Learning to Work “With” (The Social Discipline Window)


“Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”

– Ted Wachtel

The Social Discipline Window describes four basic approaches to addressing behavior that needs to be changed. Restorative practitioners use this tool to gauge the best response to a specific incident or ongoing issue. The four strategies are represented as different combinations of high or low control and high or low support. The word “control” never seems like quite the right fit to me, so I instead use “expectations of behavior” or “accountability.” The restorative domain combines high expectations of behavior and high support and is characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. A restorative approach allows us to address the problematic behavior, while also practicing empathy and maintaining a strong relationship.

Take, for example, a student who is repeatedly disruptive in class, speaking over the teacher and making loud comments and jokes.

The Neglectful strategy is to not do anything, to hope that the student will just eventually stop.

The Punitive strategy is punishment, doing something to the person who is misbehaving. The teacher might give the student detention or remove privileges like being able to come on a field trip. The strategy holds the student to a high expectation of behavior, but has very little support. This strategy may result in animosity between the teacher and student, and will not address the core issues or needs contributing to the problematic behavior.

The Permissive strategy is when we do things for someone. We accept their excuses or make excuses for them. The teacher might tell herself that the student is just trying to be liked by the other students because he has been having trouble making friends, or that his unrestrained enthusiasm is a sign that he is enjoying the class. A possible outcome is that other students, seeing that a high expectation of behavior is not upheld, will similarly begin to speak out of turn, and the teacher will slowly lose the respect of the class and the ability to facilitate an effective learning space.

The Restorative strategy is when we work with the person to resolve the issue. The teacher would speak with the disruptive student one-on-one, explain the impacts his disruptive behavior, and respectfully ask the student about his experience and what is going on. This keeps communication open and allows the teacher to find out what needs are contributing to the student’s misbehavior. Is the student having trouble making friends? Are there troubles at home that are impacting the student’s behavior at school? Are there other more productive ways that the student would like to be an outgoing leader in the classroom? Does the student need additional material to challenge him and keep him on task? The teacher and student would work together to understand what are the barriers to meeting the behavior expectations and how can those barriers be addressed.

What strikes me about the restorative strategy for addressing behavior issues is the humility it requires on the part of the teacher, facilitator, parent or other person of authority. Rather than thinking that we know best and approaching the problem with an already formed answer (as is the case in both the punitive and the permissive strategies), the restorative strategy approaches the issue by asking questions, with a humble and compassionate desire to better understand. It is the only strategy that allows us to actually get to the core of the issue.

There are a few strategies you can use to address conflicts and issues in your own life restoratively.

  1. Ask questions! Don’t assume that you know why a person is doing something, what their needs are, or the best strategy for making things right. Remember to make questions open-ended (so they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”) and to use a tone of respect and non-judgment.
  2. In approaching an issue, follow the framework of the three central restorative questions.
    1. What happened?
    2. Who was affected and how?
    3. What is needed to repair the harms and make things right?
  1. Commit some time to self-reflection and identify which strategy in the Social Discipline Window is your default response. Are you prone to avoiding conflict and doing nothing, to jumping straight to punishment, or to making or accepting excuses for poor behavior? Knowing this about yourself will help you to know which direction you need to push yourself. Do you need to remind yourself to hold high expectations of behavior with the people in your life or do you need to remember to take a step back and show support?

In each of the communities and interactions that make up our lives, the Social Discipline Window offers us a tool for thinking about how to approach issues and conflicts more restoratively.

14 responses to “Learning to Work “With” (The Social Discipline Window)”

  1. […] the pictures above, you will see an image of the most recent game I designed based on the Social Discipline Window. It was a hit with the RAs and really helped to deepen their understanding of what differentiates a […]


  2. This is a welcoming and refreshing way of practice!!! It takes more time. Time is one thing our administrators have so little of. They are pulled in every direction every minute of the day. I think planned, undisturbed times to meet are crucial to build this practice into the work relationship.


  3. I appreciate that you laid out a framework from which to work when using restorative practices with students. What happened? Who was affected and how? What is needed to repair the harms and make things right? In stressful moments I usually default to the punitive response, although have started to shift to a more responsive approach to talk to students before class or 1:1 after class about disruptive behaviors.


  4. I love your advice to, “Ask questions! Don’t assume that you know why a person is doing something, what their needs are, or the best strategy for making things right.” You are right that this approach takes humility and necessitates putting our ego aside, and it also takes care. We need to care enough about our students’ learning and well-being to avoid ignoring their problematic behaviors and to avoid responding from a punitive stance. We have to be curious, and we have to care!


  5. I really appreciate this framework and thinking critically about which quadrant I am likely to respond from and which areas I need to push myself to have a more restorative approach with students. I plan to show this social discipline window to my fellow staff as it has been a wonderful way for me to understand how to better work with students and approach behaviors with more curiosity rather than thinking I know “why” they are acting a certain way. I have noticed myself become more permissive with students since the start of the pandemic (previously I was more punitive). Moving forward I wish to be restorative in my practice, and I have already found myself asking more open ended questions when I chat with students one-on-one. Thank you for this wonderful visual and simple explanation!


  6. I use the restorative approach as a teacher and when I worked as a summer school admin. I believe as humans we can only grow if we self reflect. This restorative model, in my opinion, gives students the opportunity for structured self reflection and well as gives them a tool they can use in all aspects of their lives.


  7. Such a new and refreshing way of approaching students


  8. This is all new to me , but am excited to use the process in my classroom




  10. To offer opportunity for everyone affected ny an action to communicate how to make things right and restore community in the classroom.


  11. I have used restorative approach in the past without knowing the strategy had a name but I will continue to do so now that I can see the visual block in my mind..


  12. Deborah Donofrio Avatar
    Deborah Donofrio

    I tried to use the restorative approach the other day and the student didn’t respond at all and stormed out of the room. I asked open ended questions. I will keep trying to use this approach.


  13. I love how this is all laid out. Working in the kindergarten field I find myself using the who was involved, what happened so often. It’s important to never just assume.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: