Building capacity for restorative discipline in Texas: An evaluation of the Texas Schools Restorative Discipline Project
By Allie Long
Last year, TXICFW completed a multi-year evaluation of the implementation of Restorative Discipline practices in schools and districts across the state. The evaluation was in partnership with the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD), another institute within the UT Steve Hicks School of Social Work. IRJRD, through collaboration with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), undertook an ambitious project to train administrators and educators in school-based restorative practices to build capacity for state-wide implementation.
The restorative discipline trainings took place in all twenty Education Service Center (ESC) regions in the State of Texas. In total, forty statewide trainings were provided in just over two years. The trainings were designed to promote readiness, instill knowledge and provide focus on the development and customization of restorative discipline practices with the aim of creating a whole-school climate change. Thus, the implementation evaluation explored the trends, initial perceived impacts, and barriers when introducing restorative discipline practices to a school campus. See the full report here.
Using Restorative Discipline in Schools
You might be familiar with restorative justice being used in response to criminal behavior. As of recently, restorative practice strategies have been gathering momentum in schools. IRJRD describes Restorative Discipline as “a relational approach to fostering school climate and addressing student behavior that prioritizes belonging over exclusion, social engagement over control, and meaningful accountability over punishment.” Research has shown that restorative discipline has the ability to foster safe communities for more engaged learning while increasing collaboration and connections cross-culturally. Restorative discipline in schools is based on principles related to positive connection being the central driving force to building community and restoring relationships in a respectful and inclusive manner when harm (be it physical, emotional, social, etc.) has occurred.
Within the last 30 years, the rise of zero-tolerance school policies enacted to increase school safety has in actuality done the opposite. By creating a system that criminalizes the actions of young people, schools have become more exclusionary through punishment, which in turn fuels racially disproportionate discipline, academic failure, high dropout rates, and the school-to-prison pipeline.
In response to these concerns, the IRJRD developed the evidenced-based Texas Model of Restorative Discipline curriculum. It is the first curriculum of its kind in the nation, and is meant to build a statewide understanding of restorative practices in schools as a way to create healthier and more just educational communities.
The Texas Schools Restorative Discipline Project
The Texas Model of Restorative Discipline curriculum offers two different types of trainings: a two-day Administrator Readiness training that is an introduction to restorative discipline, and a Coordinator’s training that is an intensive five-day session meant to develop restorative practice leaders for school implementation.
While IRJRD provided the trainings across the state, the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing conducted an on-going evaluation of the implementation of restorative discipline practices following the trainings. An online implementation survey was sent to every training participant at both six months and one year post-training. In total, researchers received over 400 survey responses. The Building Capacity for Restorative Discipline in Texas evaluation report delves into the cumulative findings from the participant responses.
Overall, the results showed that the implementation of restorative discipline training has shown positive results. A majority of the respondents shared that it was either “somewhat true” or “very true” that restorative discipline has had a positive impact on conflict resolution (77%), student behavior (77%), school climate (74%), and relationships (71%).
One of the most significant findings was that around 90% of all respondents felt that restorative discipline had the potential to make a significant positive impact on their campus, but felt that the implementation was not far enough along. This means that educators, administrators, and coordinators recognize the potential impact of restorative discipline, despite early phases of implementation.
As anticipated, time, training, and campus buy-in are the most significant barriers to the success of RD implementation. At one year post-training, 84% of participants reported that their school or district’s implementation level was either “getting started” or “emerging” in RD practices. Respondents noted the necessity of school-wide buy-in in order to truly adopt restorative discipline practices. This can be especially frustrating for early adopters as it requires a shift in thinking as well as a shift in existing policies and procedures. On the other hand, one of the hallmarks of successful changes in school-wide approaches is that it takes time before seeing significant impacts in outcomes.
In terms of limitations, this evaluation acknowledged that the overall response rate was rather low, since participation in the survey was voluntary. In this vein, it’s important to note that the results relied solely on data that was self-reported. This means that survey questions were an assessment of each participants’ perception of implementation, which varies from person to person.
Altogether, this evaluation showed the promise of shifting our state’s perception of educational discipline. More implementation and evaluation is needed to support the development of better school climates so that every classroom has the power to create an environment that is based on communication, respect, mutual understanding, and support for all members of its community.