Pro-active and Preventative Restorative Practice

Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Cobourg, Brighton 002Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Cobourg, Brighton 001

Following the amazing Symposium on Thursday, I met with Mr Stan Baker (pictured at the podium), and we talked further about how Restorative Practice can be viewed as ‘a way of thinking and being’.  A philosopy based upon principles, grounded in consistent values.  At last, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were beginning to fall into place, in regard to my deeper understandings.  I questioned where the idea of ‘restoration’ fits when we are often now working so pro-actively and preventatively. Doesn’t ‘restorative’ infer that a problem must exist in order to apply the methodology?  Mr Baker explained that ‘restoration’ can refer to decreasing the ‘space between misunderstandings’.  Have you ever felt like you have been misunderstood, or had difficulty communicating your point of view?  This ‘impacts’ each of us, sometimes more often than we would like to acknowledge. Have you ever wished for a forum in which you could express yourself clearly and safely?  Restorative Practice ‘RESTORES THE CONNECTIONS ‘ in the spaces between people by ensuring communications are well heard and understood.  Thus, closing the ‘gap’ between misunderstandings – even when the intent of people involved is good.  The Restorative Questions provide a framework to ‘narrow the gap’ between people and better understand what each other’s needs are.  With youth depression and anxiety on the rise, building interconnections with communities is vitally important.  The students I met and spoke with during my tour of eastern Ontario schools certainly appeared connected, not only with each other, but with their teachers, and wider school community.

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Restorative Practices Symposium, 2nd May, 2013 – Ontario, Canada

Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Cobourg, Brighton 008Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Cobourg, Brighton 016

On this day, Thursday, 2nd May, 2013, over 250 students, teachers, administrators and special guests from across Ontario, Canada, came together to share their Restorative Practice and experiences.  It was incredible to be in a room with so many people talking the restorative language.   There was a film crew assigned to create a documentary of the day, and a ‘video booth’ was set up beside the conference room for anyone to drop in and record their thoughts,  (you couldn’t hold me back – so there may just be an Australian voice included!).

The day was M.C.’d  by Mr Stan Baker – Restorative Practice Resource Teacher, Kawartha Pine Ridge School Board – and accompanying Stan was a talented drama student from a local school.   There were representatives from the Ministry of Education participating as well – and I was seated with them, as an ‘honoured guest’ – wow!

A key goal of the day’s symposium was to collect tangible, objective data that describes Restorative Practice in school settings.  Thus, an ‘assessment tool’ that reflects the practice can be produced and shared amongst communities.  Stan and his team are working closely with Dr Shannon Moore from Brock University.  Dr Moore will assemble the data generated and apply qualitative psychology methodology, such as Grounded Theory, to analyse the material with an aim to produce objective information that will assist not only in more schools uptaking the practice, but making it more measurable too.  Previously much information about the success of restorative practice has been qualitative and subjective, and so this research is quite a break through!

The day was filled with conversations about what a ‘restorative school’ would look like, sound like and feel like.  Resources, ideas, activities for engaging school communities and creating positive whole school change were enthusiastically shared amongst participants.  There was a lot of ‘butcher paper’ around the room, and in the hallways, covered with ideas from small group brainstorms.  This information was captured by each group’s ‘note taker’ and transferred onto a USB which was provided by our facilitators.  I have never seen such an enormous generation of restorative data ever!  From this a pedagogy of restorative teaching and learning will become available for schools, and what a fabulous resource this will be!

Early in the day every table (and there were a lot of tables!) produced a ‘vocal chorus’ in which the small groups tried to put into words what they valued most about Restorative Practice. Here are some of the shared values that stood out:

community, dignity of every person, voice, inclusivity, diversity, connection to each other, equality, strength of relationships, repairing harm, respect, honesty,  equity, restoration

But perhaps the most moving part of the day was when our key note speaker, Miss Hannah Elsworth, a softly spoken teenager, told of her experiences as a student and how a restorative school community can create exceptional outcomes from the most adverse of circumstances.  I tried to capture some of her speech to share, as it was inspirational:

“relationships with students are more important than anything, as they are the future; tell your stories, as stories teach lessons; resolution depends on nurturing; depression can be prevented and balance restored by the work we do in schools; students take lessons from schools into society and carry them to adulthood; as a human race we seem to have ‘mastered conflict’ but are yet to ‘master resolution’; sometimes students can learn more from teachers than from their parents; teachers can be thought of as third parents; moral compass is sometimes only learnt at school; teachers are raising the future of humanity”  What do you think?

