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Implementing a whole-school restorative approach - lessons from the chalk-face

 

I have the honour to be walking alongside several schools on their journey to implement a whole-school restorative approach this academic year. The schools include a residential school for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties, a mainstream comprehensive school, an inner – city multi-cultural multi-lingual primary school, an academy based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, and a school for children with moderate and complex learning needs.

There is no fixed template for how to implement change. Every school is different, their contexts differ, their starting points are different, their needs are different. So there is no one tried and tested way to achieve the transformation these schools are hoping for. This piece shares a few suggestions and a few examples.

Planning with the end goals in mind
Having the end in mind is a good starting point. My vision for a fully restorative school may not always be the same as that of the school leadership and the wider school community. However I am clear in my own mind that the journey towards a whole-school approach does involve fundamental changes in the way people relate across the whole school -in the classroom, the staff room, the school offices, the playground, and the corridors as well as changes in policies, procedures and communication channels. And this takes time - years, rather than months - and money, unless the training expertise and understanding of change management resides within the school already, and unless training is done out of school hours.

Having a clear working plan of how to achieve these changes over time is necessary. It can be a work-in-progress document -and indeed should be a dynamic one, based on constant evaluation and review - so that it remains responsive to feedback from the whole school community. The plan, linked to the whole school development plan, will indicate who is going to do what and when by. It will also indicate how to evaluate the impact of each step, so that the people leading the change process can make intelligent choices about what to do next.

I would always recommend that a steering group drives this process, so that the responsibility does not fall on an individual's shoulders, and that this Steering Group is representative of all the different elements of a school community - senior leadership team, teaching staff, support staff, students, parents, governors, administrative staff, canteen staff and caretaking/cleaning staff.

Senior Leadership Team as role models
In some of the schools I am working with now I began by working with the Senior Leadership Team - inviting the members of the team to reflect on their own relationship skills and the degree to which not only they were aware of each others' needs to be the best they could be, but also the degree to which these needs were being met. Getting their own relationships and relationship skills to where they wanted them to be has been an exciting and vital first step on the road to change. The Senior Leaders model restorative practice with each other, with parents, staff and students – they set the standard in fact, and serve as the inspiration for everyone else.

Cascading with Champions
I am keen to develop champions and training expertise in the schools I support. In one school I have trained about 16 people in a wide range of restorative processes and applications. They have been called the Restorative Champions. I invited them to consider the different elements that make up a whole-school restorative approach. I had my own ideas, which I shared, and they are also free to think of others. These elements form the basis of a programme of workshops that will be designed by the Champion group who meet several times a half term (for planning, support and review). These Champions are also meanwhile using their new skills and acting as pioneers across the school, sharing their stories and supporting each other.

These 16 people, working in pairs, will each work with a learning group (or circle) of their peers in such a way that every member of staff is in such a group. In the case of this particular school with a staff of about 100, each of the 8 groups would have about 10 participants plus the 2 restorative champions, thus involving the whole staff team.

Each Learning Circle of 12 plan to meet once a half term and their two Champions will then deliver the workshop that they have been preparing with the other Champions. The first one was due to be on the essential principles of a restorative approach. Subsequently there would be one on designing and facilitating pro-active Class circles. Following the workshop the participants would have until the next half termly workshop to try out any new ideas or skills that they learnt, or experience the new way of seeing things that a Restorative Mindset provides. They would re-convene in their Learning Circle to share feedback before the Champions then delivered the next topic.

This Cascade model would take about 3 years to deliver all the elements identified as important for a whole-school restorative approach. My own role over this time will be to support the Champions by creating extra resources for their use (booklets, hand outs and video footage), although they also have a responsibility to research each topic for themselves, sourcing useful reading materials and video footage. By the end of the 3 years there will be plenty of training and change-management experience and expertise in the school

Slowly slowly
In another school, an inner city multi-cultural primary school in an area where gang culture is rife, the new Head teacher has already had many years experience of implementing a whole-school approach and sustaining it in a previous school. I worked with her for many years in this school. So in her new school she has begun gradually leading by example. Her approach was very different from what had been done before.

 She then delivered an INSET herself on the essential principles of a restorative approach and I followed this up last term working all day with the whole staff team (including senior leadership team, teaching staff, support staff, students, parents, governors, administrative staff, canteen staff and caretaking/cleaning staff – the first time this group of people had ever worked together as a team). During that day I went over some of the essential principles, and also introduced people to Restorative Enquiry. This was simply to introduce another way of thinking about, and responding to, people when something unexpected or undesired has happened in the classroom or playground.

 This week I have gone back and begun a five-day piece of work – offering 3-hour workshops to group of 6 - 8 staff, consolidating their restorative enquiry/listening skills based on my 5:5:5 model of restorative practice (5 core beliefs/5 key types of questions/5 step processes).

We are now going to see the impact of this training on staff practice, on relationships across the school and on other performance measures such as flare-ups in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds. In a few weeks the Head will ask staff what further support they need, and what further training they would like from me

These are just a few examples of ways schools are implementing a whole-school approach and how I am supporting them as trainer, change consultant and coach.

If you are interested in finding out more about any of these ideas do get in touch.

 Dr Belinda Hopkins, Director, Transforming Conflict, January 21st 2017

 

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