The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) has become well known in the charter school movement for getting low-income kids into college. But KIPP schools also have a reputation for strict discipline and classroom management practices that require conformity. Over the past decade, many KIPP schools have been shifting their strategies, moving from strict no-excuses style discipline to restorative practices. There’s a recognition among educators in the network, and outside of it, that kids need opportunities at school to practice the social and emotional skills that will help them be resilient after they graduate.

KIPP Summit Academy in San Lorenzo, California has been leading the way in this effort. The school began shifting to restorative practices seven years ago and now they’re seeing the academic and social results of that work. Teachers spend significant time and energy planning activities that push students to talk about difficult or emotional subjects, like friendship — a hot topic in middle school. They’re trying to help students build an emotional toolbox, so they have the language to discuss conflict when it arises.

It’s been a long hard road, but one that has worked well enough that all KIPP Bay Area schools, and many in other regions as well, are making the shift. But implementing restorative practices doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a long, deliberate process of shifting mindsets among educators, parents, and students. And it doesn’t always go smoothly at first.

“The way most of us grew up in education was that the teacher knew everything, the student knew nothing; the teacher gave directions, the student followed directions; the teacher talked, the student listened,” said Ric Zappa, director of school culture for KIPP Bay Area Schools. He led the changes at KIPP Summit Academy and is now helping other school leaders making the shift. He knows how hard it can be — he’s been there.

This fifth and final episode of the second season of the MindShift podcast takes us inside two KIPP schools: one has already made the transition to restorative justice and has all the staff and students on board. The other is just beginning the shift and running into snags along the way.

Restorative discipline practices are becoming more common in schools around the country, but what does it take to do it well? Listen and find out on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayNPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

Courage To Change: What It Takes to Shift to Restorative Discipline 29 October,2017Katrina Schwartz

  • Elena Miller

    YES. Thank you for this very real and insightful view on RP. Way to recognize the challenges and the action steps needed to shift. Talking to the educators AND students is really key in showing the world why RP matters.

  • kryten8

    It’s so frustrating to hear about Charters “discovering” practices that (obviously not all, but many) public schools have been using for ages…people were critical of KIPP’s behavior management because it was so much harsher than what was in place at the public schools, and now they’re somehow leading the way away from that practice?

    • Katrina Schwartz

      This episode is in no way meant to imply that KIPP discovered restorative practices. A you point out, restorative practices have been used in schools for decades and outside of schools longer than that. Rather, I thought this was an interesting example because KIPP was known for harsh discipline and is now many of its schools are moving the other way. And, they’re being honest about how hard it is to make the transition well. I think there are a lot of lessons here for all educators trying to do this work. I don’t think this story necessarily needs to fall into the charter vs. district debate. I do think all schools need to continue to be transparent about the commitment, training, and continued growth it takes to do restorative practices well. As the story points out, it’s not easy and there are bumps along the way, all moments when it would be easy to bail altogether.

      • kryten8

        Thank you for replying. But do you not see how hearing about charter schools, and KIPP specifically, is frustrating for a teacher in a public school? The constant tone on this blog is one of “Hey, check out this charter!” as if they’re actually doing something innovative. They are not. I have never seen something in one of these articles that’s actually pushing any sort of envelope, except in a negative way (as you said, the harsh discipline practices). When there are truly innovative things going on in classrooms all over the nation, it’s tough to hear about “Hey, check out this charter that is doing something normal!”

        • Katrina Schwartz

          Thank you for that feedback. We do often write about public district schools that are doing awesome things, of which there are many! I’m sorry it feels like we only highlight charter schools. There are five episodes in the second season of the MindShift podcast and 3 of them are about public schools, one is about parenting, and one is about a charter. My editor and I are mindful that many educators in district schools don’t get recognized for the innovative work that they do so we try to highlight those efforts when we learn about them. But we do also write about work being done in charter schools and private schools. We aim for a mix.

  • Tom

    Restorative practices, conflict resolution, de-escalation, they only work when all parties buy in. I was raised to deploy these tools but I found a world completely unprepared to work with me. It ran roughshod through me, as authority figures and peers took advantage of my empathy. Maybe the world will be ready for them, maybe it was me and others like me in my generation that opened the door.

    I just wish I had known, and I hope someone warns them of the potential to be martyred. I didn’t want that, but I find my chaos-resolution toolkit to be woefully lacking in anything but game theory and empathy. Some may be born with the innate ability to put their self-interest above all else. But I was not. There will be winners and losers as a result of this system too, they’ll just be different from the winners and losers before. The kids who excel in restorative practices might find a harsh world, one their educators didn’t prepare them for.

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Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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