This isn't the first workshop I have been involved in in relaton to restorative practices. At my previous school we had a lot of PD around PB4L and restorative practices and there were similar ideas about restorative practices being something everyone did when our young people did something wrong. However, in my experience, and from the learning I have experienced as part of my Master of Educational Leadership and Master of Counselling programmes is that restorative practices are a philosophy, a way of thinking about how we relate to each other and our young people. What concerns me and has for several years now is that we, as educators, might be missing the point of restorative practices.
My understanding of restorative practices is shaped by the philosophy that relationships, and how they are nutured and shaped are fundamental to practicing restoratively. What this means to me is that the way I speak and interact with colleagues and students alike is from a place of genuine care, respect and curiousity. Also, a willingness to listen and hear before speaking. What I believe is that restorative practices done right reduce the need for restorative discipline. In fact, I believe that many as educators we may think of restorative discipline and restorative practices as one in the same.
I believe at it's core that restorative practices are a way of being whereas restorative discipline are things we do in response to things going wrong in the classroom. In my experience developing relationships based on restorative practices diminishes the need for restorative discipline. One of the ways that I work restoratively in the classroom with my students is to always ask "why" allowing a student time to explain their actions or words. More often than not this is in relation to a situation where a student may do something inappropriate. Early in the year, while I was teaching, one of my students left the class without permission or explaining they were leaving. Once they returned to class I spoke with them privately enquiring about why they left. After he had time to explain I then explained that as he was my responsibility when he left class it put me in a difficult position because I didn't know where he was. I asked him if we could agree on another way of doing things if he felt he had to leave class again. We were able to agree on a process - it didn't work 100% of the time but what I did notice was that over the term he left class more infrequently and most of the time he asked permission.
At the centre of my ideas about relationships and restorative practices is the belief that rather than control my students I want them to learn to control themselves. I believe that they can't do this without a willingness on my part to understand their position and what motivates them. I also believe that a young person can control themselves more frequently when they experience the value of respect. Respect isn't something a young person knows - they have to learn. The best way for them to learn is to experience in their relationship with me, their teacher.
As part of today's workshop the facilitators articulated the importance of relationships with our students and interesting some in the workshop felt there wasn't time to build relationships. I believe this is concerning given the initiatives developed by the Ministry of Education with relationships as the central focus in improving student academic acheivement. One of the facilitators did say "you are always building relationships. Either on purpose or by doing nothing." I found this comment interesting - you can either build a relationhip that tells a young person they are of value or if you "don't have time" then you build a relationship that tells a young person they don't matter.
Either way you are are building a relationship!