All of the collated data from the symposium will be assembled and shared amongst participants, and I look forward to reading Dr Moore’s research when it is published.

It was a most inspiring day and I feel so fortunate to have been involved.

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Restorative Practices – A Principal’s Perspective And A Corn Roast – Colborne Public School

Port Hope Peterborough May 1st 003

We had beautiful spring weather in Canada today.  Perhaps that is why the School Principal and myself stood outside in the sun and talked and talked.  Or perhaps it was that we both were energised by Restorative Practices.

I visited Colborne Public School today.  It is a small school, K – Yr 8.  But it offers so much to it’s students.  A fabulous drumming club, special lunchtime activities, links with the local Rotary Club in which students meet with members and plan events, ‘tribes’ and…. restorative practices.

If anyone in Australia is interested in ‘tribes’ have a look at this book :

‘Reaching All by Creating Tribes – Learning Communities’ by Jeanne Gibbs, Center Source Systemes, Windor, California, 2006

There are many shared principles between tribes and restorative practices, as essentially, tribes work to build communities.  The above book has lots of great games and energisers too.

After recess today I was asked if I would like to sit in on a restorative conference, as two students had become upset and angry with each other.  The restorative questions were applied, and it was discovered that they were both feeling a little ‘raw’ about personal events.  The conference helped them to understand this about each other, and then they developed ideas to help themselves get along – one of which was to change the rules of the game so it involved less ‘contact’.  It didn’t take too long to resolve, but touched on some deep issues in both boys.

Before I left Colburn Public School I talked with Pam – the School Principal. She clearly loves her job, and is loved by her staff.  She recalled when she first began working as an administrator she was confronted by a very irritated parent who was frustrated and annoyed about a situation in the school.  Pam told me that this used to unsettle her a little, but not anymore.  She said that since she has knowledge and understanding of the restorative model she feels very comfortable in handling these challenging situations.  She told me how the model provides her with a framework to respond with.  This includes understanding how to use the restorative questions, listening carefully and working collaboratively to solve the problem.  With / Not To.  In order to develop parental understandings Pam’s teachers all demonstrated an aspect of restorative practice at the beginning of the school year.  Parents were invited in for a ‘cook out / corn roast’ and then the teachers and students role-played circles, tribes, restorative conferences etc Each class chose a different theme from the restorative continuum.  What a great idea, eh?

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Restorative Practice At Lydia Trull Public School – Proactive Circles, Academic Circles, Tribes

Samantha Kourakis Anika Foundation Scholarship Recipient

Port Newcastle, Lydia Trull 005Port Newcastle, Lydia Trull 004Port Newcastle, Lydia Trull 006

Wow, what an amazing day at Lydia Trull Public School, Ontario, Canada!

I learnt how Restorative Practice is a significant aspect of their 2012-2013 School Improvement Plan, and as such, statistical base line data has been collected to measure the success of strategies.  A whole school ‘climate’ survey was conducted and results collated and analysed to formulate strategies for  improvement.  Ongoing communication with students, parents and the wider community was highlighted.  Furthermore, the use of circles is being extended to support academic goals.

I visited a number of classrooms and each teacher was generous in their sharing and willingness to show me how they built their classroom communities on the restorative principles within circles – such as voice, respect, empathy, responsibility and support.

I particularly liked Michelle Smith’s ‘Tribes’.  Michelle has worked with her year 6 students to help them create ‘sub-communities’ called ‘tribes’ within the larger community of her class.  These smaller groups of…

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Restorative Circle Assists Suspended Student To Re-Enter Classroom

Today I witnessed something really special.

The school community I visited was recently rocked by an incident in which a Year 8 student breached the ‘Use of Technology’ code of conduct.  This caused significant harm to a teacher and involved a number of students.  A student was suspended from school as a result.  As a part of his re-entry agreement, in collaboration with his family, this student was asked to participate in a restorative circle with his classmates.  He agreed, and I was invited to observe.

The teacher began the circle by welcoming back the student and then asked for a quick ‘go around’ in which each person chose a personality attribute of the person sitting next to them and shared.  The teacher then worked on building the community by acknowledging each unique personality in the class.  She then spoke openly about the critical incident that led to this circle.  She talked of her feelings and how she was affected.  She then invited the students to share their thoughts, feelings and reflections.  She had given them a little time earlier in the day to prepare for this and they each had a some notes on a small piece of paper.  The returning student listened respectfully as he heard his classmates speak of their concerns.  They told of their worry for the class’ reputation amongst the school,  and their disappointment that they didn’t step up when they knew something was happening.  They talked of feeling guilty for not telling an adult.  And they offered advice such as telling the student that what he did was ‘not a good way to receive attention’.  They talked of feeling upset that as a result of this incident students are now not allowed to bring phones into school.  The teacher responded with expectation clarity.  Finally the students appeared to agree that it was something that happened that they all feel a little responsible for because in their own way they contributed by not stopping it.

Then the returning student was asked to respond.  He appeared a little overwhelmed and subdued.  It must have been a little hard for him to sit through, but he faced his classmates, listened to them, and held himself accountable for his actions.   He said, “I learnt to be respectful, and I now know how quickly things can go viral.  I know that even if the picture is taken down it is not gone.”

Then another student spoke up and said. “I think we all learned from this”.


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Restorative Practice At Lydia Trull Public School – Proactive Circles, Academic Circles, Tribes

Port Newcastle, Lydia Trull 005Port Newcastle, Lydia Trull 004Port Newcastle, Lydia Trull 006

Wow, what an amazing day at Lydia Trull Public School, Ontario, Canada!

I learnt how Restorative Practice is a significant aspect of their 2012-2013 School Improvement Plan, and as such, statistical base line data has been collected to measure the success of strategies.  A whole school ‘climate’ survey was conducted and results collated and analysed to formulate strategies for  improvement.  Ongoing communication with students, parents and the wider community was highlighted.  Furthermore, the use of circles is being extended to support academic goals.

I visited a number of classrooms and each teacher was generous in their sharing and willingness to show me how they built their classroom communities on the restorative principles within circles – such as voice, respect, empathy, responsibility and support.

I particularly liked Michelle Smith’s ‘Tribes’.  Michelle has worked with her year 6 students to help them create ‘sub-communities’ called ‘tribes’ within the larger community of her class.  These smaller groups of students work together to support each other in both social and academic areas.  I really liked the concept of a ‘tribe’ within the classroom being able to ‘circle-up’ and problem-solve when they need support with something – without the rest of the class being involved.  Each tribe creates a ‘shield’ that respresents themselves, and the students were so proud of these – see photo.  Each tribe also has responsibilties written onto a schedule that they take turns in being accountable for.  This aspect was entirely the students’ initiative.  At the beginning of each school year Michelle works carefully with the students to put together each tribe, and teaches them how to behave within their tribe.  The tribes are founded on ‘4 Mutual Agreements’ – see photo.  On talking with the students, I could see they really enjoyed their ‘tribes’ and they all spoke very positively about how much more support they provide and receive from each other within them.

I visited a year 1 and 2 classroom in which the teacher was using a circle to review each child’s learning goal after an excursion yesterday to an Outdoor Education park.  The children were referring to a list of success criteria and passed around a ‘talking ball’ when it was their turn to share their learning.  The lesson appeared to flow with ease, and the children responded well.

Later in the day I spent some time with Ms Kelly Potts, School Principal.  She spoke of the school’s goal to further develop their school climate, by engaging their community, using circles pro-actively – formally and informally, and ensuring that the voice of their students is heard.  But along the way they have discovered how circles enhance their students’ academic outcomes, thus teachers are using circles as a platform to teach curriculum.

