alternative learning setting.”  She would have been with the other disruptive kids to protect students whose rights to an education she was, in fact, violating sometimes.  This would have made her situation far worse.

Now imagine seriously traumatized kids whose emotional wounds are far deeper than hers were.  “Alternative placements” block any chance of them learning community-appropriate behavior from the kids who can model cooperating with others.  And forgive me, but “sequestering” is another word for “segregation.”  The violent kid living with a violent father does not need to be segregated with other kids who might also be super angry.  It’s convenient for the adults, but it’s not good for the kid.

Don’t kick them out, lean in with them.

Setting up programs to manage kids outside of their regular classrooms is expensive.  And ineffective.  And who wants to be such a group’s teacher?  An actually new idea would be to spend those same big bucks, but effectively, on specialists — specifically, restorative specialists.  These trained workers would accompany the disruptive kid to class for as long as necessary.  They would teach, model and support desirable behavior, but also prevent her from disrupting teaching and learning.

Kicking the kid out doesn’t really hold the kid accountable or teach him anything.  Most kids who have the mental capacity would work on acquiring better social skills, if only to shake what feels like a babysitter.  Those seriously challenged with meeting expectations will have a tutor.  In both cases, the help should be as temporary as possible.

By all means, make sure all kids have the fullest possible opportunity to learn and thrive — including “bad” kids.  Teaching them to manage their own behavior is the biggest favor we can do for them and us.

 (Photo: Youtube, Creative Commons)

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.  Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant.  After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.  Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI Department of Education and the RIDataHUBFor more, see or contact her at The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement here and internationally.


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Students Curb Classroom Misbehavior with ‘Shirt of Shame’

Published by — What can happen when a group makes up its own rules and consequences.


At the beginning of this school year, chemistry teacher Brandon Haggerty facilitated a negotiation among his “Crew” students to agree on group norms for themselves.  Haggerty’s school, the Greene Charter School in rural, leafy Exeter, RI, is an Expeditionary Learning school where what would otherwise be an advisory program group are “Crews.”  Crews are like advisories, but they also have responsibilities they must accomplish as a team, like tending the vegetable garden.  Of course, creating group norms is a good idea for any work team, youth or adult.  People collaborate best if they have clear expectations of one another.  And it’s good experience for successful careers.

So these 12th-grade Crew members developed a solid set of mutual rules that govern issues like confidentiality, consensus decision-making, and my favorite: “keep it light and positive, avoid drama and vindictiveness.”  Articulating their own rules gives kids a say in the matter and an understanding of why they need rules.

But this year was a little different.  The year before, Greene had begun the work of implementing Restorative Practices, which build strong communities that include everyone, including the “bad” kids.  So this fall, Haggerty’s group went a step beyond setting mutual expectations and also mapped out a set of consequences for not adhering to their own rules.  The group — Haggerty himself represents only one of the voices — will decide which of the consequences fit the norm violation.  They brainstormed and settled on four “fallouts,” as they called them.  Which are:

*  Give two compliments — in the event of a thoughtless criticism, for example;

*  Put a nickel in a money jar — for things like a mindless swear;

*  Give up their phone to Mr. Haggerty for Crew period — and surely you know what a sacrifice this is;

*  Wear the shirt of shame for as long as the group decides — for serious offenses.

This kind of accountability is about being responsible. 

As of this writing, the specific shirt had not been chosen.  They have several contenders.  It’s clearly fun to think about.  Furthermore, the kids proudly announced that the shirt would not be washed, although you could see a startled Dean of Students, Alex Edelmann, considering pushing back on this feature.  Not that she did.  Yet.  Let the kids figure it out.

Student Jessica says, “This kind of accountability is about being responsible.  You own up to your actions to yourself and whoever you offended or hurt.  I’m thinking that this will probably keep certain people who disrupt from doing that.  I know it wouldn’t be worth it to me to have to wear the dirty shirt just to interrupt and be disruptive.”

And there you have it.  This Crew is creating their own social control system.  We all resist other people’s rules and regulations when we don’t see what’s in it for us.  When these teens get drivers’ licenses, for example, hopefully they’ll have a deeper understanding that traffic laws are there to keep them safer on the roads.

Teens are naturally narcissistic, invincible, and not fully mindful of the consequences of their own actions.  By creating consequences along with norms, they teach each other that order in their own classroom is up to them to maintain, not someone else’s work.

Granted, a shirt of shame sounds like born-again Puritanism.

It’s a little like putting people in stocks.  But this is not a sentence imposed by an adult or anyone but themselves.  Youth would naturally devise “fallouts” that are more real to them and more socially expensive than anything they can just dismiss as “the teacher doesn’t like me.”  Suspensions don’t work well as deterrents.  Instead, as Jessica points out, that shirt would seriously discourage the kinds of behavior the kids themselves dislike most.

