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
TUESDAY 24 APRIL - BALLARAT, VICTORIA
It appears that the Grampian DET regional office is regarded state-wide as excelling in the focus of student well-being. Restorative practices have been a large part of that journey because RPs had clear benefits in dealing with student well-being issues such as bullying, absenteeism, preparedness for school and so on.
Rather than working at the bottom of the cliff with restorative practices (post-conflict conferences), Sue and her colleagues have placed emphasis on using RPs preventatively with approaches such as restorative language, class conferences, circle-time, Tribes and No-Blame (the equivalent of Rosehill’s Undercover Teams).
Sue spoke of a perfect secondary school example of how RPs can give schools options when dealing with serious wrong-doing – and ways that a school can demonstrate accountability to the school community for using restorative approaches. For sensitivities sake, I will not go into details – but essentially a small number of teenage boys fell victim to destructive thoughts and did much harm to a school community. Most (if not all) people in the community were absolutely livid with the boys and wanted them to be expelled (and worse). A far-sighted Assistant Principal could see the value for everyone in employing a community conference and they proceeded with this strategy.
As one of the outcomes of the conference, the boys ended up working for two weeks of their holidays in the school doing work that would benefit all the students. Following that, there was a special event that recognised their readmittance to the school community. There were other outcomes too such as police involvement and counselling obligations.
The point that I wish to make is that there was clear accountability. A senior staff member spoke at school assembly of the justice process that followed the tragedy and explained to the assembly that everyone at the conference had agreed that justice would be done if the boys met their commitments – in other words, the restorative process used was transparent to the school community. I believe that for RPs to have credibility for people, this transparency is vital in some situations.
In the morning we also found time to visit Ballarat Secondary College where we saw No-Blame in action. It was a treat for me because I have spent countless hours studying this restorative approach in my post-grad studies.
In the afternoon Sue took me to a primary school in Bacchus Marsh (50 km or so towards Melbourne). This school produces such remarkable results from their students that they have visitors from all over Australia (and even NZ!) to see what they are doing. What is remarkable is that the students attending the school mostly come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with risk factors that are normally associated with poor school attendance, poor academic results and violence/bullying.
The climate of the school was evident from the moment that we walked into the school grounds. Students were playing happily and cooperatively together, and cheerfully scampered back to class at the end of lunch. Anne Runnalls (Principal) described how the amount of time she spent on discipline had slumped from 90% to 5% as they had moved towards a positive school culture. Despite spending considerable curriculum time teaching social skills, the student’s literacy and numeracy had risen over recent years.
The keys to their success seemed to be as follows:
Put relationships as the focus of school life – and learning happens automatically.
The school is planned in every way to be in the interests of students, not staff – kids come first.
Values are taught as explicitly as numeracy or literacy – in other words, no assumptions are made that students understand concepts like “respect” and “tolerance”.
When staff are hired, they are told that it will not be acceptable for them to encourage or create clichés within the staff group – they must treat all of their colleagues as one.
Social skills programs run within the school model inclusivity – office and administrative staff take responsibility for taking groups, just as teaching staff do.
There are weekly class meetings where problems of the week are aired and discussed in a fair and respectful manner – students set the agenda as much as their teacher.
Parents and other staff mentor students weekly – adults and students just having fun together for an hour at school.
To finish the day two year 6 boys showed us around their school. They both described how much they loved their school and their teachers – and were bursting with pride at the things that they showed us. I can almost certainly predict that those two boys will make outstanding adults before long. The boys showed off their new Astroturf playing field – the grass had been abandoned with the drought showing no sign of abating. After witnessing the damage done by artificial turf to kids extremities at Rosehill College, I hope that this school is prepared for ‘turf-rash’.
I thought much about how we can use RPs more preventatively at Rosehill College – and how this fits with our School Climate Group. It seems that we could do much to be more explicit about our school values, rather than hoping that students understand us. In other words,
What does respect look like?
What does respect sound like?
What does respect feel like?
- This could fit into tutor group activities in some way.
Also, I wonder if we can gain permission from participants in some ‘key’ conferences to release information to the students – as a way of ensuring that students understand that justice is still being done, even if offending students are not automatically stood-down. This does not have to involve students names and care needs to be taken that this release of information is reintegrative to the offenders, not stigmatising. This would mean that we would have to talk as much (or more) about their strengths and willingness to put things right as their misdeeds.