A Principal Takes A Chance

A high school principal called me after attending a Restitution Level One session.  He admitted that he had been skeptical of Restitution prior to attending, but that he now understood the theory and agreed with it in principle, although he wasn’t sure how this could be implemented in the high school setting.

He shared that a few days after our session, he was informed that someone had brought a case of beer into the change rooms after the high school hockey team practice, and a number of players had been caught drinking.

The Principal’s first reaction was to find a job for the students to do around the rink as a consequence for their actions.  Prior to attending the Restitution session, he had thought that this approach was what Restitution was all about.  He now understood, however, that Restitution is not about doing something to make up for what you have done but rather is about the internal process of examining one’s beliefs and becoming the person you want to be.

He was concerned that parents may not understand what he was trying to do, and be upset if he did not impose immediate consequences for the kids who had been drinking.  He decided that he would take the risk in spite of this, and was prepared to explain to parents the philosophy behind this approach.

He gathered the whole team together and asked them what harm had been done by drinking in the change rooms.  The students began discussing how there were people in the community who would use this incident as proof that they were irresponsible kids.  They talked about their frustration with feeling judged as “bad kids”, and the public perception that “Kids nowadays are out of control.”

The Principal then asked them if it was important to them to be responsible people.  They agreed that it was.  He then challenged them to come up with some way they could repair the damage that had been done to their public perception.  The students began brainstorming about what they could do to show that they are responsible people.  They decided to ask the rink committee if they could do some work around the rink to fix their mistake.

The Principal found it ironic that the students had come up with an idea that was very similar to what he would have imposed on them if he had taken his usual discipline approach.  What was really shocking to him, however, was the difference in the students.  Normally, the students would grumble and complain about having to complete the consequence.  In this situation, however, not only was there no complaining, but students who had not even been in attendance at the rink the night of the incident came to help out with the tasks.  They explained that they were concerned about the perception of the team, and that as members of the team, they wanted to show that they were all responsible kids.

The other surprise was that instead of receiving phone calls of complaint from parents, the Principal received calls thanking him for his approach.  The parents explained that they felt compelled to call him and let him know that the way he had handled this situation had taught their children more than they had ever learned by being disciplined strictly by consequences.  The Principal was amused that he had never received phone calls thanking him for disciplining students before!

It often takes a leap of faith to try using Restitution the first time.  The reward of taking that chance is the growth and learning that we can see in our students when they are given the opportunity to think about who they want to be.


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