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Looking at Discipline Differently: Bringing Restorative Discipline to the Classroom

By Lindsey Erin Feltis, CEI Intern

In recent years, schools that are implementing restorative practices have reported stronger teacher-student relationships, more equitable disciplinary measures, and decreases in office referrals and suspensions (Anyon, et al., 2016; Gregory, Clawson, Davis & Gerewitz, 2016; Lustick, 2017 ). In one experimental study, Anyon and colleagues (2016) looked at data from over 90,000 students from 180 schools in the United States. They found that students who participated in restorative interventions were significantly less likely to be referred to the office and/or be suspended the following semester.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with two Canadian middle-school educators, Andrea Spoltore and Cherie Simmons, and Jackie Lauer, CEO & Founder of Heart of Culture to get their input on restorative discipline and compassion in the classroom. As Lauer so eloquently put, it is time we put the ‘humanity back into conflict.’ So here are some tips for educators who are ready to start looking at discipline differently and bring restorative discipline to their classrooms (Lauer, 2018):

Many elementary, middle and secondary schools already have mission statements, or guiding values, that they share with their students and their families every year. Many of these statements/values may already align with some of the core values of restorative discipline. Cultivating empathetic, non-judgmental school cultures built on mutual respect among principals, teachers and students (Mullet, 2014) can have a profound impact on preventing and managing students’ misbehaviors.

Build meaningful relationships with your students

Restorative discipline focuses first on relationships, and second on rules. Both Spoltore and Simmons, who have been educators for 23 years and 18 years respectively, agree that building positive, meaningful relationships with students can ‘prevent everything.’ Both Spoltore and Simmons recognize that in rare cases, teachers may be the only caring adults in students’ lives, so it is imperative that they set positive examples for their students, and be authentic in all of their interactions with them.

If, and when, students do misbehave and discipline is required, use Zehr’s guiding questions when looking for a solution. Ask ‘who has been hurt?’ and identify the extent of the harm. Ask ‘what are their needs?’ and identify what needs to be done in order to have those needs met. Ask ‘whose obligations are these?’ and determine where the accountability lies. Ask ‘who has a stake in the situation?’ and recognize that in school settings, conflicts may impact entire classrooms. Finally, ask yourself, ask those who have been harmed, and ask those who have caused harm, ‘what is the appropriate process to involve in an effort to put things right?’ so that all can partake in the collaborative process of healing.

Focus on re-integration

Finally, if and when, students do cause harm to one another, focus on the re-integration of those students into the larger classroom community and give them opportunities to take responsibility for their actions. Too often our approach to conflict is to ‘put it in the past and move on,’ when in reality we could be empowering students to learn from their mistakes and change their behaviors in the future.


Anyon, Y., Gregory, A., Stone, S., Farrar, J., Jenson, J. M., McQueen, J., … & Simmons, J. (2016). Restorative interventions and school discipline sanctions in a large urban school district. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1663-1697.

Gregory, A., Clawson, K., Davis E., & Gerewitz, J. (2016). The promise of restorative practices to transform teacher-student relationships and achieve equity in school discipline. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 26:4, 325-353.

Lustick, H. (2017). Making discipline relevant: Toward a theory of culturally responsive positive schoolwide discipline. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 20:5, 681-695.

Mullet, J. H. (2014). Restorative discipline: From getting even to getting well. Children & Schools, 36:3, 157-162.

Amstutz, L.S. & Mullet, J. H. (2014). The little book of restorative discipline for schools: Teaching responsibility; creating caring climates. New York, New York: Good Books..

Zehr, H. (2014). The little book of restorative justice. New York, New York: Good Books.


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