Over the years, we’ve heard the comment that while most things in schools can be handled restoratively–and that it is the preferred approach–there are just some things that need to be handled through the traditional, punitive discipline system. Each time we hear this, we wonder…”Why can’t everything be done restoratively?” And, each time we ask ourselves, the answer is “It can!” Let me explain why.

Restorative Justice (or restorative practices) is based on a relationship centered philosophy that says we treat people with respect; we hold relationships as central to a healthy learning community; we take responsibility for our actions, feelings, and thoughts; we repair harm when it happens, often face to face with those we harmed, including the wider community; and lastly, we reintegrate those who have made things right by bringing them back into the community, back into the circle, back into wholeness with all.

With this philosophy, wouldn’t it be possible to treat every disciplinary action restoratively? Why would there be a need to resort to the punitive model? The main question schools need to ask themselves is, how can we create all aspects of our discipline system in a restorative way? Suspensions, for sure, can be handled restoratively. But what about expulsions? What about truancy? What about the hardest cases you can imagine?

We shouldn’t have to resort to the punitive model to solve problems that restorative practices seemingly can’t handle. It is an issue of willingness to revise all aspects of our discipline system, to revise all aspects so that it is based 100% on restorative values and principles.

We’ve seen very successful in-school suspension rooms which are based on restorative principles. We’ve seen restorative truancy around the country, though some adhere to restorative values more than others.

So, before you think your school has to delegate some of the harder cases to the traditional punitive system, while the rest can be handled restoratively, think again. Try going back to the drawing board and seeing how each and every time you discipline students, whatever method or process you use, it includes the above listed restorative principles and values. You may be surprised at what you can do–and what students can do when encouraged. It’s time for everything to be handled restoratively.

As a last note, we all know that our prison system here in the U.S. is incredibly punitive. What would it look like if it were designed restoratively? In this video, you might get some ideas. It is a short clip on how Norway deals with their inmates, when they isolate them for a time from society.

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