A restorative culture helps kids and adults own their community’s health and happiness.  Everyone, adults and kids, can expect to be called on to account for their actions, and therefore learn to verbalize what they were thinking, feeling, or hoping to get from their behavior.  (Sometimes the behavior makes a lot more sense than you would have guessed.)  Restorative justice/practices often get a bad rap for being “soft,” but many students would far rather be suspended than have to stand there and explain their thinking, or lack of it – never mind wear that shirt.

Another Greene teacher, Meg Dutton, had also gotten her Crew to agree to their own restorative consequences.  And in fact, one of her students misbehaved.  But he took responsibility for his actions, and per their class consequences, he dutifully sang a song for 30 seconds.  Since that incident, the class has endured zero misbehavior.

Nope, it’s just not worth it.


Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Bringing Kids In Trouble Back From The Brink

Published by — “I believe everyone deserves second chances, and not just college students with clean records.”

Eight years ago, Elissa Bellinger was a happy freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She’d never been in trouble, and never expected she would be.

But one night she and her roommates hit the bars and had a few, such as college kids do. Except they got caught by the police for under-aged drinking. Even most high-school students think drinking is no biggie unless something bad happens, like a car accident. But in 1984, Congress pegged the minimum age for purchasing alcohol and public drinking at 21, for all states. So it is illegal.

Besides the humiliation of telling her parents, Bellinger was facing an arrest and maybe conviction on her adult record. However, the University’s Office of Student Conduct offered her and the roomies two choices: Take your chances with the regular Court process, or participate in a new program called restorative justice. If you complete the terms of restitution agreement you make with the community members at the restorative conference, your record will be wiped clean.

Like many college towns, Boulder was plagued with under-age drinking and irresponsible drinking generally. Residents hated the alcohol-fueled riots that erupted at political rallies, lost football games, and similarly lame excuses to drink and go nuts. Every year, cops made thousands of arrests; courts issued fines and sentences. But they weren’t denting the problem.

So in 2006, the town and the University agreed to divert offenders like Bellinger away from the expensive, ineffective court proceedings that wreck kids’ records. The University would handle their students’ under-age drinking offenses, committed on or off campus. The town’s judicial system would expunge a kid’s record if all terms were met.

As such, Boulder was a rare American adopter of the restorative justice philosophy that had long been improving public services in New Zealand, Australia, and other countries. This healing, restorative mindset has struggled to take root in America. Though last year the states of Colorado and Washington both passed legislation to expand restorative justice. Restoration cuts recidivism rates, often to single-digit percentages. Less recidivism means less crime and its associated costs.

Conventional courts determine guilt or innocence and then assign punishment. Offenders don’t learn much from the experience, which is why so many go back out and re-offend.

Bellinger chose to participate in a “circle” or “conference.” She had to describe what she’d done and hear community members express how her behavior had affected them and others in the town. This process is usually uncomfortable for the offender, which is fine. They need to know specifically how their thoughtless, selfish act felt to those on the receiving end. Offenders don’t quickly forget their shame — thus restoration’s low recidivism rates. Then if the group agrees that the offender “gets it,” they all craft a restitution plan. Failure to meet the restitution plan sends the offender back to the courts.

Bellinger says she “knew nothing going into the circle. But that was part of the beauty. It was so new; they’d only just started the program. But also keeping my record clean was a big pull. The conference itself was intimidating, scary and enlightening. It was a really different perspective to look at how I was impacting others. I had to take responsibility for my actions. That was powerful.”

Boulder’s restitution plans included a pre-determined requirement of 12 hours of community service. When Bellinger studied the list of non-profits where she could work, she seized the chance to serve as one of the community members who hear cases such as her own.

“That was amazing. I saw my peers want to take responsibility for their wrong-doing. Having another peer talking with them was powerful. I’ve seen people truly change from this process. So, as a junior, I began facilitating conferences. And in my senior year, I became the case manager for the program. After graduating, I was offered an internship in the Office of Student Conduct. Actually, I had concerns about that job. Except for the one diversion program, I felt it operated from a punitive model. But I figured that the best way to change that was to get inside the organization. During the four years I worked there, I created a new model for handling the huge influx of fake ID tickets coming from the cops.”

And again, with the conferencing program in place, recidivism for fake IDs dropped like a brick.

“I believe everyone deserves these second chances, and not just college students with clean records.”

Today Bellinger is in Smith College’s social-work program, determined to use her degree to help social service systems, especially the justice system, adopt restorative justice techniques.

“My friends say I’m the only person they know who could get into serious trouble and turn it into a career and passion.”

I certainly hope she’s not the only one. Restorative justice saves lives, reputations, families, college careers and communities. As restoration gives more and more people a second chance, surely some of them will join Bellinger in trying to pluck others from the jaws of America’s vengeful, destructive judicial system. Meting out punishments doesn’t help to mend an offender’s broken life or re-knit the community she harmed. Restoration does.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.

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