In a new brief, Teach Plus Illinois teacher leaders examine how well restorative justice practices are implemented in schools across the state.

In a new brief, Teach Plus Illinois teacher leaders examine how well restorative justice practices are implemented in schools across the state.

Teachers advocate for greater state-level support and more sustained training in restorative practices of all school staff.

Springfield, Illinois, April 18, 2024—Have school discipline policies in Illinois evolved and, if so, how? Teach Plus Illinois teacher leaders ask this question in their latest research brief, Mixed Messages: Illinois Teachers on the Uneven Implementation of School Discipline Reform. In the brief, Teach Plus teacher leaders examine what has and hasn’t worked in the state’s approach to school discipline since 2015, when the Illinois State Senate signed into law SB100, the legislation that limited exclusionary discipline practices in favor of restorative justice interventions that repair harm and build relationships. The brief includes Teach Plus teacher leaders’ recommendations on how district and state leaders should support and grow restorative justice practices across the state.

Teach Plus Policy Manager Bill Curtin said, “Senate Bill 100 represented a fundamental shift in the way Illinois schools handle discipline, and where restorative practices have been embraced with schoolwide support and training they’ve shown incredible results for students. However, this report reveals that there’s work yet to be done to ensure these powerful practices are implemented in every school, and the authors call for state-level support and school-level leadership to fill those gaps.”

Zaria Jakes, a Teach Plus Senior Policy Fellow, report author, and 5th grade ESL teacher at McCleery Elementary in Aurora, added, “One thing that we should all remember is that students (and their brains) are still growing, learning, and developing. Our job is to teach, and that does not only apply to academics. At some point they need to be taught how to manage their behavior and control their emotions, so why not start now? Rather than designing schools that thrive on compliance, fear and tearing students down, we should foster an environment to support students’ independence, self-confidence, and self-worth.”

This research is particularly timely as lawmakers and education advocates debate Senate Bill 1400, which could shift how schools approach discipline with significant impacts for students. While some have complained that SB100 stripped schools of the ability to enforce discipline, Teach Plus teacher leaders point out that in schools where restorative practices are supported with training and resources, teachers feel prepared to implement these alternatives to harmful exclusionary practices. Other recent research on the impact of restorative practices in Chicago showed significant gains in student outcomes, behavior, and positive perceptions of school. Taken together, this evidence suggests that restorative practices work where they are supported—an important takeaway for legislators as they weigh changes to current law and next year’s education budget.

Teach Plus teacher leaders first examined the state of school discipline in Illinois in 2016, a year after SB100 became law. At that time, the teachers found that districts provided limited and unsatisfactory training to help schools and teachers implement restorative practices and student behavior, and that school climate deteriorated because nothing replaced the removed disciplinary consequences. In the current brief, Teach Plus teacher leaders take a critical look at what has changed in the past nine years and where support and resources are still needed. To get insights from the field, Teach Plus teacher leaders surveyed a diverse group of more than 100 educators across 35 school districts, exploring their approaches to school discipline and their experience with restorative justice practices and their effectiveness.

The teachers’ findings are:

  1. Training in restorative practices has been effective in helping teachers feel prepared to implement these practices in their classrooms.
  2. Close to half of the teachers who responded are using their knowledge to implement student-oriented discipline—often utilizing restorative practices—in their classrooms.
  3. Many schools have failed to implement restorative practices systematically, presenting challenges both for teachers working to do so in individual classrooms and for students who have to navigate conflicting messages and consequences about behavior and expectations.
  4. In schools heavily rooted in punitive disciplinary practices, restorative justice may be viewed as “soft” or ineffective.

The teachers’ recommendations are:

  1. Schools should continue to provide effective, sustained training in restorative practices, and extend it beyond teachers to include administrative and support staff.
  2. Schools should support teachers who are implementing restorative practices in classrooms with schoolwide systems and personnel.
  3. ISBE should incentivize stronger implementation of restorative practices with state-level support, including guidance, models, and implementation grants.

Cecilia Rice, a Teach Plus Policy Fellow who teaches special education at Evanston Township High School, said, “I would love policymakers to know the long-term impacts of exclusionary discipline on students’ self-worth and social-emotional learning. We have decades of data to show that ‘tough on crime’ policies don’t reduce violent crime, just as exclusionary discipline doesn’t reduce negative behaviors in schools. It is time to systematically invest in restorative practices to empower youth to make responsible decisions.

Justin Antos, Teach Plus Senior Writing Fellow and Director of Bands and Orchestras at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School, said, “It appears the knee-jerk skepticism to restorative practices in some Illinois schools exists because those schools are not stressing accountability. Restorative discipline is not just relationship building; it’s about establishing trust and teaching students how to recognize the harm they have caused, while also holding them accountable to make it right.”

About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. In pursuing our mission, Teach Plus is guided by our Student Opportunity Mandate: All students should have the opportunity to achieve their potential in an education system defined by its commitment to equity, its responsiveness to individual needs, and its ability to prepare students for postsecondary success. Since 2009, Teach Plus has developed thousands of teacher leaders across the country to exercise their leadership in shaping education policy and improving teaching and learning for students.