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A Talking Cure for Disruption in the Classroom

Fighting, bullying, and truancy are among problems faced by teachers in classrooms across the nation. Maryland teachers and school administrators are embracing conflict management tools designed to engage students and address problems in the classroom before they escalate into full-blown conflicts.

In collaboration with the Center for Dispute Resolution (C-DRUM) at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, administrators, teachers, and students are trained in innovative ways to resolve conflicts that may otherwise lead to suspensions and other disciplinary measures. By supporting the use of restorative practices and mediation that encourage talking out problems, avoid blaming the offender, and ensure that those affected can express their version of the story in a safe environment, C-DRUM is helping schools significantly reduce office referrals and suspensions.

"Restorative practices provide alternatives to a strictly punitive model of discipline. Students are given the opportunity to talk through what's happened and to collaboratively come up with solutions," says Barbara Sugarman Grochal, MBA, MAT, C-DRUM's director of schools conflict resolution education.

C-DRUM supports a variety of restorative justice practices in its work with 24 elementary, middle, and high schools across Maryland. Whether in mediation or in a restorative circle process by involving all parties -- offender and victim -- these tools allow individuals to move beyond name-calling, harm, and guilt, says Grochal. "The offender has the opportunity to learn from the incident and be held accountable for 'repairing the harm' caused, thus restoring him or her to the community."

UM Carey Law Mediation Clinic students with formal mediation and conflict resolution training provide regular support to K-12 students by collaborating with schools on a variety of practices: mediation, dialogue circles, and peer mediation training. Students learn that it can be safe to express their feelings, and communication can help in not letting peer pressure or malicious gossip escalate into physical fights.

"With kids you see a lot of issues around gossip," says UM Carey Law student Kendall Clise, who mediates with students in conflict at Holabird Academy in Baltimore. "It's challenging; kids are impacted by the behavior of their peers, and that can influence their behavior."

Since introducing restorative practices three years ago, Anthony Ruby, Holabird's Principal, says suspensions have dropped from nearly 100 to just two. "Just suspending students or punishing them doesn't fix anything," he added.

During a C-DRUM-led community-building dialogue circle at Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring, eighth-grade students talked about how they could talk to their parents and peers without lying or feeling guilty.

"I've learned that talking to people is the right choice," said a 13-year-old student after participating in the dialogue circle. "I've learned perspective -- how to put myself in someone else's shoes."

Data from Sligo Middle affirm that talking out problems and using restorative practices lead to promising outcomes: 2012-2013 figures show a 24 percent reduction in office referrals and a 44 percent reduction in suspensions compared with the prior year. And when surveyed, 81 percent of teachers say they feel more connected to their students.

Click here to see C-DRUM at work in the classroom.





Posting Date: 03/14/2014
Contact Name: Jill Yesko
Contact Phone: 410-706-3803
Contact Email: jyesko@umaryland.edu