Character: Claim 2

McAuliffe scholars take responsibility for their choices and mend relationships using restorative practices. 

“It was good to get my thoughts out, and talk about what happened. It felt pretty good. [The Circle Gathering Protocol] made the person who did it share why they did it, why they shouldn’t do it again, and why others shouldn’t do it. I think the circle impacted the others like it did me, and I believe they took it seriously. I think it impacted us because Nigel won’t do anything like that again, which is good for me and the community.” - Hayden T., 7th Grade Scholar

"Dear Human Beings who were involved in what happened Wednesday…”
These words are how a scholar began a letter to people impacted by his behavioral missteps. In the letter, the scholar apologizes to each person, taking steps to repair his relationship with members of the McAuliffe community.

At McAuliffe, we’ve always employed a balanced and progressive approach to discipline, aiming for poor choices to be turned into learning opportunities. However, until the 2015-16 school year, consequences tended to be punitive in nature, with a scholar required to serve a detention or suspension as a result of his/her action. On occasion, detentions and suspensions would entail the scholar doing a task or tasks related to the misbehavior in order to make it up to the community: preparing an apology to the individuals harmed, learning about the origins of a word used to cause harm, or assisting the custodian after making a mess. These activities were often ad hoc and not employed schoolwide, especially for detentions.

We have found that the more scholars participate in reflection and fix-it planning, the more they develop decision-making skills and become more empathic and ethical members of the community. Here, we share with you the story of how McAuliffe scholars have come to repair harm and relationships through the use of restorative practices.

The Beginning of Fix-It Planning at McAuliffe (2015-16)

In 2015-16 two factors contributed to the evolution of McAuliffe’s disciplinary practices:

  1. We started building fix-it plans to accompany any in or out of school suspension.
  2. 7th graders studied restorative practices as part of their 7th grade social studies curriculum.

Initially fix-it plans were built by adults for scholars who had engaged in a behavior that warranted a suspension for one or more days per our Code of Character -- a tool we used to match behavior to consequence. These were typically framed as “safety contracts and fix it plans.” In the 2015-16 Code of Character linked below on the left, notice the reference to school wide Habits of Work and Learning  on the first page: Respect, Collaboration, Perseverance, and Responsibility. Also notice the leveled consequences, including references to restorative justice as a level 3 consequence.

Below to the right is a sample fix-it plan developed for a scholar who engaged in unsafe use of social media. Important to note in this first rendition of a fix-it plan are the reflection questions on page one and the fix-it plan on page two with tasks that were defined by a school leader. Future fix-it plans involve the scholar giving input to the creation of fix-it tasks in order to instill more ownership.

Code of Character 2015-16

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Sample Fix-It Plan 2015

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In January 2016, 7th graders learned about how communities respond to rule-breakers by exploring justice philosophies ranging from Hammurabi’s Code to restorative justice. Scholars hosted roundtable discussions with members of the school community as well as representatives from a variety of schools in Massachusetts and other New England communities. The biggest take-away from this learning was to continue to integrate restorative practices into our work and to take our time doing so, building on our successes and over time expanding our repertoire.

Improving Our Fix-It Planning Process (2016-17)

For the 2016-17 school year, we made some adjustments to our Code of Character including making more explicit references to restorative practices for level one, two, and three behaviors. We still kept restorative practices distinct from consequences, as you can see in the linked document at right. We always assigned scholars reasonable, relevant, and respectful consequences and often referred to them as detentions;  when it made sense, we built out a fix-it plan as well -- typically accompanying in and out of school suspensions.

Note: Framingham and state discipline data for 2016-17 was not published at the time of our portfolio’s submission.

Fix-it plan quality improved during the 2016-17 school year because we started to require scholars to draft their own fix-it plans rather than simply implementing a plan developed by adults. Scholars reflected on their actions, considered the impact that they had on individuals in community, and proposed ways to “make it right." Adults -- usually a school leader and crew leader --  reviewed and gave input to the plan and then the scholar completed the tasks. Written apologies were the most frequent fix-it plan task and the task most focused on repairing relationships. In the latter part of video to the right, Jade reflects on giving apologies following a poor choice.

