Second chances

I heard a heartwarming story the other day.

The person who told it has a nephew with a physical disability and a student at the school where he teaches had been caught making fun of him for it. When the teacher found out that the student was going to be severely punished, he decided to teach him a lesson of his own.

When he told the student he wanted to have a word with him, the young kid looked terrified. But instead of scolding him or simply handing out a detention the teacher challenged the kid to a game of basketball. The student was quickly amazed by the teacher’s athletic skills and stamina and from that point on had a special bond with the teacher.

Sounds a bit like a cheesy movie but what the teacher did was a very smart move.

And this kind of “discipline” is catching on.

The other night at the high school I had the pleasure of meeting Al Wray – the Safe and Supportive Schools Coordinator for the Keewatin Patricia District School Board. After a few minutes of listening to him, I realized two things: That the man truly is committed to making schools a better place for everyone and giving students a second chance and that his professional title is just a really long way of saying that.

Wray’s main argument is a strong one: If we just kick kids out of school when they break the rules, they don’t learn a lesson.

Restorative justice is not a new concept. The KPDSB has been working on developing restorative practices in its schools for the last six years as a way of bringing down suspension rates (they’ve gone from nearly two thousand to about 300) and changing the way schools handle behaviour issues.

I know there are probably some people out there that think “bad” kids should “get what they deserve.” In fact, I can hear some of my older friend’s and relative’s voices in my head right now.

But not only are old school forms of punishment barbaric, I just don’t think they work for the long term either. The point of restorative practices in schools is not to send kids away. If we do that, they don’t see how their actions affect others nor are they around to take responsibility for them.

Sending kids away reinforces the idea that they don’t belong. Repeatedly telling them they’re bad simply encourages them to start believing it themselves: Well, I’m the “bad” kid so I guess I’d better prove it.

Keeping kids in school gives them a chance to tell their side of the story (because there likely is one) and rebuild relationships with teachers and other students. It gives them a chance to make things right. It also fosters empathy among both the “good” kids and the teaching staff.

So, good on Al Wray and school staff in both boards who are pushing for a new way of handling the “bad” kids. Everyone deserves a second chance.

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