The book is based on their decades of work in peacemaking, restorative justice and education. It proposes an approach to student discipline called Discipline that Restores (DTR) that they developed a number of years ago, and that has been successfully used with student of all ages – from kindergarten to college.
Ron is the co-founder and director of the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University in California. Prior to that he founded, and for nearly 20 years directed, the Fresno County Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP), the first restorative justice program in California.
Roxanne is a teacher at Raisin City Elementary School, in rural Fresno County. She has taught for 20 years in both elementary and middle schools, and it was during that time that she and Ron developed the ideas and structure of DTR. She has trained more than 200 teachers to use this approach in their classrooms.
The book is based on excellent research as well as experience, although it is presented more as a friendly guide to teachers than as an academic text. Ron’s background is in mathematics, and he has brought his analytical skills to both inform and explain his and Roxanne’s approach to conflict resolution. As a result, the book proposes a comprehensive disciplinary process that preserves the safety of students and teachers while treating conflict itself as an opportunity for learning.
The Claassens have organized the book around a flowchart for teachers and administrators to use in responding to conflict among students and between students and teachers. There is no apparent reason that it could not also be used to address teacher-administration conflict as well.
DTR follows a strategy of “constructive escalation” of interventions designed to reach a cooperative resolution that addresses the interests and responsibilities of the parties to a conflict. By constructive escalation, the Claassens mean a series of increasingly focused interventions that can be used by teachers to address problems. This begins with advance preparation of both teachers and students for using DTR. This leads to a cooperative process in which they negotiate a “Respect Agreement” that outlines specific behaviour by which the teacher agrees to show respect to the students as well as similarly specific behavior demonstrating students’ respect for the teacher. Similar conduct is identified to guide students in respecting themselves and other students and to help everyone show respect for the school facilities and equipment.
More conventional disciplinary processes also escalate, although each step tends to further separate the parties and to increasingly rely on the formal authority of the next authority figure to handle the matter (teacher to dean/vice-principal to principal).
While separation and imposition of decisions may sometimes be necessary, the Claassens have found that it is rarely needed in schools using DTR. Roxanne reports on only two cases in 9 years in which a student was removed from her school (once at the request of the student and his parents). Fresno Pacific University uses DTR for its student discipline system, and each year only 1 case has come to the student court. The rest were settled cooperatively.
The basic premise of DTR is that conflict presents a learning opportunity – a teachable moment – that itself is an important part of students’ education. It proposes a very structured response to conflict that protects the teacher from being either permissive or authoritarian in response to disrespect and misbehavior. The Claassens argue that while the process may initially feel mechanical, it quickly becomes second nature (which is true of most authentic solutions to problems).
At the first sign of conflict, the teacher uses “usual constructive reminders” which are verbal or non-verbal cues to students when they create problems in the class. If that is not enough, the teacher reminds the student of the Respect Agreement they have all signed and helps them consider whether they are keeping their part of the agreement. If these approaches are effective in helping the students to change their behavior, then there should be some form of celebration. This reinforces the collective values of the class.
If the conflict is not resolved, then the teacher uses active listening and a modified form of I-messages to attempt to understand and resolve the underlying problem. Again, if this resolves the problem there is celebration. If not, the teacher moves to the next stage.
That stage brings in Ron’s brilliant Four Options Model, an elegant diagram outlining the four power options for resolving a conflict. This, and the Claassens’ description of a conflict cycle, are worth the price of the book by themselves, although there is much more that is of similar value.
Other mechanisms are described, from the student/teacher meeting, to the family conference to the Thinkery (a kind of time-out place to which students are sent when either they or the teacher need an opportunity to cool down). The final, rarely used, escalation vehicle is the school authority structure with its power to expel. Even here the hope is that it might motivate participants to return to the Family Conference, and as mentioned above, that typically happens.
The Claassens take turns explaining DTR. This works well in that Roxanne can offer illustrations and lessons she has learned while teaching, for example, and Ron can reflect on the principles involved. And vice versa.
One requirement for those intending to use DTR is that there be accountability and not permissiveness in the face of conflict. While this may seem to involve more work initially, the Claassens argue convincingly that this soon pays off afterward in reduced time spent on discipline.
I mentioned earlier that DTR, while written for classroom discipline, could be applied in a number of other settings. One can imagine a series of books and training materials on Workplace Discipline that Restores, Parental Discipline that Restores, Juvenile Discipline that Restores and perhaps even Prison Discipline that Restores. Perhaps the Claassens should take a page from the “Chick Soup” folks and create a franchise.
Get a copy of this book. Read it and start putting its ideas to work. Pursue constructive escalation. Use discipline that restores.