Federal data show discipline incidents have increased at public schools nationwide. However, The DeKalb County School District says it’s seen a 47 percent reduction in total disciplinary events at schools using a program called Restorative Practices.
“It is actually looking at the cause of behavior to try to determine what causes the student to act out and getting to the bottom of it,” said Vasanne Tinsley, the district’s deputy superintendent for student support and intervention.
Restorative Practices urges teachers and students to engage in frequent discussions to address problems early and possibly prevent disruptions. Teachers step in when a student starts acting up, and urge him or her to talk about what’s bothering them.
“Some of the disciplinary infractions are because of students having frustration because of maybe home situations, academic difficulties, and things of that sort,” Tinsley said. “So, the conversation allows the student to actually express what’s going on so that we can provide support for them as needed.”
The program also provides counseling and mental health services for students and families. Ten DeKalb schools have piloted the program so far. Some of those schools also use a program called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to help reshape behaviors. The program approaches classroom behavior as a subject. Teachers reteach and practice expected behaviors as needed. More than 1,200 Georgia schools have adopted PBIS.
“The key is to implement PBIS with fidelity, which means you have to stay with it,” said Georgia Deputy Superintendent of External Affairs Garry McGiboney in a prior interview. “You have to continue it. You have to refresh the training every year with the staff, because it’s not easy. Changing behavior is not easy.”
The Clayton County schools and the Atlanta Public Schools also use both programs. Tinsley said they work well in tandem. DeKalb plans to expand Restorative Practices to more schools next year.