Dissertation Spotlight: Examining the Relationship Between Restorative Practices & School Climate
Many schools have moved away from punitive discipline measures, choosing restorative practices instead. Restorative practices also promote equity. So how does this approach impact the school climate? Akil Boucaud, EdD, asked that very question while earning his Doctorate of Education from Concordia University-Portland.
Focusing on elementary schools, Boucaud’s dissertation is titled, “A Correlational Study Examining the Relationship Between Restorative Practices and School Climate in Selected Elementary Schools in a Large Mid-Atlantic Urban School District.” He discusses the differences between punitive discipline and restorative practices and how each has a direct impact on the school climate. Boucaud also touches on the teacher’s perception of the effects of punishment and how the students’ behavior changed when restorative practices were used.
Boucaud is a vice principal in the Newark Public School District in Newark, New Jersey and he says he’s been asked to present his research at several schools throughout New Jersey and has facilitated a professional development workshop regarding his research. Let’s dig deeper to find out what Boucaud was able to better understand regarding the relationship between restorative practices and the school climate.
Restorative practices vs. punitive discipline
Boucaud’s goal was to begin to understand how restorative practices changed the students’ behavior towards building positive relationships between themselves and the faculty, thus improving the school climate.
One of the first things Boucaud states is the difference between discipline and punishment. School discipline is defined as “consequences for school rule violations and inappropriate behavior, intended to change the behavior of students.” It was determined that Latino and African-American students were often punished more harshly than Caucasian students because minority students were more often singled out to be sent to the principal’s office. This frequently resulted in suspensions that lasted five days or longer.
Also, many of the schools where Boucaud conducted his research used discipline methods that were far from effective in helping them reach their goals. Punitive discipline was common in schools that practiced zero tolerance. This often resulted in a poor school climate and almost double the number of suspensions as were found in the 1970s. It also affected how the students eventually fared once they left high school; many were part of what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
The impact of the school-to-prison pipeline
Boucaud defines the school-to-prison pipeline as “the process of when a school punitively punishes a student which results in suspension or expulsion and ultimately leads that student to prison.” Because of the effects of punitive discipline on the school climate, little was done to help establish a positive rapport between students and faculty. This perpetuated the poor behavior, causing the student to lean more and more toward the negative factors that were affecting their lives.
The threat of removal was the intended message of zero tolerance and was designed to correct bad behaviors, but its use inherently had the opposite effect. Instead of being afraid that a teacher or administrator would remove them from the school climate, students seemed to prefer it, continuing to enhance the negative environment produced by the punitive discipline. Once the cycle was created, it only served to perpetuate itself.
The benefits of restorative practices
The purpose of Boucaud’s study was to reinforce the positive effects of restorative practices when used to resolve conflicts between students and faculty members. Restorative practices are defined as “positive discipline strategies or methods that build positive relationships which prevent or resolve conflicts.” By using these practices to resolve conflicts, the climate within the school becomes more positive and the students are given an opportunity to focus on learning in an atmosphere that is both focused and productive. As the school climate improves, negative behaviors begin to decrease.
Managing negative behaviors with specific restorative practices helps educators maintain a positive environment. Through his study of three mid-Atlantic schools, Boucaud determined that when restorative practices were employed, students responded by moving away from the negative behaviors and began working toward positive solutions to the problems they were experiencing.
By encouraging positive relationships between both students and faculty, it is believed that the use of restorative practices can have a direct impact on the improvement of the school’s climate. Helping students improve academically requires that members within the system to begin to think in a proactive fashion. As stated in Boucaud’s study, students should be encouraged to learn how to resolve conflicts and build healthy relationships between their peers and faculty. They should be given the chance to learn in an environment that allows them to be as productive as possible. A positive learning environment offers long-standing benefits for students that last far past graduation.
Boucaud concludes that other studies should be performed on a much larger scale in order to address the issues of punitive discipline and how that approach affects a student’s ability to succeed. Boucaud also encourages the use of comparison groups to determine the benefits of different restorative practices and how they affect students at various stages in their education.