April 11, 2022

What is restorative discipline and how does it relate to social media & technology

On one hand, social media and technology are powerful tools. On the other hand, they are distracting toys. As the way students use social media and technology continues to evolve, what does that mean for school discipline policies? Teachers and students alike are tired of silent lunches and after-school detentions. And we all know that scare and restrict tactics when it comes to phones and social media is not effective.  

A Gallup and NewSchools Venture Fund report found that 89% of students say they use digital learning tools multiple days per week. With technology use in the classroom continuing to increase, what can schools do to empower students to use social media and technology positively, discipline infractions appropriately, and address the many complications that arise daily from social media and other apps and technology?

Enter Restorative Discipline

Restorative Discipline is a whole-school, relational approach to strengthening school culture and addressing student behavior that fosters belonging over exclusion, social engagement over control, and meaningful accountability over punishment. As technology and social media become more ingrained in our lives, it’s important to weave in practices that teach lessons in response to mistakes, rather than simply punish wrongdoing.

Restorative discipline involves getting all parties together to come up with a solution. An important aspect of restorative discipline is that it encourages students to come up with their own solution to conflicts, instead of faculty doling out the same punishments no matter the offense. For example, taking away a phone because a student is using it might cause resentment and not be as effective as empowering a student to use other types of technology at appropriate times as a tool throughout a lesson.

However, it’s not just about students coming together to find a solution. It also involves regular communication between students and teachers to prevent problems, including daily morning meetings or regular student-teacher check-ins. These actions aim to improve student-teacher relationships, prevent conflict, and solve problems in a positive, inclusive manner.  

What does this mean for students? They learn how to navigate conflict resolution, take ownership of their behavior, and practice empathy and forgiveness. After implementing restorative practices, hopefully, educators won’t hear “this punishment doesn’t make sense” from students as often.

Why Schools Should Adopt Restorative Discipline

Restorative discipline is not only favored by educators, but by students as well! Studies indicate that school-based restorative discipline  improves school climate and connectedness, promotes student health and well-being, lowers rates of repeating offenders, and reduces racial disparities in school discipline. Restorative practices address the needs of students, schools, and communities in ways that complement or substitute for existing punitive systems. 

The concept of restorative discipline is based on three pillars: Harms and needs, obligation, and engagement. Getting the responsible, impacted, affected, and supporting parties (usually friends or family of the affected parties), as well as the appropriate faculty involved in the healing process has proven to solve conflict in a positive manner. Plus–it helps improve students’ decision-making and problem-solving skills.

Students are bound to make mistakes, especially when it comes to the ever-changing ways they can use social media and technology. Restorative discipline practices allows students to make these mistakes…and then learn from them by understanding how their mistake affected others and what they can do to make amends.

The Circle of Restorative Discipline

One of the biggest issues with traditional disciplinary methods is that the punishment does not always fit the crime. Does it always make sense to send a student to in-school suspension, taking them away from learning, for sending a quick text? 

Restorative discipline focuses on encouraging students to take ownership of their behavior and be an active participant in problem solving. One common restorative discipline practice is called “The Circle,” and it’s a way for students to resolve conflicts without adults being active participants. The Circle brings all parties together to discuss the issue and settle on a fair plan to repair the harm.

“At The Social Institute, we know the importance of championing student voices. Restorative discipline involves the student in the discussion, like we do through #WinAtSocial Lessons, empowering and equipping them to make positive, high-character decisions.”

— Laura Tierney, Founder & CEO, The Social Institute

How Your Students Can Benefit

Restorative discipline isn’t just effective at solving conflict. When implemented correctly, a school community will see other benefits as well. For example, when six elementary and middle schools in Texas piloted restorative discipline programs in an attempt to deal with their suspension rates, they experienced a 70% reduction in in-school suspensions and a 77% reduction in out-of-school suspensions. 

Detention and suspension are continually criticized as “prison-like” punishments that are ineffective at solving real problems. In fact, schools are finding that punishments like in-school suspension are more harmful than helpful. Taking students out of class and isolating them negatively impacts their education, and if done repeatedly, can cause students to fall behind, or even fail their classes. In addition to keeping students in class, several studies show that restorative discipline reduces the “school-to-prison” pipeline more so than traditional forms of discipline. 

Other benefits of restorative discipline include improving relationships between students and teachers, less destructive conflict, meaningful dialogue between students, and academic and social achievements. Allowing students to “coach up” on topics that teachers and school leaders are not as familiar with, like social media and new technology, gives students a sense of responsibility for their own actions and builds mutual respect between school communities.

Check back later for part two of this blog post in which we will dive into how to implement restorative discipline practices within your classroom. If you are ready to learn more about The Social Institute’s positive approach to fueling student health, happiness, and future success, contact us for a personalized demo now.