I visited a year 7 classroom and was invited to facilitate the circle – what a privilege!  I asked the students to go around the circle and say their name, and one word that describes Canada for me.  This was a lot of fun.  Then I asked them to tell me what they liked about circles.  Below are some of their quotes:

“Once you learn how to express yourself it becomes easier”

“You feel free to share due to the safety rules”

“We get to actually ‘see’ everyone, listen to their opinions and learn about each other”

“The academic circles help us to learn different approaches and take some learning risks”

“We trust each other”

“We can solve problems and address issues together”

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Circles at Roger Neilson Public School K – 6

Toronto  Peterborough Day 123 023 Toronto April 2013 071Toronto  Peterborough Day 123 014

Today I spent some time at Roger Neilson Public School, Peterborough.  It is a relatively small school, with approximately one class of students per  year level, although kindergarten enrolments are on the increase.  I was greeted by Tony, the School Principal, who was pleased to show me around his school, and talk about restorative practices in his setting.  He has been in the school for three years now, and purposely encouraged his teachers to adopt circles as a restorative platform, particularly for building positive relationships and solving problems effectively.  Tony said that when he started at Roger Neilson his first impression of his office was that there were a LOT of chairs lined up against the wall adjacent his door.  He asked, “who are all these chairs for?”  They were there for the students regularly being sent out of class.  Tony’s philosophy was that “these chairs should be in the classrooms, not in the office” as problems are best solved with the people most involved, the student’s themselves – in their community with their teacher.  With / Not To.  And since circles have become embedded in the school culture, student ‘exclusions’ to the office have decreased significantly – which provides Tony with more time to “get ahead – not fall behind”.  I was impressed that he knew every single student by name, and was able to tell me a little bit about them as we crossed paths.

Every day of the week most classrooms begin with a circle.  It is a bit like a ‘check-in’ with the students, to connect them with each other and share thoughts, feelings and experiences.  Today, Ms Barry and her Year 5 classroom welcomed me into their circle and allowed me to ask some questions.  Using the circle as a platform we discussed what the students like most about circles, and how they use them to solve problems.  They told me how the circle gives them a chance to get things off their minds, and share things that have happened to them.  This then helps them to concentrate in class.  They also told me how they can have a circle if there has been a problem in the yard and use this forum to get support from each other, or ideas to help them with the problem.  Ms Barry reminds the children how important it is to try to “step into someone else’s shoes” and imagine how things feel for others – the basis of empathy.  She also asks the students “how full is your tray today?”  This helps them to identify how stressed they are feeling and if they need some time or support to “empty their tray”.  Ms Barry explained that this also helps the other students to recognise when someone is at the limit of their emotional capacity, and may need some space.

Other teachers extend their circle content to include a brief summary of the day’s activities to keep the students informed.  They are also linked to curriculum outcomes.

The students attending Roger Neilson are mostly from low socio-economic backgrounds, and are faced with much adversity.  The school provides a breakfast program that is very popular.  But every day the students partake in a circle in which they are reminded that they are not alone, that they can support each other and look out for each other.  By sharing their experiences and helping each other solve problems they are compassionately witnessing each other, developing empathy and connectedness.   

School Principal, Tony, explained that he prefers not to think of restorative practice being used to respond to problems.  But rather, it is a pro-active and preventative model that has contributed to the safe, caring, learning environment at Roger Neilson.

Ms Barry said that she had implemented circles for many years, but it was only recently when Mr Stan Baker (the District’s Safe, Caring and Restorative Schools Resource Teacher) spoke to the staff about restorative practices that she recognised the underlying values in what she was doing.  This has enabled her to extend her knowledge and use of circles whilst being more mindful of what she is actually achieving within her classroom.

At Roger Neilson Public School I observed the following restorative principles : student voice, with/not to, community, witnessing, support, responsibility, accountability, respect, safety, compassion

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News Article – Common Shock and Compassionate Witnessing

Sitting in Starbucks this morning and picked up the ‘Peterborough Examiner’- Saturday, April 27th’s edition.  Below are some direct quotes from a letter to the editor:

Ugly Downtown Incident Cries Out For Solutions

I was walking by Charlotte and George streets recently when I heard a commotion and had to step in.  To the elderly lady who was having profanities yelled at her, I humbly apologise on behalf of Peterborough as this is definitely not the norm.  We are kind, hard working, good-natured people that love Peterborough downtown with all our hearts, and it sickens me to see this sort of thing…..

