Restorative Practice – There really is a better way!

I am sure that through reading my previous posts, it is clear that I do not endorse simply punishing children. I have previously outlined that the best approaches all include listening, asking the right questions and then putting in place the support that the child needs. I believe that the most significant developments in behaviour management are linked to Restorative Practice or Restorative Justice. In schools we develop relationships built on mutual respect and learning environments where children feel safe and secure. Restorative practice focuses on repairing relationships that have broken down to restore the safe and secure environment.

Jay Hayer works in a Walsall secondary school and has been successfully using restorative practice with children for many years. She has been supporting both teachers, and her SLT, in developing their approach to behaviour management. The result is that this academic year her school has developed a new behaviour policy to put this approach at the fore, because as Jay puts it “Handing out detentions like tickets in a meat shop just ensures the same problems continue to evolve until there is no way forward“. Jay has provided the example questions below and it has been a fantastic opportunity to find out from Jay how restorative practice has worked for her. It has reaffirmed that my own beliefs, and what we are doing in my school, is the way forward to successfully support our children.

So what is Restorative Practice?

The Restorative Justice Council explain that Restorative practice can become an explicit set of principles and practices that informs every communication in a school. The aim of restorative practice is to create a context where pupils engage actively in learning about their social behaviours, rather than acting as passive recipients of rules and sanctions.

“It is important to think about how and what you communicate to the child. These are life lessons after all.” – Jay Hayer

Restorative practice can, and should be used, for all conversations with children about their behaviour. My own school initially used this approach to resolve more significant conflicts between children, but we have now moved towards a whole school approach where the language and questioning outlined below is being used in many different situations. Our next step is to embed this approach into the practice of all members of staff.

How does it work?

Firstly, you need to establish what has happened by asking the right questions.

What has happened and why did you respond in the manner which has caused upset?

What were you thinking and feeling at the time?

By answering these two questions, you are showing the child that you value them as a person and are interested in listening to their problem. You can break down these questions into smaller more specific prompts:

Why did you feel the need to say that to student x?

What made you kick the table? Did this make you feel better?

Do you think the student who was feeding back/presenting/answering the question to the class was heard when you decided to talk over them?

Why did you think it was necessary to do that?

Jay explained that as a teacher you must not judge them or their story for this may just be scratching at the surface of what the problem is. This is certainly something I have experienced myself and this is a powerful way of identifying underlying issues that are affecting a child’s behaviour.

After you have established what happened you ask the child to think about who has been affected by their actions. This gives children a chance to self-reflect on how they react to a particular trigger and this can be an elucidating moment for them. Too often, children are not given the chance to reflect on how they have reacted in the moment. Even as adults, we say and do things that we regret, and it is through reflecting on what has happened that we change the way we behave in the future. How many children are given an opportunity to look at what they have done without facing a consequence immediately after the incident?

Here are some examples of questions you could ask.

How do you think student X felt when you said/did that?

How would you feel in student X’s shoes if the same thing was said to you?

Do you think it is fair to shout out with your hand up if the question was directed to another student?

Is it right to make comments about someone when you don’t know if they are true?

How do you think student X felt when those comments went back to them? What do you think others who saw what you said or did must have felt looking at the situation? Is this what you want them to think about you?

The final part of the process is asking the child how we are going to move forward from the incident to help ensure it doesn’t happen again. It is for the child to state why this won’t happen again and for them to initialise and internalise their behaviour. You can’t change their behaviour for them but you can assist them to become better with behaviour triggers.

What do you feel I should do in this situation?

You understand that what you did was wrong and know that in future this cannot happen again, so how can we stop this happening if someone ‘says X/ does X/ you feel upset/you feel angry’?

What could you do to avoid this situation from happening again?

How can we make this situation better for everyone involved?

What is the outcome?

At this point the child has reflected on what happened, why it happened (what was the trigger), how it affected others and what they are now going to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Depending on the seriousness of what has happened, the child may require a consequence for their behaviour. Now they have reflected on and discussed what happened, the child will understand why there may need to be a consequence and it will have a much greater impact on their future behaviour.

I find it helpful to formalise what they are now going to do by having a contract that they agree to. It is important that the child decides what the rules are going to be and that consequences are attached for breaking the contract. A contract works very well when there is more than one child involved e.g. the individual who has caused the upset and the child(ren) who has been upset. They can agree together how each should react if the situation happens again and this is a powerful way of formalising the resolution.

It is essential that for more significant conflicts the pupils are spoken to at future points to review the situation and reflect on how it is going. This allows you to identify any issues and if any further support is needed. I would suggest the following review points:

2 weeks after the initial conflict

2 months after the initial conflict

6 months after the initial conflict

I am a strong advocate of restorative practices. It will not be an approach that comes naturally to all and, like every element of education, it needs to be practiced and developed. I urge you to observe some of those teachers who are strong at behaviour management and who also build positive relationships with the children they teach. I can guarantee that they have got to this point through the use of a restorative approach.

I will finish this post with a fantastic quote from Jay Hayer:

“Staff must choose their battles wisely. Do we always need to punish students when an alternative way exists to make life easier? If we constantly issue detentions over the small things do they not become less effective over time and we lose sight of the bigger battles we will have to endure?

If you would like to find out more about Restorative Practice then I recommend you visit the website for the Restorative Justice Council. Alternatively, there are many schools across the country using this approach very successfully. Like Jay, the School and MAT that I work for has implemented restorative practice into our behaviour policy with positive outcomes. If anyone would like to discuss this further then please do feel free to contact me.

Published by Matthew Domine

Secondary School Deputy Principal. Pastoral leader and music teacher.

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