Of all the PD I’ve undertaken so far in my teaching career, the restorative practices workshop I undertook during my first year of has left an indelible mark on my professional life. Although the term workshop sells short what I learned during my time as a provisionally registered teacher. Restorative practices permeated through everything we did as a school. Not just between teachers and kids, but also between staff and leadership, between teachers and also between the children themselves. Restorative practices are based on the simple premise that children (and adults) are happier, more effective in their learning and most likely to make positive changes in their behaviour when authority figures work with them rather than to or for them. At that the heart of the approach is a restorative chat that follows a preset pattern;
- hearing what went wrong (making sure everyone is heard)
- exploring who has been affected (explore the harm)
- putting things right (repair the harm)
- moving forward (what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again)
However the tough part about restorative practices in the classroom is actually implementing it. Most teachers experience of behaviour management at school was punitive and at times of stress we can default back to this without realising. However a lot of restorative practice can fall over without follow through and end up being permissive. If we aren’t careful we get stuck in the same conversational loop until we get frustrated and end up back in the punitive approach.
My current school is only at the beginning of the journey of implementing restorative practices. Despite my experience working in a school with a strong culture of restorative practice, I felt like I was losing touch with this part of my practice and was sinking into either punitive or a permissive mode too quickly with the kids. As a result, I found myself ridiculously excited that the same facilitators who ran my initial training back in New Zealand were visiting my school back in Singapore to do some work with us.
Restorative practices for me is not about ‘doing’ knowing the process inside out (although understanding the process is important) but asking questions of yourself. How could I have handled a situation better? What decisions did I make to lead conflict, what are the triggers that cause conflict within the classroom and how can I take small actions to avoid it?
In an inquiry classroom, strong relationships are integral to learning. While responsive learning engagements solve a lot of behaviour problems, kids are going to make unwise decisions because they are young. Restorative practices treats these decisions as opportunities for learning and growth. It keeps small things small and gives teachers strategies to diffuse conflict and keep the focus on learning. I love the facilitators’ catchphrase “if you focus on behaviour you get more behaviour, if you focus on learning you get more learning.”
After I was challenged by the facilitator to think about the best restorative chat I had recently, it was one when I admitted to the children that I was losing patience with the conversation, told them I needed some time out, asked them to try and figure out a solution while I checked in on the class. When I came back, the children had worked through a solution. My key take away was that I don’t need to be there to solve every conflict between students that crops up.
What the children in my class need is more tools to help them solve their disagreements among themselves. The session underscored for me the importance of nurturing the culture of restorative practices within a school. It was refreshing to be challenged about my practice.