When we hear terms like detention and in-school suspension, it might conjure images of students sitting at a desk while being reminded to remain quiet and complete a mundane task such as writing what they won’t do 100 times. Principal David Krakoff, the principal and head of school at Midland Innovation and Technology Charter School in Pennsylvania, has jumped aboard a movement toward restorative practices, and it has made a major difference in the schools in which he has served as a principal.
Formerly a principal of two schools in Florida, including Stuart Middle School in Martin County and Yearling Middle School in Okeechobee County, as well as three Pennsylvania schools in Erie and Lancaster as well as his current role in Midland, Krakoff’s schools have all shared a common result when it comes to student discipline: Student disciplinary events have been drastically reduced. Krakoff says that the improvement has come because the focus has to be on changing behaviors through student reflection, restoration of relationships, group talks, and partnerships with families in addition to a consequence.
“Behaviors are a choice,” Principal David Krakoff said. “We have to create systems in which students reflect on choices they made, analyze the outcomes of their choices, and learn to identify alternatives to their choices that led to negative results like getting in trouble. We have to make discipline part of a student’s education so that they learn to think critically about their choices and to choose behaviors and actions that bring positive results.”
At every school at which he was known as Principal David Krakoff, student suspensions reduced by 50% or more while the number of student disciplinary reports written by staff reduced by as much as 80% as seen during Krakoff’s time as director of education and principal at Erie Rise Leadership Academy Charter School. Students who violate a school’s rules face consequences in a restorative approach to discipline but also have to complete projects and tasks to revise decision making and to make wrongs right, Krakoff explains.
“Students learn to revise decision making through counseling and answering questions about their behavioral choices and also create an action plan that identifies alternative, more productive choices to solve issues that led to the poor behavior choice,” Krakoff said. “Then they also have to apologize to appropriate parties and take action to fix relationships and situations that need mended as a result of poor behavioral choices.”
At Erie Rise Leadership Academy Charter School, Principal David Krakoff worked with staff to develop a “Refocus Room,” in which students would come to receive counseling, mindfulness techniques, mediate differences with others, complete reflective thinking, and restorative projects. Krakoff would sometimes assign students who were brought to the “Refocus Room,” to create a lesson as a teacher and to teach their classmates about their behavioral choice and what they learned from the experience in an effort to prevent peers from making similar mistakes. Krakoff also made a point to include parents and guardians in the restorative process so that the home and school send a unified message to students concerning behavioral expectations.
A principal at the high school level in his current role, a middle school leader during his time in Florida, and an elementary and or middle school principal in Lancaster and Erie, Principal David Krakoff has also instituted a proactive system he calls, “Accountable Talks,” to build relationships and empathy between members of a school community. A system that Krakoff says prevents the vast majority of student behavioral issues.
“When students and staff sit together, facing one another, and all take a turn in sharing thoughts or experiences centered around a concept or topic such as a person’s culture, they learn things about one another that they never would have known, Krakoff said. “By holding regularly scheduled talks, students and staff form relationships with and a sense of empathy for others they might not have without a structured system to facilitate authentic communication. When we see others as people with human emotions and experiences, we gain empathy. And empathy leads to cultural competency, respect, and inclusivity.”
In schools from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Stuart, Florida as well as many others schools where school leaders view student discipline as much more than a consequence, students are developing social emotional skills required to succeed in school and in life, Krakoff said.
“We have to care about our students enough to teach them the skills of caring for others, interacting with respect, and learning from behavioral mistakes just as much as we teach math and reading, Principal David Krakoff said. “We have to develop the whole student.”