As if bragging, my Dad claimed that he got the strap 27 times in grade 7. I do wonder what he was doing that was so bad as to warrant such punishment.

Fast forward 75 years.

I have been supporting Mrs. Barthel in band class. This one particular class had a few students who really liked to play their instruments sabotagingly loud. Enough was enough, and “Gus” was sent into the hall.

As Mrs. Barthel kept on teaching, it was my job to try to get this student to cooperate. As a staff, we had just read the little blue book about restorative practices, and I thought I’d give it a try.

Let’s Have a Chat

Me: “What happened in band class?”

Gus: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Really?”

Gus: “I hate band.”

Me: “But you’re good at it. What did you do that bugged Mrs. Barthel?”

Gus: “Played like really loud. But so were the other guys.”

Me: “What were you thinking at the time you were doing that?”

Gus: “I dunno. It was kind of funny. I just wanted out of band.”

Me: “Who do you think was affected by what you did?”

Gus: “Mrs. Barthel.”

Me: “And?”

Gus: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Do you think you just affected the teacher? Was anyone else affected by what you were doing?”

Gus: “Yeah, the class.”

Me: “So, what are you going to do to make things right?”

Gus: “Say sorry.”

Me: “And?”

Let’s Make Things Right

Our conversation lasted about 15 minutes, and Gus really had a difficult time answering the question about making things right. I gave him some time to think on it, and I came back to talk with him. He still didn’t know what he should do, so I left him to think again. The third time I asked what he was going to do to make things right, he started crying, and said, “Can’t you just punish me?”

In the end, Gus did make things right with his teacher and his peers. He really did change his behaviour in class and in the halls. He seemed to know that we were on his side. There was no need to isolate him, to give him detentions, to yell, to throw chalk, or even to give him the strap 27 times.

Gus was a part of us.

Let’s Love and Struggle

The “good ol’ days of discipline”…well, maybe they weren’t so good. Dunce caps in the corner, chalk-throwing, line-writing, screaming, my way or the highway, maniacal measures were really about shame.

We now know better, right?

We are called to love; to be in right relationship; to reconcile. And yet we struggle. We do that which expedites quiet – the appearance of respect. Our struggle as teachers and parents is in answering the questions: “How does punishment make things right again? How does it repair broken relationships?”

In the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of notes which will attempt to demonstrate how teachers at ACS are trying to implement restorative practices in our classrooms. Please be kind to us as we are a work in progress.

We can promise, though, there will be no chalk throwing—they don’t make that stuff anymore, do they?