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New ways of educating children and young adults are emerging as a result of old and inefficient practices. One of the improvements in the education system is restorative justice or a way of working through disciplinary problems with students without affecting their performance and wellbeing.

Restorative justice is the middle ground between discipline and being liberal and empathetic towards students. Restorative justice involves practices for restoring discipline through conflict resolution discussions, reflective conversations with teachers and administrators, and mediated conversations between the parties involved in the conflict. This approach allows for the restoration and building of a community of support between students and school staff.

Traditional ways of discipline are usually effective but are more suppressive than actually solving the problem. Rules and consequence discipline can negatively impact the way students and teachers feel about each other in the long run. Science is now discovering the impact that traditional disciplinary systems have on the biology of those involved. The results for the success of the group, as well as the effects on the individual self-esteem of students, are already well known.

The nervous system and connection

When teachers catch students misbehaving, the common response is a negative reaction and confrontation. This method has shown to have a negative impact on those involved in the confrontation as well as on all those present and observing the experience. During the moment, all of those participating have a common reaction in their sympathetic nervous system which includes tensing of the muscles and shortness of the breath. The fight or flight response is unwillingly activated in all those present.

The most affected is the student that was confronted. They are left to recover from the situation on their own and are often unfocused and detached for the rest of the day. Simply confronting students when they are misbehaving is not solving the problem; it still doesn’t answer the question about what were the reasons for the incident and what can be done with the situation with a positive approach.

With restorative justice, the situation is discussed between the different parties to clarify why the situation happened, what was the harm done, and what can be done to repair the damage. Through this process, empathy and understanding are created between students and teachers. They learn to trust each other more and this trust creates a sense of connection that further improves their collaboration.

Effect of restorative justice on self esteem

Students who get in trouble with authority can unwillingly create an image of a bad kid for themselves that creates a vicious cycle of repeating the same mistake. This mistake can all be eliminated with the discussion about the problem and an empathetic approach to all sides of the conflict.