This poor old lady was visibly shaken and I don’t blame her.  It ruined her wonderful spring afternoon walk downtown.  Who are we to call when we witness such thing?…

Jim Reedyk, Parkhill Rd. W.

Mr Reedyk goes on to say in his letter to the editor that he called the police but he doubts it was followed up.  He also makes a point that this should not be allowed to happen.  He is right. He was moved, ‘sickened’ by what he witnessed (common shock), yet he stood up for this old lady (informal compassionate witnessing?).  He then felt so strongly that he told his story publicly.  I wonder how Mr Reedyk would feel if he had the opportunity to speak with the man who harmed this lady, in a safe, controlled meeting place, and hold him accountable for his actions?  I also wonder whether that would help the offender to develop more civil behaviours, and thus develop a more civil society – as theorised by school based restorative zones.   Mr Reedyk has inspired me, and given me a sense of the spirit of Peterborough and it’s citizens.

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Our Compassionate Group – Restorative Responses To Grief, Loss, Adversity

Restorative Responses to Grief Trauma Adversity Group April 2013

This is a picture of the small group of professsional colleagues who became my community during the IIRP event last week.  We are standing in front of the IIRP Graduate School in Bethlehem, PA.  Together we shared an encounter that I’m sure none of us will ever forget.  Deep friendships were formed as we talked of our personal experiences, knowledge and  understandings and then reflected on how each of us will link the restorative model to our unique work settings.

I reflect now, on how important it is to build a compassionate community for our students, in which their voice is heard, and their fears, joys, goals and questions are understood.  How do we, as educators, build such a community?  We listen.  Not just a token ‘listen’, we really listen, even if it is hard to hear what is said.  And maybe this means we need to ask the right questions too.  We provide support if it is required.  We maintain our high expectations based upon safety and respect.  We recognise that every single member of our community has their own story, and is capable of telling us what they need to feel better when they are sad, or experiencing problems.

How do we as counsellors employ restorative practices in response to grief, loss and/ or adversity?  The answer is that we almost always do this already.  We listen with compassion.  We ask questions that get to the ‘raw centre’ of a person’s experience.  We provide resources, such as art, music or sand to assist a person to express their voice.  But most importantly – we don’t assume to know what will help a person to feel better. The only expert in this regard is the person themselves.

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Compassionate Witnessing – A Restorative Response To Grief, Loss, Trauma And Adversity

Bethlehem April 22 038 Bethlehem April 22 034

Today Mary-Jo Hebling guided our group to a greater understanding of ‘Compassionate Witnessing’ – a process in which community members come together to share in the experience of a person’s grief, loss or adversity.  We began studying this model yesterday and, to be honest, I found it a little challenging to understand.  But today, with more practice, things are beginning to fall into place.  Compassionate witnesses are invited with careful consideration to the needs of the traumatised person.  They sit in a circle around the dyad of the person and their counsellor and ‘witness’ with compassion, sharing in the re-membered experience.  After observing the counselling taking place in front of them they are then given time to share thoughts, ideas and / or wonderment.  Today I took on the role of facilitator, whilst my fellow participants sat around me and observed.  I thought I would feel intimidated, vulnerable and exposed.  But when the witnesses shared their thoughts, aimed at helping and supporting my ‘client’, I felt this great sense of belonging to a community in which there was shared responsibility, acceptance and acknowledgement.  I didn’t feel alone in my work, as often we do as counsellors.  I felt that I was a part of something greater, and it was so much more powerful in helping my ‘client’ as it wasn’t just me responding to her situation.  It was quite an enlightening process, and ofcourse there is much more I could write about how to prepare participants for this.  I have had an amazing learning experience today, and I can’t wait to share more when I disseminate upon my return to Sydney.  Every day I am grateful to the Anika Foundation for sponsoring me in this journey.

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