Truth, grace, and teenagers

stockxpertcom_id27616841_jpg_a6d1ec0151545b5e9774234f12079b1e(Post contributed by Nathan Siebenga, Vice Principal of Student Life at Hamilton District High School, Hamilton, Ontario – thanks Nathan for sharing!)

Three grade 10 boys leave campus property to go and get some treats at the “Hasty Market”. Running a little late on their way back to school, they come across two garbage bags of leaves. One boy thinks nothing of the bags as he is more worried about the trouble for being late. Another wonders where the leaves came from originally. The last boy has an idea. “Hey, let’s take these to school and fill the downstairs bathroom with them!”

“Huh?” says the one boy. “What … ah, okay, whatever?” says the other.

Now motivated and marching faster, the boys take the bags of leaves back to school. Being late for the first afternoon class meant there were very few people in the hallway, so they slipped in the side door avoiding the main-office. Once in the bathroom, they emptied the bags everywhere leaving it with a different smell. With hearts pounding, the boys got rid of the garbage bags above the ceiling tiles and prepared their get away. They peer down both hallways to see that the coast is clear and then proceed to step out into the hall. They enter the main office with their veins coursing with adrenaline. Trying to keep straight faces they ask for late slips. Warily the receptionist behind the counter asks, “What happened?” “We had to leave” one of the boys says, putting the other two into stitches. The receptionist hands out the 3 late slips and ponders the event by making a mental note.

Minutes later a distraught student comes into the office to share with reception that there are leaves all over the bathroom. “Did you hear that, Mr. VanPrincin?” the receptionist calls to the Vice Principal of Students, who was already eagerly standing with nobility in the doorway of his office. After some inquiry by the vice principal the receptionist shares the earlier interaction with the three lads who “had to leave” and their response to this. Mr. VanPrinicin assures the receptionist and the distraught young lad that he will take care of it from here.

Later that day, Mr. VanPrincin calls down the three boys to his office and we all know what happens next. Or do we?

In this time of advent we often read the Christmas story. The Gospel of John articulates how Christ is the Word and how the Word became flesh and he was full of Grace and Truth. Restorative Justice* is a philosophical approach to discipline that is a shift from traditional punitive responses to misdemeanors and discipline cases. In a world that is pushing towards “zero tolerance” for any misconduct at school, restorative justice suggests a shift in this thinking. The shift of restorative justice does not exclude individuals, but rather includes, and surrounds, the involved parties with their community in a process that looks at the harm that was caused. Its focus is on the needs of the victim and the offender as a way of making the community right again.

This philosophical shift for discipline in schools is right. It is not easy and there are obstacles, but it is right. It is right because at the heart of restorative practices is the pursuit of Truth while offering Grace.

*For more information on the Restorative Justice approach see this article or head to this website.



Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, kids/culture, student outcomes

6 responses to “Truth, grace, and teenagers

  1. Bernice Huinink-Buiter

    Thanks, Nathan! Here at JKCS, Woodstock, we too use the restorative approach with our students. Our community of students have experienced this grace many times. We do still have problems, but each time students are drawn into the process of taking ownership for the hurt that has been done. The one who was hurt and the one who did the damage are both given a voice. As each is listened to, each also has an opportunity to participate in the ‘making right what was wrong’. Teachers and students have all been blessed!

  2. Bruce Hekman

    Great case study Nathan. Perhaps you can provide “the rest of the story” as an illustration of the way restorative justice works in schools. There’s “love and logic” way of handling these issues too that reflect grace and the opportunity for transformation. Building communities of grace in schools comes down to finding ways to handle these very specific cases of unintended harm to community.

  3. Julius Siebenga

    Solid work Nate. You’ve made a case for yourself to come and do an RJ talk at our school – we need one.

    Question: If you could boil down the change that you’ve seen at your school into one thing since you’ve gone down the Restorative Justice path – how or what would you characterize it as?

  4. Autumn Boss

    I really enjoyed this article. I liked the beginning with a story that I would enjoy and the wrapping it up with a good closing statement. I agree that many people still struggle with obeying and enforcing the zero tolerence law. But, in the faith, we all need to be pushed to that level. Great article!

  5. Lauren Fisher

    This was an excellent article. When I began reading this article, I was defiantly engaged in reading this story. I realized that citizens are having a hard time with obeying and enforcing the laws. As citizens we need to realize that we will be punished for our actions no matter what. This was an interesting article and I really enjoyed reading it!

  6. Dorothy Vaandering

    Thank you Nathan for offering a clear connection between rj and advent … truly rj is all about Truth and Grace … God’s desire for Creation–not punishment. In this week when the Christian community is celebrating Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ’s presence on earth, it is also wonderful to consider Ursula Franklin’s definition of Peace as the ‘absence of fear’ coming straight from the Christmas story of angels proclaiming “on earth peace to all” in the same breath as “fear not”. Truly in Christian schools we can be leaders in the field of rj which seeks to diminish fear and promote peace both foundational to our faith in Christ who came to do the same. As you state Nathan, living in a culture where fear/power is used to control, it takes strength and courage to work against this mindset. Adopting rj is no simple task; it calls us all to account in terms of recognizing our participation in the promotion of aggression by the way we act and speak with each other. But when we look at our participation honestly and act to repair harm and build relationships, power gets replaced by grace and the image of God becomes clearer.

    Rj is in the early stages of being implemented in schools, there is lots of work to be done … but it has huge potential and carries with it the excitement Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edward felt when they recognized that Aslan IS on the move!

    A few other resources for schools to consider:

    Wolterstorff, N. (2006). Teaching Justly for Justice.

    Morrison, B. (2007). Restoring safe school communities. Sydney: Federation Press.

    Amstutz, L. . & Mullet, J. (2005). The little book of restorative discipline for schools. Pennsylvania: Good Books.

    Pranis, K. (2005). The little book of circle process: a new/old approach to peacemaking. Pennsylvania: Good Books.

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