I’m sitting with two boys talking about restorative approaches. If you read part one of this three-part series last week (“The case for embracing restorative justice” , 2 March), you will know that we are a restorative school. Slightly to provoke a response, I ask the boys the following: “So if you just have to talk about it, doesn’t that mean you get away with it?”
The boys are quick to jump in: “No, no – not at all”.
“So what’s worse, getting a detention or talking about the problem?”
Again, they are quick to respond: “It would have to be talking about it – because you are having to confess up to what you’ve done and hear how it made the other person feel.”
These students did not arrive at our school with these opinions: their views are the result of years of interacting with staff who model these values and years of being held accountable for their behaviour.
So, having explained why you might want to become a restorative school last week, I now offer my guide to the essential components of getting restorative justice right. These are all in relation to our own context as a special school but the points are applicable to all settings.
1. Lead from the top
Restorative approaches only work if they come from the top. Restorative leadership is a must and is central to everything you do. For the Iffley Academy in Oxfordshire, where I am assistant headteacher, this approach included headteacher Kay Willett receiving formal training so that she was not only able to talk about the values and philosophy, but also had the knowledge and skills to put them into practice and be able to support her staff in repairing, maintaining and building relationships.
2. Get help
Early links were established with Transforming Conflict (the National Centre for Restorative Approaches in Youth Settings), and this has become an ongoing and important relationship.
Finding a trainer who we could relate to was important, and maintaining the relationship over a number of years while we built the culture was essential.
This is evidence-based practice – staff need to understand the research and have the opportunities to reflect on how to implement it and to develop the confidence to run restorative conferences. This needs an experienced training provider and it needs the school to give teachers the time to engage in the training properly. Yes, that will mean them spending periods out of school that you will have to cover.
3. Embed it in your culture
Restorative approaches aren’t just a behavioural response – they are about how you think and how you respond to a wide range of different things. Staff constantly model emotional literacy through classroom displays and “check ins” with the students first thing in the morning. They celebrate empathy and kindness through weekly award ceremonies and expect children to repair physical and emotional damage that they cause. These elements develop the restorative culture.
4. Differentiated responses
It’s Friday and the sound of a saw resonates from the construction workshop. Inside, a girl, working alongside her class teacher, is cutting a board to repair a hole in the classroom wall she had made by kicking it.
She understands the rules and the boundaries. She is the one who is responsible for her behaviour and is accountable for repairing the damage that has been caused. She and her teacher talk about the incident, discussing who has been affected, the impact on her classmates and, subconsciously, they are rebuilding the relationships. They talk about her frustrations, what’s been happening outside of the school and what she “needs” in order to display positive learning behaviours and maintain good relationships.
Of course, not all harm can be fixed with some simple tools and materials, but it’s through the conversation that the real work is being done. This is differentiated just like any high-quality teaching strategy – the adults all the time interacting with different children in different ways, ensuring that their work is appropriate to the child’s needs.
5. Explicitly teach emotional literacy
On the other side of the school, students are checking in from break time. They take it in turns to position their own “cut-out faces” on to an emotional barometer, expressing how they feel by where they are on the chart. These positions relate to words – words that are selected to suit their current stage of cognitive development and designed to stretch their understanding and to further develop their emotional literacy.
At the end of the lesson, the teacher runs through the “learning passports” and asks the children to reflect on five areas of their engagement with the lesson.
Have the students:
* Shown that they are prepared and ready to learn?
* Demonstrated that they are learning?
* Shown effort and perseverance?
* Made a positive impact on the learning environment?
* Self-assessed their progress?
For new students, this can be tough but they will become well-versed and will be much tougher on themselves than you might expect. Students earn points for positive behaviour and learning, and these points enable access to their chosen reward club at the end of the week. These activities range from time on the iPads to sports, interactive games and arts and crafts. The language is important – they are earning points, not losing them.
The teacher speaks directly with individuals before final totals are revealed, priming them for the outcome. Many of these students read social stories, which address excitement, anticipation, success and failure – with coaching statements that support emotional understanding and scaffold empathy.
While this might seem specific to our school, the ethos of positive praise and earning rewards can work in all settings.
Time spent carrying out detentions could be spent on resolving conflicts. However, time spent teaching emotional literacy could prevent conflict occurring in the first place.
6. Embed it in policy
This pedagogy is, of course, supported by policy, which spans a number of key documents. Staff who are in conflict also resolve issues in a restorative way. Approaches to supporting conflict with parents are the same.
This is where policy and transparency are important in implementing a restorative culture. Not everyone wants to work in this way – we had to be clear at interview for new applicants that this was the approach, and ensure that restorative approaches were built into our behaviour, staff communication and disciplinary policies.
7. Accept that this will be more time- and cost-heavy than standard approaches
Restorative work can be time-consuming and the cost benefit for your school is never going to be the biggest selling point. However, our restorative culture contributed to our Ofsted “outstanding” judgment and the long-term cost benefits directly relate to the child.
It has been shown that restorative approaches can have the most impact on children with special educational needs and disabilities, and mental health is a key area where restorative approaches could support better outcomes.
Restorative approaches allow skills to be generalised across different situations – ensuring that the positive choices made in the school environment remain when the teachers and sanctions are no longer there.
8. Maintain your boundaries
Finally, make sure that you hold the boundaries for the children, challenge the misconception that restorative work lets children off the hook and make the pupils accountable for their behaviour and responsible for their actions.
Tom Procter-Legg is assistant headteacher at the Iffley Academy, Oxfordshire
Next week: we look at how to overcome the challenges of a restorative approach