Transforming Detentions into Restorative Conversations

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Once upon a time, I found a book called "The 5 Languages of Apology" by Gary Chapman. His area of specialty is marital relationships, but I thought that his ideas could easily be applicable to building stronger student-teacher relationships, especially when those relationships have been harmed. Students and teachers are constantly interacting with each other; therefore, at some point, someone's feelings are going to get hurt. One of the most successful strategies that I have found for restoring relationships has been by transforming detentions into restorative conversations. These are the sentence starters I use, both for myself and for students.

I apologize for _________________.

The first sentence is an opportunity for the individual to recognize what specific actions caused harm.

It was wrong of me to _______________ because _______________.

The second sentence teaches students WHY the action was harmful. This is one of the most important sentences because the true purpose of discipline is not punishment but teaching.

I'll try harder to not __________ again.

The third sentence focuses the student on the future, not the past. There's nothing we can do about the past except learn from it. However, we can all choose differently in the future. This allows the student to make a commitment to take actions that are within their locus of control, which expands their personal agency.

To make things right, I will _______________.

Too often, people focus on the "justice" part at the expense of the "restorative" part of restorative justice. To heal, we must make our best efforts to undo the harm we have caused to others. This naturally leads to consequences that make logical sense. If a student insults another student, they can think of 3 nice things to say to them (3:1 ratio). If a student threw trash on the floor, they can stay a few minutes after the school day and pick up trash. In this way, we learn the natural consequences of our actions.

Will you please forgive me?

Forgiveness is the antidote to resentment. In order to heal our relationships, we need to honestly forgive each other. This means that once harm has been restored, we don't bring it up anymore and we make our best efforts to treat the student with the same respect as before.