Looking across the table I could see the sign deep within the students eyes that said, “No Trespassing”. Students have a nonverbal way about themselves. Body language precedes the verbal in most my intake sessions. By the time a student is sitting across from me, they have already been over the incident with a teacher, administrators, parents, police, parole officers, etc. To land in my chair, they have admitted to their part in the offence and have volunteered for a conference. My intake is to familiarize the student with the process and use my baloney detection kit to confirm that we have a genuine participant or someone who has a potential to re-victimize the other student.
First time offenders and “zero tolerance” entanglements conference with huge success. Students that have been involved in a cycle of disciplinary problems since elementary tend to display signs of “No Trespassing”. It means, leave me alone, I’ve got it figured out, you can’t help me, whatever, I don’t want to be in school, you are just like my parents, drop dead, you get the picture. So how does one get trespass rights?
Conferencing is voluntary. Students are offered the process with few prerequisites and if the student is willing to use the process, they have already committed to some trespass rights. The key is how we proceed through the intake. Hard nosing tends to quash the spark, but truth is allowed. The approach is everything. Interest in something other than the incident can go a long way in moving beyond the “no”. Declaration that the process is not deciding who is good or bad, but actions are good or bad will gain you further access, but the clincher if giving the student the empowerment in the option to choose the outcome. They can either actively work to heal the harm or opt-out and work out the discipline according to the code of conduct.
Of course some students are whipped around by their uncertainty like grass in the wind. They are cautious as to not be duped or find it again is an attempt to usurp their independence. Understanding this, we lose a few to anarchy or some misplaced ideal, but largely, conferencing can slip by the “no trespassing” signs in students by giving them the empowerment they need to be accountable. Many times a discussion with support people can lend itself to reaching beyond defenses.
When administrators make the offer of the conferencing option, they should rest easy with students that may seem borderline in accepting their part in the offence; they can brief me before the student intake where I can apply the proper screening to make sure we have a legitimate participant. Even battle hardened and establishment wary students can find empowerment and the powerful effects conferencing can have on problem solving. We must not let the sign deter us at face value.