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A shift away from zero tolerance will improve school discipline (+video)

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What changed is that City Springs now employs a program of "restorative practices" to improve the school climate. Restorative practices are interpersonal processes that can be implemented by school staff. They require no new personnel and no major financial investment. They do, however, require training and a commitment to a different way of thinking and behaving among school leaders, teachers, and other staff.

City Springs isn’t alone in their success story. For six years in a row, West Philadelphia High School was on Pennsylvania’s “Persistently Dangerous Schools” list. Then, in 2008, a program of restorative practices helped reduce the number of violent acts by 52 percent and by 45 percent in the next school year. Sadly the program was discontinued after major changes in school leadership and staff, but this year the school is again undertaking a two-year program to re-implement a restorative practices program, along with several other Philadelphia middle and high schools.

In Detroit’s Hamtramck School District – one of the most diverse and disadvantaged in Michigan – discipline referrals in seven schools fell by half after they adopted restorative practices. They trained their school staff in the use of “talking circles” that proactively provide opportunities for students to express themselves and build relationships between one another and with staff.

Teachers make “affective statements” through which they react to both positive and negative student behavior by clearly expressing their feelings. When dealing with incidents, they put responsibility on students to solve the problems they have created. They ask “restorative questions” which cause students to reflect on how their behavior has affected others and how they are going to “make things right.”

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