THIS PAGE IS AN OVERVIEW AND DAILY LOG OF A RESEARCH TRIP TO AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS IN APRIL/MAY 2007. THE TRIP HAS BEEN ENTIRELY FUNDED BY ROSEHILL COLLEGE (AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND) WITH THE GOAL OF FURTHERING UNDERSTANDING OF BEST PRACTICE IN RESTORATIVE PRACTICES WITHIN SCHOOL SETTINGS.
Finding Your Way
THURSDAY 26 APRIL - MELBOURNE METRO REGION
In the morning I was fortunate to be able to spend time with Adam Broomfield who is the Student Wellbeing Manager at Cheltenham Secondary College. CSC has included Restorative Practices as part of its strategic plan.
Adam is in his first year of employment there and as such was better able to articulate his RJ involvement by talking about his work at his previous school, Aldercourt Primary School (300 students). Adam was not shy to admit that before he and Susan Schneider (current Principal) began their roles at Aldercourt, the school safety issue was worrying. Assaults on staff by students were too common: hitting, throwing and kicking, etc. . Many staff were apprehensive about doing yard duty and it was not uncommon for groups of students to be walking around the buildings during classtime, causing trouble for staff and other students.
The situation appeared to have been caused by a multitude of factors, not least a community of largely disadvantaged families – both economically and socially. Students were often not being modelled effective conflict resolution strategies at home and they were often hardened to punishments that the school had available to it.
Absenteeism was relatively common – if the student did not want to come to school, it was often unlikely that an adult in the home would force their child’s attendance.
So essentially, the children from the area were often having to work between two different levels of expectations within each day – high standards from the school and often lower standards from home. When students utilised the lower standards at school, punishments were unable to convey to students why the higher standards were so important.
The change towards a welcoming and productive school culture came when Susan, Adam and others on their team ‘married’ restorative practices with an effective behaviour management plan. Adam showed me a very comprehensive behaviour response plan for staff that had RPs threaded all the way through it. School management recognised that RPs required a set of skills that had to be learnt – teachers were learning as well as the students.
Key staff were trained how to run full conferences and all others were given the preparation to be able to talk respectfully/restoratively or to run preventative/low level restorative events such as No-Blame class conferences. The school has included evaluation of staff performance in restorative procedures as part of their annual appraisal. Adam believes that the next step for Aldercourt may need to be training in how staff treat staff – as it is unlikely that staff can respect students if they cannot respect each other (memories for me of Darley Primary School (see Tuesday 24th)
Key values for the school were taught repeatedly to the students and during restorative events, the school values are often referred to. Students have increasingly begun to use the restorative ‘lingo’ and even have asked for a conference to sort out issues. Truancy has been cut by over 30% in the last two years – students have been voting with their feet to make the effort to come to school. Susan explained how parental objections to the handling of their child’s misdeeds has been cut hugely because of the unmistakeable respect given to fair process – and giving students the chance to explain their actions. Each week curriculum time is sacrificed for 3 hours of social skills training.
Susan and Adam regard staff as having increasingly accepted more responsibility for student behaviour – that having RPs married a sound behaviour plan provides staff with the confidence to become actively involved with a behaviour issue. 90% of the time staff are happy with the restoratively organised outcome. And, in the words of Susan, “There are very few students that we have failed to win over with this”.
Adam also shared a valuable idea from his recent college experience. He says that he has found that hard-pressed staff find it hard to find time to speak with students who have misbehaved – the relationship is therefore unmended – what Adam has done is to releve the teacher’s class for 20 minutes or so that he/she can sort the issue with the student in an appropriate setting. This clearly puts the teacher in a position of empowerment with the student rather than being immediately reliant on a third party to conference the issue for them.
Thanks, Adam and Sue.
Adam – best wishes for your college experience!
In the afternoon I moved up to Caulfield Park Community College where I was met warmly by Steve Kearney (Assistant Principal), Rob and Dave (both staff). They have a roll of 50 students who are very much ‘at-risk’ students – either having dropped out of school or having been expelled from school. Many of the students have endured difficult home backgrounds and often bring their frustrations to school in forms that can cause harm to others. The challenge for this school is for the staff to provide ways for the students to regain faith in the school system (which has historically been an adversary for most of them).
Differently from many full secondary schools, the teachers play the central role in the pastoral care of students – not welfare officers, counsellors or suchlike. The teaching of ‘emotional literacy’ is given a major priority – students are given opportunities daily through tools such as a personal diary for them to learn how their thoughts and feelings are key links towards their behaviours (good or bad). There is a special room in the school which is set aside as a place for healthy communication – conferences themselves are basically not run in that room. One student whom I met (her story later) described the ‘Reach Room’ as the most awesome place in the school.
Steve described how restorative practices were employed to clean up the ‘bad energy’ that inevitably arose at school. Although the school would persistently ‘hang in there’ with students, there was also a bottom line and traditional discipline processes were occasionally used. Steve said that part of his personal learning was about ‘timing’ – he said that using RPs had taught him that if you do the right thing at the wrong time, you will get the wrong result. CPCC therefore did not have regimented rules about when restorative events would happen – they would be employed at a time that was appropriate for that particular situation.
Half the staff are trained and it appears that there is a goal to train selected senior students to run RPs. I had the pleasure of being shown around the school by Rob, who is an ex-pupil. Rob explained that tagging was a huge issue at the school before the school allowed students to take more ownership of the surroundings. There is now large amounts of students art present around the school (murals etc.) and tagging is now reduced by about 90%. Students take part in the creation of rules.
I had the chance to chat with Amy who is a senior at the school. She had run foul of the traditional school system and she after joining CPCC, she had become a fan of the restorative style, “It works – you ask anyone here!” Amy clearly was destined to become a highly effective social worker, teacher or youth worker and it is probably appropriate to finish with her words.“With punishment you don’t do things because you get pain – with this system, you learn not to do things because you know that you hurt yourself and other people.
Thanks to Steve, Rob, Dave (from the Reach Room) and Amy – best luck for your futures.