The research trip is one third complete and some concepts are becoming clearer. One idea that is most powerful at the moment is the one of Integration - for want of a more accurate term.
All of the schools that I have recently seen or heard about have been quite distinct. But, although I am having to compare secondary schools with primary schools, large schools with small schools, traditional schools with alternative schools, there is a common strand associated with Restorative Practices that seems to be a link with a high achieving school culture.
By Integration I mean that the school motto, school values, school policies, school procedures, attitudes towards people and ‘school vocabulary’ are all consistent with each other – and this connection between all links is explicitly explored/discussed daily – thereby the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
It is very clear that a move in isolation towards RPs by a school can end in confusion, failure and misery for all concerned because RPs are founded upon deep value foundations of inclusion, respect, empowerment and accountability (among others). If a school adopts RPs at a shallow level without a deep investigation of how inclusive (for example) the school is, RPs will resonate unpleasantly; Like a person playing the wrong chord during a song – the musician may have played the chord correctly but if it is not consistent with the other musicians, it will not ‘work’.
It is no mistake therefore that the successful schools that I have visited have all done ‘soul searching’ – both at a management level, and at a teaching/student level. This soul searching has at times tested people’s integrity and has appeared at times to have tested bonds between members of the school community but all schools that persisted with the challenge have come out stronger and more successful as a school. The process is almost a complete analogue of a successful restorative process – tension (almost unbearable at times) as the problem is explored, but moving through to healing and deep satisfaction as new ways of being are committed to.
Sometimes schools may have to be at 'crisis' before this awkward self-exploration begins - but clearly there are huge benefits to starting this process on a voluntary basis, with a sense of control and purpose.