Following their completion of a fix-it plan, scholars participated in a process to re-enter class or crew. This process usually involved the scholar summarizing the work that he/she did to make things right, the crew asking some questions or giving feedback, and then the crew or class welcoming the scholar back into the group. In the same video, Anthony reflects on the re-entry to Crew part of the fix-it process. 

Code of Character 2016-17

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Here are three sample fix-it plans that span the range of behaviors. Each scholar served an in or out of school suspension, and during that time scholars completed a written reflection, built out fix-it plan tasks with support from adults, and then completed the fix-it plan tasks. Each fix-it plan begins with a set of reflection questions including, "What do you think you need to do to make things right? What tasks should your fix-it plan include?" The plans also include a re-entrance to the community agreement differentiated per situation and relevant apology letters. As you can see, the apology notes vary in content and length. On page six of the first fix-it plan, there is an exemplary note written to teachers, in which the scholar takes responsibility for his action and also communicates what teachers can do to support him when he is frustrated or angry. In two of the three fix-it plan examples, the scholar who did harm / made a poor choice received special education services at the school. Accommodations were provided for these scholars according to their IEP plans.

Sample 1 - 2016-17 Fix It Plan -- aggressive behavior

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Sample 2 - 2016-17 Fix It Plan -- poor choice, bringing prohibited item to school

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Sample 3 - 2016-17 Fix It Plan -- unsafe language, text-messaging/social media

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How have restorative practices impacted scholars and the McAuliffe community?

Our discipline numbers do not tell a simple story because underlying the numbers are stories about poor choices, impulsivity, status, saving face, anger, embarrassment, shame, defeat, learning struggles, and invincibility. Every single situation that led to a scholar being suspended from the community was taken incredibly seriously and navigated thoughtfully by the adults involved.

As the data in the “Total Percent of Students Disciplined” chart shows, we saw an overall increase of suspensions from 2014-15 to 2015-16. The numbers then dropped back down in 2016-17. We believe that the increase in our 2015-16 suspension rate is due to a change in personnel from 2014-15 to 2015-16. In addition, in 2014-15 the Code of Character was not being employed with complete fidelity. During 2015-16, the new Director of Student Culture focused on setting clearer expectations and following up on incidents more comprehensively. This shift was not easy for some scholars -- namely 8th graders and 7th graders who had been at the school the previous year. As a result, some scholars tested limits and found that engaging in certain behaviors warranted them spending time out of class or out of the community on an in or out of school suspension. During 2016-17, we made a mindful shift to prioritize in school suspensions instead of out of school suspensions.

Discipline Dashboard

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The discipline dashboard and graphs showcased above illustrate an overall decline in suspensions (and thus suspendable offenses) from the 2015-16 school year (6.9% of the student body) to the 2016-17 school year (5.0% of the student body). Data also indicates a decrease in the number of out of school suspensions and an increase in in school suspensions. This was an intentional shift that we made to default to in school suspensions so that scholars could engage in fix-it planning and stay on top of their academics more successfully.

The sub-group data also indicates declines in the suspension rate for economically disadvantaged scholars, scholars with disabilities, and scholars who identify as HIspanic or Latino. We also have, for the most part, suspended scholars at a lesser rate than our comparison district (Framingham, grades 6-8) and the state (grades 6-8). McAuliffe’s in school suspension rate exceeds Framingham and the state while our out of school suspension rate is lower than Framingham and the state.

Class of 2017 Student Discipline Case Study

Scholars who completed 8th grade in 2017 present a case study that illustrates how McAuliffe’s discipline practices impact scholar behavior. Over the course of three years, 154 scholars attended the school as part of this cohort. Of this cohort of scholars, 84% (129 scholars) of cohort did not engage in any suspendable behaviors. Meanwhile, 16% of this cohort (25 scholars) engaged in one or more behaviors which led to an in or out of school suspension. Of these 25 scholars, 13 scholars (8%) engaged in one suspendable behavior. This means that at some point over their time at the school these scholars engaged in a behavior that caused them to be suspended once; after that time there was no repeat behavior or engagement in any other suspendable behavior. Twelve scholars (8%) engaged in more than one behavior during their time at the school.

Of the twelve scholars with repeat behavior, seven showed a decline in behavior over time, an increase in adherence to school norms, and an increase in prosocial behaviors.

