Restitution: A Coaching Approach to Discipline

Asking “Why did you do that?” or “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?” only directs attention to student behavior problems, makes them defensive, and encourage them to produce excuses for their failure, says Norma True Spurlock, a counselor at the University of Florida’s P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School, headed by CES Executive Board president Fran Vandiver. Instead, she helps teachers use a more positive system of restitution, which focuses on solutions, recognizing the student’s need to belong. “All behavior reflects a student’s values,” she says. “It’s chosen, purposeful, and internally motivated.” She recommends asking this sequence of questions:

  • What do we believe about . . . [respecting others? respecting property? being on time and on task? being where we’re supposed to be?] This ties the student’s behavior to the shared values the school holds, and reminds him to do the right thing because it’s right, not to avoid pain.
  • What problems did you cause for others? (Looks at the consequences of one’s actions.)
  • What can you do to fix this? (Focuses on the solution; restores any damage caused. Offers options: fix; replace; do something for the class; pay back with money, time, labor, etc.)
  • You had a reason for doing this. What did you need? (Recognizes that behavior is purposeful and internally motivated.)
  • Can you think of a way to do this that won’t cause anyone else a problem? (Focuses on the solution.)
  • You’re not the only one who has ever made a mistake. Do you want to be the kind of person who fixes his or her mistakes? (Recognizes that behavior is chosen and can be changed.)
  • What can you do to fix this? What part are you willing to do? (Focuses on a positive solution that requires time, energy, and effort from the offender; restores self-esteem; builds relationships. “I’m sorry” is not enough.)
  • Do you think this is a place where people care about you? (Emphasizes need to belong.)
  • Will you think about it? (Emphasizes student’s choice.)