It can be hard for students with speech impediments to communicate their wants, needs, feelings, and concerns. Sometimes struggles with communication lead to frustration, which can result in negative behaviors. But with empathy and equity in mind, teachers and administrators can use restorative justice practices to resolve these issues in a way that addresses the social and emotional needs of students with disabilities.
The traditional approach to discipline, especially for students with disabilities, is a punitive approach. However, this method often leads to the school-to-prison pipeline. While the U.S. Census reports that one in five Americans (20 percent) has a disability, the Bureau of Justice found that 32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of jail inmates report at least one disability.
Employing restorative justice techniques in school discipline can help stem this tide. Building strong, trusting relationships with your students is by far the most important factor in ensuring that all students feel safe to express their needs and wants and, in turn, to come to school to learn. This is especially important for our students with speech impediments.
Restorative practices help ensure that all students feel heard, seen, and protected within your classroom following conflict. They also build a strong culture for learning and for students being their authentic selves.
For example, students can have conflict with one another based on assumptions and/or biases. Restorative circles allow for students to explain the why behind their actions, explore themselves, and reflect on the assumptions and biases they may hold. It’s a learning experience for both parties involved with the conflict.
2 Restorative Approaches to Try
1. The sequential circle with a pairing collaboration. The sequential circle allows for members to speak and express their needs and concerns during a weekly or biweekly town hall or advisory meeting to best improve classroom culture and trust. In this method, every student is allowed to speak. But only one person speaks at a time, and the opportunity to speak moves in one direction. This helps students who struggle with transitions or who have anxiety about speaking aloud.
Teachers can support students with speech impediments through this process by building a strong community culture of respect, collaboration, and empathy. This allows for students with speech impediments to be paired with a classmate. In practice, the teacher or peer can provide visual and verbal prompting to assist this student with communication.
Another approach would be for the student with a speech impediment to draw or write their thoughts down and select another student to verbally represent them. This method allows for a classroom environment of support, understanding, and inclusion.
2. Restorative thinking sheets for small groups and individual conferencing. Restorative thinking sheets include sentence stems to help guide one-on-one conferencing or small circles in which conflicts can be hashed out by sharing feelings in a trusting environment. These sheets provide a graphic and written model to best support students who struggle with expressing their thoughts verbally in a clear and concise manner.
I discovered the benefits of restorative thinking sheets when a student who struggled with expressing himself shut down in the classroom. He had an outburst in the class. I approached him to get to the root of the problem and support him emotionally, but he struggled to communicate. He also was not in the right mindset to engage in a conversation.
Using the restorative thinking sheet gave him visuals to communicate about the feelings he was exhibiting at that moment. It also provided him with sentence stems to engage in a conversation with me about the situation when he felt mentally ready to do so. By the end of the school year, this student was building the language necessary to handle conflict and was slowly needing these restorative thinking sheets less frequently.
Restorative practices have been in existence for quite some time, especially within Indigenous populations. They focus on building emotional intelligence by addressing the harm done by an individual’s actions to the community. However, it does not stop there. The end goal is to ensure that the community is restored and all parties have addressed the issue and learned and understood one another’s perspective, building emotional empathy toward each other.
Restorative practices are meant to be an equitable approach for all community members to build upon their strengths. They should give each student the skills needed to understand how their actions or limitations can be approached in being a proactive community member. They push for communal efforts and belonging—not exclusion and shunning—which allow for inclusivity for all learners, especially those with disabilities.