Three scholars showed an increase in behavior in 8th grade. Each scholar was male and has his own story. We stuck with each scholar during their journey through 8th and persevered by turning each consequence into a learning opportunity. We know our scholars so well and care about each scholar deeply, understanding that poor choices are made and that these are critical opportunities for learning.

Click to view a longitudinal look at scholar discipline--class of 2017

One of these scholars had a difficult start to 7th grade. He demonstrated substantial learning challenges and received special education services, including substantially separate instruction for English language arts. He built strong relationships with adults, but also struggled with anger management and impulsivity. He performed much better, both academically and behaviorally, the last two trimesters of 7th grade and the first two trimesters of 8th grade, and then had a very difficult end to his 8th grade. We believe his challenges were due in large part to high anxiety as the transition from McAuliffe to high school approached. When challenges arose, we spent time working with him and his mother, navigating each instance carefully, with the understanding that time spent out of school could be detrimental to this scholar’s future. Despite the challenging end to his 8th grade year, we were very proud of this scholar’s accomplishments at McAuliffe, as he made great progress toward his IEP goals and improved in his ability to reflect on his actions and make amends when he made poor choices.

We believe that the restorative fix-it planning process that guides scholars to reflect on their actions, consider how they harmed the community, and then take responsibility by doing tasks to “make it right” has been instrumental to ensuring that we turn poor choices into learning opportunities. We also believe that the fix-it planning process has - for the most part - helped scholars learn from their mistakes and kept scholars from repeating challenging behaviors. As the data for the Class of 2017 shows, most scholars demonstrated a decrease in challenging behaviors over time or engaged in one isolated behavior and then never again. Even those scholars whose challenging behaviors increased over time refrained from engaging in the same behavior as the previous incident and in most cases, months passed in between incidents.

As scholars participate in reflection and fix-it planning, they are developing ethical decision-making skills, increasing their ability to make choices that positively impact a community versus choices that harm a community. At McAuliffe, we recognize that early adolescent scholars may make choices that cause harm. We don’t condone behaviors that harm others, but we do recognize these to be critical moments during which our scholars can develop their character and become better people and contributors to the community.

The Work Continues in 2017-18

During the 2017-18 school year, we continue to strive to increase the percentage of scholars engaging in prosocial behaviors in the school, and consequently decrease the percentage of scholars who engage in behaviors that warrant spending time away from their classes and the community.

For the 2017-18 school year, we have taken steps to further our use of restorative practices and turn poor choices into learning opportunities for scholars involved.  We have revamped our code of conduct, modeling elements of it after Polaris Charter School’s code of conduct, and as a whole faculty will be focusing on assigning consequences that are relevant, respectful, realistic, and which focus on relationship repair whenever possible. As you can see in the Code of Conduct linked below, we articulate community rights and responsibilities, discuss three-tiered interventions, and associate consequences with relationship restoration. We will continue to employ fix-it planning and guide scholars to reflect on their actions, make amends, and use poor choices as learning opportunities. In some cases when we might  previously have assigned a suspension we now facilitate a restorative circle instead. The sample fix-it plan below contains scholar reflection and fix-it tasks, including learning about the swastika symbol and its historical connection to Nazism and participation in a restorative circle. Also below is the circle gathering protocol used during the restorative circle, a reflection on the restorative circle by one of the scholars who participated, and the restorative circle feedback form that we are using to collect feedback following participation.

We will also be using the discipline dashboard to monitor suspensions during the year. We aim to decrease our overall suspensions and, in particular, decrease the percentage of scholars with disabilities receiving suspensions.

To that end, we are also improving and systematizing our support and service delivery for scholars who have IEPs with emotional and behavioral goals. We are employing more robust behavior plans, differentiated for each scholar, with behavioral goals and protocols to give scholars who are dysregulated or escalating a safe, low-stimulus place in the school to calm down and regain control over their bodies and minds. Over time, we would like to see scholars transferring their calming strategies to the classroom environment so that they miss as little classroom instruction as possible.

Code of Conduct 2017-18

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2017-18 Sample Fix It Plan

Circle Gathering Protocol

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Reflection on the Restorative Circle

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Restorative Circle Feedback Form

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