Zero tolerance policies, while trying to keep kids accountable for their actions, often result in suspensions for even minor infractions like dress code violations or being tardy. While these behaviors warrant attention, Fatima Rogers, principal of Charles W. Henry School in Philadelphia, and Jody Greenblatt, Esq., deputy of school climate and safety, School District of Philadelphia, questioned what their conduct code and other discipline methods actually did to help students. Working with the Committee for Children, they’re piloting a program merging social emotional learning (SEL) and Restorative Practice (RP) in school. Their goal, as explained in the edWebinar, “SEL and Restorative Practices: Schoolwide Integration Strategies,” is to not only give students the emotional toolkit they need but to also provide a behavioral framework that focuses on support over punishment.
During the presentation, Rogers and Greenblatt discussed several keys to successful implementation of SEL and RP.
- Focus on all school relationships. While the main goal is to improve student and staff interaction, they also worked on administration and staff as well as staff-to-staff relationships. By concentrating on relationships at all three levels, the overall school culture benefited.
- An outside coach can offer a new perspective. Truly integrating SEL and RP requires intense work, especially from the staff. Having a third party can provide a fresh take on a school’s progress and objective insights into what is and isn’t working.
- Planning shouldn’t happen overnight. In preparation, the new practices were introduced in stages. First, the staff met the coach and learned more about SEL and restorative practices. Then, after planning meetings with the leadership team, staff spent two of their four summer PD days in training. During the school year they have monthly check-in meetings, and they also do an overall evaluation at the end of the year.
- Make time for SEL. While the RP can be integrated throughout the school week, students need dedicated time for SEL lessons. At Henry, they have SEL lessons every Monday morning with follow up throughout the week.
- Align lessons to school-specific goals. For instance, elementary-age kids might need lessons in empathy and emotion management. Kindergartners who’ve never been in school before might need basic skills for learning. Middle schoolers might work on peer-conflict resolution.
- Don’t change the code of conduct in name only. As part of embracing restorative practices, administrators eliminated suspensions for grades K-2 and severely decreased suspendable infractions for the other grades. More important, they removed the old offenses as choices from the school discipline system. This gives teachers no option but to use restorative strategies.