Typically, schools and teachers know how to dish out consequences and punishments to students that misbehave. The challenge is finding an effective way of addressing recidivism.

The same students seem to do the same behaviors time and time again. The students begin to either not fear punishment, not know how to fix their behaviors, or only avoid behaviors because they know they will get in trouble--not because they truly understand why the behaviors are inappropriate. Punishment without coaching students through behaviors does not result in social and emotional growth in students--it only leads to temporary band-aids on much larger issues.

A very effective way for students to learn why their behaviors are inappropriate and why is to have them repair the harm they have caused. This is one of the most important parts of restorative practices in the classroom, which is an alternative to traditional discipline. Many students lack empathy for others and cannot put themselves into the shoes of others impacted by their actions. For example, a student that is tardy might not think it is a big deal, yet it causes the teacher to have to open the door, it might derail an important discussion or directions being given, and it might distract other students from their work by paying attention to who is coming in the door, let alone the detriment it causes to the student that was tardy by missing classroom instruction.

One of the very first things we should consider when addressing a student that is misbehaving is getting down to the root of the problem. Are they going through a tough time? Did they get enough sleep? Do they actually know that what they are doing is wrong? Next, ask the student how their actions have impacted others. This might take some prompting, but students will quickly catch on. Also, ask the students the damage that is caused to their own success by engaging in harmful behaviors. Once the student understands the personal impact of their own actions on and how it impacts others, it is time for them to repair the harm.

It is important for students to do a lot of the thinking, with coaching from the educator, when repairing the harm. When a student comes up with what they can do, there is much more ownership and willingness to follow through with their actions. Simply telling a student to apologize before building empathy for others and the harm it caused will likely make an apology just an act of compliance. Once the student has repaired the harm, reintegrate them back into the classroom or situation that they came from. We should now be able to put the incident behind us and move on to what we are all here to do, educate students!

By helping students understand how their actions impacted others, their own success, and empowering them to come up with a way in which they can repair the harm and make things right, we will truly start students on the journey of lasting change and make them think before acting when engaging in that behavior again. Restorative practices take more time and effort, but it is well worth it!

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