Restorative Discipline Trains School Communities with Goal to Reverse School-to-Prison Pipeline

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February 12, 2018 by HCDE-Texas

HCDE’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools Brings Positive Change to School Culture

Recovering from the fallout of school crimes like cyber-bullying or assault is a fragile process within the school community. Punitive actions like suspensions and expulsions are the norm. Now a new tool called “Restorative Discipline” crafted for a new generation of teachers and students is being introduced to local school districts through Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools. The goal is to repair the harm and to foster regret, understanding and acceptance between the aggressor and victim in a process called “circles.”

“Our goal is to stop the school-to-prison pipeline,” said HCDE’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools director Ecomet Burley. “We are confident that all school communities have this power when they have the right tools.”

Restorative Discipline is spreading throughout Harris County schools by a team of trained, tenured educators who are equipped with decades of classroom experience as both teachers and school leaders.

School culture and climate specialist Janice Owolabi brings 12 years of experience as a student intervention and engagement expert from Lamar Consolidated School District. She used a corporate career in computer technology to help children excel in math and science as a teacher. Specialist Julia Andrews is a former 15-year teacher and assistant principal in Houston Independent School District who holds a master’s in education.

The Restorative Discipline model involves relationship-building, bringing the school community together to talk about problems or injustices. Sometimes the act is a violation of trust or act of disrespect. Within the circle are members committed to finding understanding and resolution: students, teachers, administrators, counselors, parents and even community members.

“The system is overwhelmed—educators, students and parents are overwhelmed—and why,” said Owolabi. “From our perspective, student achievement and operations are the two things people are looking at, but a school community has such deeper culture than that.

“Teachers are dealing with emotional issues like Hurricane Harvey, so how do you get to the learning? It’s the relationship piece that seems to be missing these days.”

Through Restorative Discipline, staff goes through training as a team to develop relationships and create values the school community wants to achieve such as respect, trust or honesty.

Within the circle, everyone has a voice, but no one is pointing fingers, according to Andrews.

“But we are here to repair the harm which has happened,” she said. “And the goal is to have a whole-school approach to implement it.”

Currently Bammel Middle School in Spring Independent School District School is using Restorative Discipline with training from the Center for Safe and Secure School team. Research will be collected about numbers of discipline referrals at the end of the school year. The research is being analyzed by the Research and Evaluation Institute at HCDE. Although preliminary research supports success of the Restorative Discipline model, proponents are confident the research will convert more believers.

“Repairing the harm is what it’s all about,” said Andrews. “You build community first and make the community aware of the circle process. When it’s needed, it’s not foreign to anyone.”

A Restorative Discipline Summit is planned for March 29 at Harris County Department of Education, 6300 Irvington. The idea behind the summit is join school staff with mental health and school psychologists to provide resources.

“We will also introduce Restorative Discipline and what it could look like in your classroom or school,” said Andrews.

Register for or get more information about the Restorative Discipline Summit at www.hcde-texas.org/register (by date). For more information about the Center for Safe and Secure Schools initiatives and trainings, call 713-696-2127.

Photo: School culture/climate specialists with the Center for Safe and Secure Schools, a division of HCDE: (left) Janice Owolabi and Julia Andrews

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