Restorative discipline is rooted in the core assumption that everyone wants to be in a good relationship with others and themselves. Everyone wants to feel respected, to have a sense of dignity, to feel as if they matter to others, to feel that they are valued. Building strong and positive relationships within a school community is key to using restorative discipline when students and adults make mistakes. Establishing a school culture where all members of the community are cared for and respected forms the foundation. The use of restorative discipline is effective only if there is a whole school approach that rests on the shared aspiration to build a caring school community.
When something goes wrong in a school setting, the question arises: What needs to happen to respond to what went wrong? Restorative discipline says that what happens next is that the parties involved explore ways to understand the harm and to determine how to fix it. The restorative framework emerges from the assumption that wrongdoing must be examined from the perspective of what harm has happened as the result of a specified incident, what needs to be done to repair the harm and what needs to happen so it does not occur again.
Whether the harm involved breaking a rule, harming another person, or disrupting a classroom, the initial focus is on the specific harm of that event. To understand the specific harm, we must work with those who were harmed: this is absolutely necessary. No one else can define the harm. The institution or third parties, such as the teacher or principal, cannot define the harm. A restorative response attends to those harmed by a specific indicator to understand how they were affected. The focus is on repair. What are the obligations for repairs that emerge from the harm? What can the wrongdoer do to repair the harm to individuals and to the community of the classroom or school? What can the community (friends, classroom) do to repair the harm to the person hurt? What do the students or adults who are affected by the harm need in order to feel safe again in the school?
The restorative questions used in a variety of formal and informal processes are:
- What Happened?
- What were you thinking at the time? How did you feel? What have you thought of since?
- Who was affected by what happened?
- What are your strengths?
- What needs to be done to repair the harm?
- What needs to be done to prevent it from happening in the future?