The day at Lyndhurst started with a staff brief that had an affirming, inclusive feel – people’s work was acknowledged and in general, people seemed to be valued. Steve then was very generous with his time and took me through the journey of the school in recent years. Steve has been at the school for 6 years and described a ‘wall’ that existed between staff and students. Helen likewise shared how conversations (or even simple courtesies) were hard to extract from students. School survey data showed that students wanted to learn but were unhappy with the teaching and staff felt that students were rude.
Clearly, there had been difficult years in the past where school harmony had been hard to find – but by focusing on core values (centring upon ‘respect’), and a three strand strategic plan that recognises the needs of students, things are rapidly ‘coming right’. In particular, Steve says the obvious swing in the school tone over the last 6 months has validated all of their efforts. The three strands essentially are:
- Creating transparent pathways for students between the classroom and a desirable career.
- Providing quality teaching for every student.
- Enhancing student engagement and wellbeing through restorative approaches.
Despite the three separate strands, Steve highlighted one primary theme, “You’re going to teach these kids nothing until you’ve established a relationship with them”.
In the past, classroom teachers had habitually taken their management problems to the year level coordinators to solve, thereby taking no responsibility themselves for what was happening. One of the key turning points was moving from a horizontal to a vertical pastoral care system in 2006. The current ‘home group’ system means that approximately half the staff have responsibility for a ‘home group’. They have a couple of extra non-contact periods each week in which to look after their students, in whatever way is necessary – maybe meeting parents, etc. Besides that, the Home Group teacher teaches their class for two classes a week. In the words of Steve, the Home Room system has added 50 extra staff to the pastoral care team.
In classroom, the emphasis has shifted towards teachers solving their own problems, but with a strong support system behind them. In the words of the Principal, “Classroom management is every classroom teacher’s responsibility – we will not do it for you but we will help and support you”. Restorative Justice has been vital in giving staff a tool by which to take control of their relationships with students – providing a language and process.
Despite initial scepticism about what RJ stood for, staff who had been involved in restorative events shared their experiences with colleagues in staff training sessions – and teachers began to be convinced that a win/win relationship with students was possible. The case for the roll-out of restorative ideals was strengthened by a new Victorian education document (Victorian Essential Learning Standards) which included domains such as ‘interpersonal development’, ‘civics and citizenship’, and ‘thinking’.
I was lucky to have a couple of good conversations with staff about their personal involvement in restorative practices. Stephanie is a dynamic person whose approach towards RPs had changed when (during duty) she was hit solidly in the head by a golf ball thrown by a student. In the subsequent conference with the student, she learnt that the student had been terrified by his complete mistake and was riddled with remorse. Stephanie found the whole process so powerful that she took it back to her classroom that same day. Stephanie says that she has to give up significant amounts of her recess (interval) and lunchtime to perform her restorative work – but gets such good results in the classroom that it is totally worth it for her.
I had a good chat with a Science teacher, Narendra. He had been at Lyndhurst for 5 years and had witnessed the shift away from attempting to control student misbehaviour through punishment towards a culture that engages students in respectful processes. Narendra said that his shift towards RPs left him feeling much more relaxed at school, “It gives me a lot more satisfaction – I feel less stressed”. He says that there are no forms to fill out and that hearing students viewpoints has allowed him to be a more responsive teacher. Narendra wisely noted, “We (teachers) need to evolve the same way that student’s lifestyles have changed (over the years)”.
It so happened that Narendra had a restorative chat planned with a ‘difficult’ student at the start of lunch so I went along too. The student was accompanied by her Home Group teacher and the process was highly effective. During the conversation, it became very clear that the student had no issue with Narendra but was massively struggling with the subject. Both student and teacher happily agreed to support the other and simple plans were made – fantastic.
I also spent quality time with Helen (AP) who has taken specific responsibility for RPs at Lyndhurst. I really liked her style and was impressed with the laminated Conflict Resolution sheets. They are like our own but on the back are statements that describe the core intent of RPs – it is wonderful for reminding staff on why RPs are so important in today’s changing world. Helen made the important point that it is wrong to judge a restorative event by what actually happens in the room. She said that even conferences (or circles) that appeared to have failed at the time often produced positive changes within days or weeks.
The day finished for me when Helen facilitated a conference with 3 boys who were accused of bullying another boy (all seniors). The bullying had eventually led to the involvement of outsiders in defence of the victim. It was clearly a difficult situation where a difficult relationship had existed between the friends and the victim for years. With the boys permission, the conference was videoed – Helen intends to use footage such as this to expand staff understanding of RPs.
All-in-all, a great day of learning for me. Thanks to Helen, Steve, Stephanie, Narendra and all the other staff who looked after me. May your collective ‘dream’ for Lyndhurst come true.
In so many ways, Lyndhurst reminded me of Rosehill College – even down to the Pacific Island boys playing touch on the courts at lunchtime and the small group of clandestine smokers out on the field. It is clear that RPs cannot be allowed to be thought of as an adjunct to everything else at school - RPs must be understood and explained coherently as a vital element to the highest educational goals of a school. Lyndhurst’s Home Group system made me think about how our Tutor Teachers could be more involved in discipline events affecting their students. From talking with Helen, it is clear that Rosehill College is essentially building RPs without the support of other neighbouring schools. Lyndhurst has been part of an informal RPs network of schools and Rosehill College could certainly do this with schools such as Pukekohe HS who are also well developed in these matters.
Enough for today.