Friday, April 18, 2014

Solutions vs. Punishments

One of the most beautiful things about a Sudbury school is that students have the power to create the kind of environment they want.  They create the rules, the community norms, expectations and they hold each other accountable.  Our Judicial Committee (JC) has gone through an amazing transformation this past year from an obligatory "jury duty" hearing complaints and voting on consequences to a JC that is now collaborative and solution-focused.

What's the difference?  Picture a situation where a student, we'll call him Devin, gets angry and pushes someone down on the playground.  Maybe this happens repeatedly.  A year ago, our students in JC might have doled out some kind of punishment.  It could be an extra chore to do or perhaps it was restricted freedom at the school, like not being able to use the tablet for a day or play with Legos.  Every person at JC, even Devin, had an opportunity to voice their ideas for the consequences of breaking a school rule.  Then, we all hoped that Devin would "learn a lesson" and modify his behavior on the playground.  However, this was not always successful.  Devin gets angry easily and continues to push people down on the playground, even when harsher punishments are doled out by JC.  Now what?

That question of, "now what?" is where our JC began to evolve.  We collectively realized that punishments or "consequences" are not necessarily solutions.  What we want for Devin is for him to find another way to handle his anger.  The JC committee modified procedures to look for solutions instead of punishments.  What was the result?  When Devin got sent to JC again for pushing someone on the playground, every student in attendance gave Devin ideas on something else to do when he gets angry.  He can yell, "I'M ANGRY!"  He can walk away.  He can write up his own JC form.  He can hit a tree.  He can say, "Please don't do that to me!"  Or, he can propose a new rule at School Meeting.

We have also started reenacting situations looking for a different way out.  Discussions are also addressing what the community can do when we see Devin getting angry.  We can mediate.  We can distract Devin.  We can walk away.  We can tell Devin how we feel.  In this way, the community can be part of Devin's solution too.  It reinforces that the Sudbury experience is not just freedom for the individual but it is also being responsible in a community, as a community, and for each other. 

Students used to fear JC "consequences."  Now, students prefer finding solutions and no longer shy away from JC.  Our JC write-ups are even called "solution-request forms."  Looking for solutions is a collaborative effort that respects each person involved.  There is accountability.  There are apologies.  Occasionally, there are outcomes that are punishments, but they are no longer a default.  Our questions have changed from "how do we judge Devin?" to "how can we help Devin?" or "how can we help Devin help himself?" or "is there an underlying issue in our community that is motivating Devin to behave this way?"  

Most importantly, finding solutions brings people back together and provides everyone with tools they can use in the future.  I'm excited to see how our JC process evolves even further in the years to come!  -Dave


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