I haven’t written a post before about my own practice so please bear with me. This may be more of a story than a helpful post!
Before my cluster began using restorative practice I had heard of it from a friend in another local authority but hadn’t really considered it in depth. At first I was a bit sceptical about it, thinking that it was the latest buzz word. As I learned more about it I began to think that this wouldn’t be so different to my normal practice. I felt that I listened to the children in my class and gave them an opportunity to have their say. I realised that I wasn’t as good a listener as I thought I was.
I went back to class the next day and began to try it out, thinking I may as well go for it. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it actually would be. To begin with, I thought that it would be easy enough to go through the questions and reach an amicable solution to the problem in hand. However what I found was that there were a lot of elements that I would have to work hard on to make progress with it. At the beginning of a conversation, I would thank the children for coming to discuss the problem and explain that in order for us to resolve the issue, everyone has to be honest about what happened. Next, I would ask the child who highlighted the problem to explain their side of the problem first of all. I found that some children simply couldn’t sit and listen to the others without interrupting. This was the first hurdle I had to make sure that we crossed. To address this, I changed my initial discussion and made sure I explained that each child would be listened to. Again, this took a while to settle in and the children who had regularly been in trouble didn’t believe that they would have an equal chance to speak. However, as time has gone on, the children can see that I am ensuring that everyone has their say and is listened to without being prejudged. I feel that this was a large part of the barrier to children being honest and once they realised that I was being open minded, they became more relaxed about being open and (sometimes brutally) honest.
The next thing I had to deal with was the awkward silence we experienced when I asked the children what we could do to improve things. As teachers we are programmed to help children and offer advice on how to progress, so seeing them at a complete loss for words as to what next steps can be, it is only natural to offer a solution. However throughout the training that was given on restorative practice, we were told that we should not tell the children what they should do to make things better as this is the element of responsibility and personalisation that restorative practice offers. This is one of the areas that my colleagues and I all agree is the most difficult to overcome. Often the children suggest something that I do not feel is suitable or proportionate and I find it difficult to stop myself from offering an alternative suggestion. For example, I came across a situation where 2 boys had been fighting at lunch time. One of the boys is regularly in trouble for fighting and I fully expected the situation to have been caused by him. On discussion it turned out that the other boy had been calling him names and he reacted by pushing and hitting him. After the discussion, I asked what they thought we could do to make it better. The boy who had been name calling immediately responded with an apology. He felt that he had provoked the reaction and he needed to apologise. The boy who had reacted with violence felt that he did not have to apologise because he also felt he had been provoked and was justified in his actions. On asking the first boy if he felt he needed anything in return he said no and that he was happy with the situation. In my own mind, I felt that the boy who reacted violently owed an apology to the first boy and I found it difficult to make him see that violence is never acceptable. I felt that because he wasn’t being shouted at or made to feel ashamed of himself his true feelings came out, raising a different issue that I would have to deal with later. Both boys were happy with how the situation was resolved. In order to address this in more depth I have undertaken circle time activities on resolving conflict. I also intend to try and address the issue of violence being unacceptable.
The progress I have seen is that at the beginning of the process, I would often spend a whole afternoon dealing with problems that had happened at lunch time. This has now lessened as the children have become more familiar with dealing with incidents in a restorative way. They have increased their emotional vocabulary and are now able to articulate their feelings more quickly and precisely. There is also a much more calm atmosphere in the classroom. Children do not react to each other in frustration as often as they did at the beginning of the year. I still feel that there is a long way to go and much more work needs to be done on making children see the range of resolutions that are available to them. This is something that can continue to be the focus of circle time activities and perhaps even literacy activities. The number of incidents where pushing and hitting is involved has decreased and children are now choosing to address any disagreements in a much more mature and responsible way. One particular child who is prone to shouting out in class if someone annoys them is beginning to make the choice to come and ask me if he can leave the room to calm down instead of shouting. Another boy who was regularly in trouble for hitting others has drastically reduced the number of times this happens. School Assistants have commented on the difference they have noticed in the children in the playground, showing that the change is not only in the classroom. I am not under the illusion that restorative practice has radically changed my classroom already as we have only been using it for the last few terms but I am definitely seeing slight changes. I know that it can take up to 5 years to become embedded and for the school to be truly restorative but I feel that progress is being made in small steps and over time these will amount to a huge change in the behaviour in school.