Restorative Practices – a Way forward in Education by Sr. Liz Smyth OP
In this article I wish to reflect on how the use of Restorative Practice in our daily lives as Dominican Educators can build right relationships and answer a need in society today to Respect, Understand, Include all by building Positive Relationships.
Education is a powerful predictor of life chances and opportunities. Research shows that those who leave school with little or no formal education have less opportunities in later life. (ERSI, Barnardos). Research on early school leaving states that a significant reason for a student to leave school before completion of the Leaving Certificate is because of “poor relations” either with peers or staff members.
We in St. Dominic’s, Ballyfermot believe that as educators in the Dominican Tradition of “Holistic Education” it is important that our students and staff have a sense of “belonging” by the promotion of positive relationships”. This we believe will lead to the social, emotional and academic progress of our students which is central to our Mission as a teaching and learning community.
Building Right Relationships
Since 2007, we have been using Restorative Practice as a process to help us change inappropriate behaviour and alleged bullying incidents within our teaching and learning community through the promotion of positive relationships and personal responsibility. Restorative Practice is central to our Code of Behaviour and daily school life. Our school’s moral purpose is “never give up on any student, and relationships are the key to a successful education”. It is our firm belief that if students and staff are not happy then teaching and learning does not take place. Happiness is real when relationships are Positive. This philosophy in St Dominic’s takes its foundation from our Congregational Mission Statement of 1998, where we are called to “Build Right Relationships”. This we believe leads to success.
What is Restorative Practice. (RP) ?
According to the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) “Restorative Practice is a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision making”. The Childhood Development Initiative (CDI) Tallaght who are spearheading Restorative Communities and Schools describe restorative practices as “both a philosophy and a set of skills that have the core aim of building strong relationships and resolving conflict in a simple and emotionally healthy manner” (CDI, 2014, p7)
Restorative Practice (RP) grew out of Restorative Justice (RJ) and mediation. Unlike RJ and mediation which is focused on solving conflict problems or dealing with a problem after it has arose, RP can give us the simple skills needed to prevent the conflict in the first place if we live and work in restorative environments.
RP is about consciously working to develop and maintain good relationships. It encourages each one to take personal responsibility for their actions, have high expectations of each other and also offer high levels of support to meet those expectations.
The philosophy of RP is rooted in respect, recognition of the importance of good relationships between people for human well-being and development; and the understanding that relationships can and should be restored when they have been harmed by conflict or wrongdoing. Key RP skills include the abilities to listen and to develop empathy between people, fairness; problem -solving; and conflict resolution skills.
Restorative Practice creates a positive environment where members have the necessary skills to self-regulate their own behaviour and learning. It helps to
Develop – emotional literacy, truth telling, accountability, responsibility;
Improve – behaviour, attendance, learning environment, teaching;
Increase – empathy, happiness, social and communication skills;
Reduce – bullying, exclusions, conflict, need for sanctions.
Developing Social and Emotional Intelligences (SEI)
The practice of RP involves the building and expanding of our social and emotional intelligence which gives us the ability to perceive and evaluate our emotions. This development leads to a healthier well-being and prevents us from “reacting”. It promotes a more positive “action” in situations and prevents conflict.
Restorative Language is inclusive, respectful and a collaborative process for putting things right, with consensual outcomes. We use restorative language to establish, maintain, strengthen, relationships. It can be used to “resolve conflict” but it can also be used when promoting positive behaviour.
Aims of Restorative practice
According to Thorsborne and Vinegrade (2008) Restorative approaches are based on four key aims;
1. Respect – for everyone by listening to other opinions and learning to value them;
2. Responsibility – taking responsibility for your own actions;
3. Repair – developing the skills within a school or community so its individual members have the necessary skills to identify solutions that repair harm;
4. Re-Integration – working through a structured, supportive process that resolves the issue and ensure behaviours are not repeated.
The Restorative Process
There are six key questions that are used when promoting Restorative Practices.
1. What Happened?
2. What were you thinking of at the time?
3. What have you thought about since?
4. Who has been affected and in what way?
5. How could things have been done differently?
6. What do you think needs to happen next?
These can be used when dealing with conflict (but can also be used when promoting positive behaviour attitude). If there is a clear wrongdoer then they are asked the first five questions first and then the person who was harmed answers the five questions – finally the harm doer says what he/ she thinks needs to happen to restore the relationship.
The RP Process can involve any of the following settings:
Informal / formal conversion (1:1 eg issue on corridor, minor conflict, to promote positive behaviour / relationship)
Restorative Meeting (more than two people or when there is an issue that needs to be resolved)
Restorative Circle (either to build a sense of belonging or to solve a problem within the class / group)
Restorative Conference This takes place when a more serious allegation has been made or incident occurs, there is preparation for this, and the victim and accused will have the opportunity to bring support.
Being restorative involves being fair therefore it will always involve Engagement / Explanation / Expectation. It separates the person from the problem or their behaviour.
It is the no blame approach and it gives the wrong doer the opportunity to take responsibility for their behaviour and say sorry and it gives the person who is harmed the opportunity to forgive and move on in their life’s journey.
Ultimately RP gives each one of us the opportunity to be RESPONSIBLE for our behaviour and RESTORTATIVE in our dealings with others.
Sr. Liz Smyth OP