Restorative Discipline

Restorative Discipline

What is Restorative Discipline?

Restorative school discipline is a systemic approach to discipline that works to:

  • account for the perspective of all those involved and affected,
  • hold people accountable for their behavior,
  • repair the harm caused,
  • restore a positive environment for all people in a school community, and
  • provide students consequences that will give them the opportunity  to develop the skills necessary to avoid engaging in similarly harmful behavior in the future.

In contrast, a punitive system of discipline relies on exclusion (e.g., suspension and expulsion) as a consequence, removing students from school/instructional time and denying them the opportunity to truly learn from their mistakes.  Punitive discipline as a response to bullying and school violence often results from zero-tolerance policies which focus on punishing students for any infraction, regardless of the underlying circumstances or context. 



The Illinois School Bullying Prevention Task Force recommends that

punitive discipline should be abolished and replaced with restorative discipline.



Relating Restorative Discipline to Comprehensive School Transformation

The Task Force cites extensive research which finds that punitive discipline is ineffective in changing student bullying behaviors and does not improve overall school safety.  Because punitive systems of discipline do not provide students and adults with the necessary skills to respond differently and more positively to a bullying behavior should it arise again, it is associated with an increase in disciplinary infractions.  Research also reveals that punitive and exclusionary discipline is associated with higher rates of future anti-social behavior and involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Systems of punitive and exclusionary discipline also disproportionately impact students of color, particularly African-American students.  African-American students are more frequently suspended because of subjective disciplinary actions and are more likely to be disciplined more severely for minor misconduct.  It is critical to note that there is no conclusive evidence that these findings are because African-American students engage in more school misconduct or violent behaviors.  Research also reveals that LGB/T students and students with disabilities are more often and more harshly disciplined than their white, non-LGB/T peers. 

The Task Force recommends that school personnel use incidences of bullying and schools violence as opportunities to help students understand the consequences of their actions and develop their social and emotional skills.  These systems of restorative discipline include comprehensive efforts to help students learn alternative ways to handle bullying behaviors and school violence and the opportunity to practice those until fluency is gained.