Restorative Discipline: Using Habits of Mind to Resolve Conflict and Restore Relationships

 

By Sharon Brown

Imagine sitting at a table across from someone you had a disagreement with and working it out.

Imagine going to a safe place to meet with a teacher to settle a problem you are having in class.

These are just two examples of scenarios that became reality for many Furr high school students and their entire school community.

Location: The Thinkery: Designed for Restorative Justice

The Thinkery, a safe place where students, faculty, staff, parents, guardians, and community members could come to resolve conflict and restore relationships.

The Thinkery, a mixed-furniture space with a round wooden table and four chairs, a rectangular wooden table and 10 chairs, a five-piece sectional of cloth sofa pieces in the shape of a circle, and extra chairs for larger groups.

The Thinkery, a room on the edge of a high school campus away from the hustle and bustle of the main building where most of the student body took classes.

The Thinkery, a large, open, L-shaped room offering serenity and calm with light blue walls and floor, butterflies hanging from the ceiling and stained-glass windows in a wall inside the room.

The Thinkery, including an office, housed stuffed animals, board games, table throws, laptops, printers, file cabinets and files, office chairs, pens, pencils, highlighters, paper, posters, chart paper – all necessary to produce a desirable, educational end.

The Importance of the Written Word

The written word was necessary to foster the desired behavior change. De-escalation would often take place in the form of writing all thoughts down before speaking. Writing the answers to these pointed questions gave time to think about the facts concerning the situation from each point of view. It also yielded a way for the participants to express their side of the story. For example:

  1. What happened?
  2. What were you thinking or feeling at that time?
  3. Who was affected?
  4. How were they affected?
  5. What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

The next fill-in-the-blank caused them to make a commitment to change their own behavior in their own words:

I will _________________________________________________________________.

The Role of the Facilitator

The facilitator’s demeanor is crucially important. The facilitator must be one who is non-judgmental with a caring heart believing that behavior change is possible. Sensing the mood of each participant is important and, if necessary, the level of aggression must be gauged. Being able to remain calm and composed is of the utmost important when greeting and speaking to all participants involved. Preferably, de-escalation would have taken place before meeting with the facilitator. However, if necessary, the facilitator must be able to de-escalate participants. All parties should be escorted to The Thinkery at the same time or within a few minutes of each other to make best use of the facilitator’s time. Follow-ups are necessary whether in the form of a brief check-in/check-out, a re-iteration of the Habit of Mind chosen, and/or implementation of additional Habits of Mind.

The Habits of Mind: Skill Sets for Behavior Change

After resolution of the problem, the Habits of Mind were instrumental for changing behavior. This behavior change was chosen by and was the responsibility of each participant. The will to change was incumbent upon each one wanting to change.

A copy of The Habits of Mind was handed to each person present. The instructions were clear:

  1. Read the document in its entirety.
  2. Based on the “I will” statement previously written, each participant would choose a Habit of Mind that would help execute the “I will” statement.
  3. Each participant would use a yellow highlighter to highlight the entire Habit of Mind chosen.
  4. Using a pen or pencil, each participant would underline the Habit’s title.
  5. Using a pen or pencil, each participant would underline the particular action to be taken.

For example: I will stop fighting.

Habit of Mind Chosen: Managing Impulsivity

Action to be taken: think before speaking or acting.

As a result, a second “I will” statement would be written using the chosen Habit of Mind: I will manage my impulsivity by thinking before speaking or acting.

The form would be signed and dated by each participant.

Conclusion

This Restorative Discipline technique, along with Habits of Mind, is a model for others to resolve conflict and restore relationships in countless situations. What is presented occurred in a high school. However, the application of the technique can take place in an unlimited number of settings, i.e. homes, businesses, the workplace, worship and community centers, colleges and universities, organizational meetings, all levels of public and private schools – wherever people are.

 

A former school counselor, school support staff member, and Restorative Discipline Coordinator, Sharon Brown utilizes this Restorative Discipline technique as a school teacher with individuals of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds as well as low socioeconomic status to empower them with newfound ways to self-correct destructive behaviors and become life-long learners. For Restorative Discipline inquiries, she can be reached at bigideasunlimited@yahoo.com.