An Introduction to Restitution (with Diane Gossen)

I’m currently getting really excited about restitution. If you have read my Field Experience Inquiry Question, you will already know that I am currently on the search for any and all tools that I can use when conflict occurs in the classroom. As I’ve asked more and more educators about the tools they’ve found helpful, I’ve often been referred to Diane Gossen’s work on Restitution (you can read her article, “Restitution: Restructuring School Discipline”, by clicking here).

In her article, Gossen outlines eight ways a school can intentionally move towards including more Restitution practices. The Real Restitution website also provides a variety of different tools to support discussions of restitution in the schoo. 

1. Teach children that all humans are internally motivated by basic needs.  

Gossen points out that these needs are often identified in different ways: “Deci and Ryan call these needs autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Dr. William Glasser calls them Freedom, Power, Belonging, Fun, and Survival. Larry Bentro calls them belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity” (186). But at the end of the day, the goal of teaching kids about these basic needs is to remind them that “even behaviors we don’t like in ourselves are meeting a need” however, they may also be “hurting someone else’s need” (186). Identifying these basic needs in ourselves and others help us identify the behaviour we expect of others as well as the standards we should hold for ourselves.

Real Restitution has a “basic needs survey” that helps kids identify their needs according to the four tenants of “belonging, power, freedom and fun”.

2. Create a social contract among adults and children  

According to Gossen, “Restitution’s goal is teaching youth self-discipline rather than controlling them through consequences and reward” (184). A social contract helps kids practice this act of self-discipline by allowing them to decide upon their expectations for themselves and for the class as a group.

In “What do you Want?”, another article on Real Restitution by Gossen, she suggests asking kids to think about “the kind of person they want to be” and then brainstorm the classroom “core beliefs” by talking about what they want their classroom to “look like, feel like, and sound like” (2).

3. Firm up clear bottom line  

In “What do you Want?” Gossen emphasizes that bottom lines are a last resort, only to be used when “an individual is deemed to interfere with a belief the team holds dear”  and refuses to “look at himself, reflect on values, or make amends”(3). Gossen uses safety as her example. At this point, an administrator would be forced to resort to enforcing a consequence, like removal.

4. Together create job descriptions for learners and teachers  

Gossen suggests discussing teacher and student “jobs” at the beginning of each year. This helps set clear expectations for students and teachers before any conflict occurs.

5. Teach children the Five Positions of Control:

In her article on “Restructuring School Discipline”, Gossen identifies five different approaches: Punisher, Guilt maker, Buddy, Monitor, and Manager. While the first four positions use some sort of leverage to make students do what the teacher has asked, the “Manager” position involves the student in setting their goals and boundaries. 

6. Teach how to create restitutions that are satisfying for both parties, restitutions that repair and strengthen relationships, without creating discomfort.

While all of the previously mentioned goals work towards restitution in general, I’m currently researching more restitution tools that I plan to blog about in the future.

7. Demonstrate self-evaluation and self-restitution

Gossen encourages teachers to “practice say- ing, “It’s okay to make a mistake” or “My part of the problem is . . .” and find solutions” (186). In starting this conversation with students, she suggests starting a conversation with “could we have done worse” before moving on to talk about how they could have done better.



8. Involved parents as partners

Gossen suggests involving parents in everything from forming a social contract to using restitution to deal with conflicts that occur at school.




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