Restorative Practice; Building Relationships through Positive Communication
My personal definition of success as a teacher is that my students feel good about who they are, and what they do when they are in my room (and the hope is, by extension, in our world). I left my happy classroom four years ago after doing a lot of research and implementation of restorative practice in my school community and beyond. I now lecture part-time in Maynooth University and work as a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant in my company Connect RP. I am delighted to get the opportunity to share my love for RP here with you all. I really believe in it, as a teacher and a human being in the world, I feel it has so much to offer us all. You check out my July summer course or Saturday workshops if you would like to know more here.
Restorative Practice is a values based way of being that aims to proactively build relationships and respond to harm in a healthy way when it occurs. It fosters restorative skills include basic communication skills: “active listening; the ability both to express feelings and needs and to encourage others to do the same; interpersonal emotional literacy; relationship building and conflict resolution skills” (Hopkins 2006, p. 5). A simple 5 minute check-in circle, using a talking piece at the beginning of a class, asking students how they feel on a 1-10 can offer huge insight into how we can meet that person in that moment, it also gives the opportunity for us all to be aware of how we are feeling so that we can live from a conscious space.
There are so many daily demands on teachers to meet learning objectives, fill in rolls, check and correct homework etc. and this may indeed take five precious minutes but rather than take away from learning time, it scaffolds a space for academic learning to occur. It develops a methodology that can be used for teaching, learning and formative assessment. It builds life skills, facilitates oral and emotional literacy, develops communication skills such as active listening and authentic sharing. Such engagement allows us to tap into students’ personal scripts, it changes the energy in the room, breathes the connection that fosters an enthusiastic, safe, and collaborative work space. In summary – IT FEELS GOOD!
I love Maya Angelou’s quote and try my best to use it as my compass to guide my intention and interactions with young people in the classroom. Bring to mind a teacher or role model who has made a difference in your life. How did you feel in their presence? Equally, can you remember a classroom where you felt fearful, nervous, angry, or exposed? What were these teachers feeling when they negatively spoke , embarrassed, or shouted at us? Were they conscious of the impact of their words, I wonder, or were they, perhaps more likely, just lost in their own “stuff”, doing the best they could in that moment? So the question is, how can we hold hands and do better together?
I believe the answer lies within recognising and regulating the world of emotions and restorative practice offers practical skills and tools to facilitate this such as the restorative questions. These thinking questions often elicit feeling responses. As teachers and leaders in our class we can choose to model positive communication. I outline my own experiences in my TEDx Michelle Stowe’s TEDx on Restorative Conversations. The intention is to authentically connect, share and invite in order develop empathy and understanding. The focus moves away from blame and judgement (which fosters disconnection) and instead focuses on needs, solutions and the empowerment of choices (which facilitates connection). Calm is a superpower and in times of challenge, we want to offer our students our calm, not take the ‘cray cray’ ☺!
A restorative approach honours the restorative values. I teach the FRIENDS values as part of my Friendship Keeper programme that I deliver in schools. It promotes compassion, accountability and, I believe, new capacities of mind and heart. RP does not offer a magic wand but a way to live our own values, asking ‘who do I want to be in this situation?’ can be a very powerful reflection and indeed some of our students will more support than others. But, in my experience, we either spend the time filling their cup with love or responding to the poor behaviour that results from the lack of it, either way we spend the time. For me, a restorative approach allows us to focus our energy in the right direction.
Maya Angelou’s quote reminds me of my favourite teacher in school, Mr John Cronin. He’s the kind of teacher who visits you during your first year of college when you are struggling and feeling a bit lost; the kind of teacher who, even though he is now a busy principal, takes time to send a Christmas card every single year to his past pupils. He is a special type of human that the world is lucky to have. He has made a big difference in my life and I try to pay this forward. He recently inspired me once again, twenty years later, when he gifted me a beautiful poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
…Don’t go where the path may lead,
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail
What lies before us and what lies behind us
Are small matters compared to what lies within us
And when we bring what is within out into the world,
For me, restorative practice supports a new epistemology, a way of being in the world that exists long after the facts have faded from students’ minds. It creates a paradigm shift from punitive to restorative, from punishment to accountability, and from blame to empathy and connection; understanding that authentic power lies internally – honouring values and conscious choices, instead of externally -trying to control others. It offers a trail for what lies within to emerge. For me, on a spiritual level, this creates the miracles that Emerson speaks of, the little shifts in perception from fear to love (ACIM)!
If you’d like to attend one of my workshops, click on this link:
I will also facilitate a summer course from 8th to 12th July in Dublin West Education Centre. Places are limited, and early booking is recommended.
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