How One School Dramatically Decreased Discipline Numbers

Last week, in “How A Sloppy Joe Changed the Way I Teach” I sharedone teacher’s true story about a restorative shift in her approach to students.

This week I share how one school has used three restorative practices to dramatically decrease their discipline numbers.


Urbana Middle School (UMS) embarked on a whole-school restorative shift in the summer of 2015. A year and a half later, they are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their restorative labor. 

Out of class behavioral referrals by teachers are down by 20%.

Fights are down by 35%, with a steep drop in REPEAT fights by the same kids.

Out of school suspensions are down by a dramatic 67%.

What are the staff, faculty, students, and administrators of UMS doing to help improve school climate and connection?

1. RELATE: Daily Listening Circles and Team Building Activities


Listening circles are the perfect venue for practicing social and emotional skills such collaboration, empathy, patience, and understanding.

At Urbana Middle School, each staff and faculty person facilitates a DAILY 20 minute community building activity with a group of students during the morning Advisory period. Other schools do this during various flexible times that are build into the school week.

The team-building activities wary. On any given day, the kids may be:

  • seated in a circle sharing answers to a set of community building questions (What is the most surprising thing that ever happened to you?)
  • seated in a circle to discuss an ethical dilemma (What would you do in this situation?)
  • seated in a circle to process something that happened in the cafeteria (How did you feel when it happened? What were you wishing for? What is one small thing you can do to make it better?)

The change did not happen over night. Both students and staff took time to get used to the circles. Social skills and cohesion build slowly as people change their expectations and begin to make a restorative shift.

Sitting in circles daily also prepares students for listening and problem-solving in other kinds of restorative and conflict circles.

Interested in trying out classroom circles or learning how to make them more fun?

Brief (one page) Guidelines for hosting a listening circle

Full (68 page) Manual on PeaceMaking Circles from Center for Restorative Practices in San Francisco

2. REPAIR: Informal Restorative Conversations


It turns out that difficult conversations need “containers”.

Often, when we try to “talk about it” without pausing and creating a restorative intention, we dig ourselves deeper into Dis-Connection.

At UMS, many students and staff members are experimenting with having connecting conversations after small conflicts.

Some people are using

These sheets ask people to pause and reflect on their FEELINGS and NEEDS around the conflict – before they talk about it together.

Some of the short restorative conversations (7-10 minutes in length) are facilitated by a trained staff member; others happen fluidly between people.

The difference is the intention. When people are curious about each other’s Feelings, Needs, and Decisions, they are able to treat each other with dignity and find a win-win.

3. RESTORE: Formal Restorative Dialogue Circles


When conflict has been “stuck” for a while or the harm is deeper, UMS students and faculty engage in formal conflict circles facilitated by a trained staff member.

These dialogue based Restorative Circles derive from the process developed by Dominic Barter in the Brazilian favelas.

The goal of the circles is to get to the root of the problem by helping participants hear the underlying unmet needs in the conflict. Sometimes, participants use tools such as Conflict Cards to increase clarity and mutual understanding.

An example of a classroom-wide Restorative Circle can be found in the Listening Underneath blog post.

In this way, the daily community building circles, informal restorative conversations, and formal conflict circles work together to weave a more restorative building culture and community.

These are three examples of restorative practices that have helped UMS decrease their discipline numbers.

A whole-school restorative shift

What are Restorative Practices?
  • Practices that help people RELATE better
  • Practices that help REPAIR small rifts in relationships
  • Practices that RESTORE dignity and community after harmful acts



Empty Classroom: Photo by Allison Meier (2008 CC BY 2.0)

Kids in Circle: KQED news – A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California (Sam Pasarow/Edna Brewer Middle School)

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