Certain misbehaviors trigger us more than others.
Lying. Stealing. Talking back.
When students act in this way, our posture stiffens, our tone sharpens, our glare , and our fears increase.
Our brains deduce that behavior, displayed in this manner, at this young age, surely leads to tragic outcomes in the future.
That’s what I wrestled with the moment I realized my newly adopted daughter took a hundred dollar bill from my drawer, on her first day of first grade.
Is this the beginning of her involvement in a crime ring?
That’s where the mind of a teacher naturally went when her student blatantly lied about his behavior on the playground.
What happens to adults who continually lie?
That’s what happened to a staff member who caught multiple children stealing at the yearly book fair.
Is this the beginning of a life of crime for these children?
As leaders, educators and parents, we must continually resist the urge to play out our worst fears in response to misbehavior.
One of our primary jobs is to teach children through their behavior and misbehavior, while they are young enough to mold and shape.
Restorative responses call us to work with children to consider these important questions:
Who was wronged/ hurt?
How might I make things right?
Are there opportunities to repair the relational damage?
Our less informed and historic responses push us to think first about consequences that inflict the most appropriate pain, to act as a deterrent in future situations. And there is a role for consequences that are natural and costly for children who misbehave. But are we stopping short? Are we providing opportunity to right wrongs and repair relationships? These, I would argue, are some of the brave underpinnings required for complex, democratic, diverse communities like ours, to thrive.
Simple, yet excruciating, moves, such as asking for forgiveness, are some of the most valuable lessons students can learn.
Admitting a mistake and moving through it with grace, is a fundamental skill sorely needed in our world.
Connecting our actions to the impact they have on others is a critical concept our students need to succeed in the future.
On the heels of an offense, this process can seem slow and weak. Adults who expect quick judgement and consequences might get nervous. They might wonder if students are “getting off easy” or getting away with it. Leaders who flex protocols to include restorative responses may sense push back or critique. Nevertheless, leaders like us need courage to press towards what is right, what is empirically effective, and what is aligned with student learning.
If we want to create restorative environments in our schools, then we must be brave enough to interrupt the habitual/ natural responses we make in the wake of student misbehavior.
We have to be centered enough to slow down and consider the long range development of our youth.
We have to resist the temptation to slap a quick, painful consequence on an shame-sensitive young child.
We have to be strong enough to sit in the lack of clarity, while all parties consider real impact.
And we have to be creative enough to come up with responses that come from a human need to be reconnected and made right with one another.
This is the restorative way.
And it might sound like weakness to some.
To me, it sounds like hope.