‘We are what we repeatedly do.’
‘Habits change into character.’‘If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.’
I have been a teacher for 20 years this year and every so often a 'new' idea comes round that you recognise as brilliant, but have lapsed out of using, ceased to focus on in the myriad of stuff we juggle. This year it was restorative conversations for me as we started to use Paul Dix's 5 Pillars from his book, 'When the adults change, EVERYTHING CHANGES'. They are:
1. Calm, consistent adult behaviour
2. First attention to best conduct
3. Relentless routines
4. Scripted interventions
5. Restorative follow up
'A school is a collection of conversations.'
The Speaking Summit 2017
I found a huge amount of cross over with the practice that we had been advocating for oracy such as the meet and greet routine. Like all teaching and learning work, the focus and specification which drive these strategies improve teacher practice by moving from a generalised approach towards targeted practice. Aligning your practice to new strategies should create 'marginal gains' which impact on students' learning, otherwise... what's the point? Here on the fifth pillar, the teacher is coaching the student into better behaviour practice and resetting their relationship with the student:
There will always be behaviour issues in a school.
Our response is what we can control.
Our response is what we can control.
Restorative follow ups or an RC (Restorative Conversation) as we call it has become a key part of our work. I led CPD on the approach to reinforce the work that we did at the start of the year with our Pivotal Trainer, Paul Woodward. We looked at a series of questions with staff from Paul's book and a series of scenarios. Staff were given laminated cards of the questions and practised in coaching trios through the scenarios. I have shared the power point here:
Staff carry these scripted questions on their lanyards and use them in their restorative practice. The picture below is of the card on my lanyard.
In September, this was about giving staff confidence; using the experienced Pivotal practice as a starting point. The questions are good and if I am stuck I still find I use them, but they aren't my words and often feel clunky in my mouth, not authentically me; this year has been about making the practice my own. Like anything in teaching you naturally begin to blend the new ideas with the old.
Before I trained as a teacher, I worked in an MLD school that went from nursery through to year 11 as a resident artist for drama activities. The experience was quite an eye opener as the children struggled with their own issues enough to make collaboration in drama very hard. Coaching students into managing that through supporting them in lessons became a key part of my practice: I got to know them in class before withdrawing them to try out some drama. The RC words that I use are from that period of my training, I often think that it is where all my behaviour management success comes from - every teacher should spend some time in this sector. A wizened old teacher (trusted with the year 11/10 class) modelled how to use RC's and how to build them into a coaching conversation. I watched carefully and acted the part till I began to feel I could hold my own... my new restorative practice is a mix of this and Pivotal.
This is how an RC works for me now, I sit next to the student at a desk and write those words out in front us:
I talk to the student within the opening of the RC through three really important ideas:
- That without reflection we get stuck in a cycle where the same action leads to the same consequence, without ever moving on. I draw an arrow going up from consequence to action and another returning to consequence on the other side. I say that this conversation is about breaking that cycle.
- I introduce the definition of insanity attributed to Einstein: 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.'
- I clarify that the quality of a real apology is action, not spoken words:. Our behaviour beyond this conversation holds the true status of our apology; together we can make sure that this process leads to change.
Then I talk about the incident with the student, sat besides them so that it does not feel like a confrontation. I listen as much as I talk and if facilitating the RJ between students have very specific times when it is their turn to talk. The process necessitates high expectations of the students and their oracy skills, which is worth talking about and preparing them for before hand individually. Sometimes we need time out slots alone, before reaching a shared agreement of what will happen next. It goes without saying that when you do it is as important as how! Sometimes the process takes a couple of attempts across a few days or needs the presence of their tutor or parents.
There has been some twitter interest in the RC process and some evidence of it being used wrongly in school. Sean Hartford, an OFSTED inspector no less, created this thread early in June:
'1. I know this will annoy some on here, but it needs to be said. A number of teachers have said to me recently that their schools are using restorative justice discussions when there is a ‘dispute’ between a teacher and a pupil. What this has actually meant is that the pupil has
2. played up in class and been insolent to the teacher when challenged about it, been removed from the lesson and then lied about what happened to the ‘receiving’ school leader. The teachers have then been expected to take part in the ‘restorative discussion’ as if they need to
3. justify their actions to the pupil (and ‘mediating’ teacher). This just seems wrong to me and undermines the teacher, when the pupil knows they will get such a hearing when clearly they have done something wrong. This sort of thing is wearing for these teachers and I am sure
4. cannot have been the intention of employing such restorative practices?'
I started this blog as a response to this thread. To me an RC is the very definition of 'rigorous kindness' - the expectation is high for both professional and student. The intention is to reaffirm how the classroom works and your status as the teacher within that room. It's about confirming your role, not undermining it. I find these points are really helpful to raise persistently and calmly:
- I as the teacher have higher status than you, this does not mean you are powerless, but that you are safe and directed into your learning by an expert adult.
- You are expected to keep within the school rules; it's ok to struggle with this, but you need to recognise when you do and show willing to work at it.
- My responsibility in the classroom is for the teaching, you are responsible for the learning; it cannot happen without your investment. Whilst each of us might swap to being a learner and a teacher at points, this is the natural order of the classroom.
- I am not responsible for your behaviour or work, you are.
- I have gained the qualifications that I need to do the work I do, I am here to facilitate you getting yours - whether you do or not is largely in your hands.
- They don't give GCSEs away with happy meals because they mean something about your investment and your work - the grade you get will reflect this to your college/university/apprenticeship/employers.
- Your behaviour reflects you, it cannot reflect me.
- I believe in you and I know you can do better.
- This (POSITIVE MEMORY) is how I always think of you in my classroom.
- It's ok to have made this mistake, it's not ok to keep making it.
- I once made a mistake like this/I had another student who made a mistake like this (ANNECDOTE) and this is what we did to make it better...
- In my classroom it is always about #LearningFirst
I think Theodore Roosevelt's daring greatly words are so pertinent to this process - I use them a lot in oracy too - because this work is really and truly rooted in the social and emotional processes of teaching. It is hard personally and professionally, but if you dare to try it the gains can be huge for you and your students. Your behaviour is a model for theirs; you can't teach kindness whilst being unkind. Your behaviour is your integrity as a teacher, it is the proof of your beliefs and morals. The RC is a strong representation of who you really are. Be a teacher they can believe in.
'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly'