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 3 MAY - CANBERRA, ACT
One of the most significant aspects of the day was that all the schools had assembled themselves into a cluster for school development and staff training purposes. The ‘Tuggeranong cluster’ consisted of four primary schools and the ‘feeder’ secondary school, the intention being to create consistent expectations for the children - beginning at kindergarden level and leaving school 11 or 12 years later. Naturally, this creates quite unique training situations such as requiring the booking of a large club premises for staff training.
The analogue for Rosehill College would be for us to meet regularly with Rosehill Intermediate, Papakura South School, Opaheke, Drury and so on – to agree on commonly held values and beliefs and to plan consistent approaches to behaviour to welfare and behaviour. An exciting and mind-boggling concept but a bit intimidating. When I asked myself why it was a somewhat overwhelming idea, I realised that I was working on the assumption that some of the schools within our ‘cluster’ work quite differently from Rosehill College - and then the penny dropped that this ‘differentness’ in expectations is behind many of the problems that youngsters get into when they make the transition to RC (therefore all the more worthwhile to work collectively).
The first school was Isabella Plains Primary School (180 students), led by the energetic Kim Darcy. When Kim began in 2005, it was common for teachers to pass their classroom management issues on to her and other senior staff. The key to turning things around appears to have been scrutiny of teaching approaches in the classroom, leading to an almost complete emphasis on a co-operative learning style based around ‘circles’ and an emphasis on restorative language. I was delighted to see many staff ‘wearing’ their restorative chat card around their necks (see photo).
The ‘circles’ concept can create some confusion because there are essentially two ways that circles (bringing all the students together in a circle) can be used – firstly , as a problem solving circle (aka class conference) and secondly as a teaching style. With the problem solving circle, the context is some harmful behaviours and exploration of how individuals are being affected. As the teaching approach, the context may be a spelling or maths concept, but taught in a circle, integrated with warm-up, warm-down activities and more. The circles style has been used successfully with staff concerns as well.
Kim and her staff recognised that as long as parents felt strangers within the school, a gap would also exist between staff and students. This was addressed through several means such as the creation of a ‘breakfast club’, where parents serve breakfast once a week – inevitably after serving breakfast the parents relax in the staffroom and the feeling of connection to school is growing.
Kim still occasionally suspends students but ‘time-out’ has been replaced with ‘alternative play’ which takes pressure off situations without the stigmatising of students.
20 minutes later Faye and I were at Calwell High School (430 students) where we met Sonia Marmont, whose current position there is ‘Staffing Officer’. It was necessarily a brief visit but several things sounded really valuable. Sonia had become a convert to RPs when she had a significantly scary incident with a student at school – Sonia refused to return to work until she had met the student (and family) in a conference situation which Sonia recollects as being “awesome”.
Working issues out with conferences is preferred as the method of responding to student wrong-doing, but suspensions are still employed – more likely so if the student refuses to engage in a restorative process. Problem-solving circles are used with classes that are experiencing/manifesting relationship difficulties. CHS have found the Life Space Crisis Intervention a very valuable aid to de-escalating student behaviour following a conflict situation – and a way of deceasing the likelihood that the situation will reoccur. Every student in the school participates in values lessons every week.
Thanks Sonia - and Best Wishes to You and your colleagues.
Next stop was Charles Conder Primary School – to be received by Terri Mountford. Faye and I were quickly invited into a class circle. Clearly, some of the students in the class had the potential to push boundaries but the teacher stuck to the principles of respectful language and inclusion – and the group settled well. Circles such as these have apparently made huge differences to the learning environment – by teaching the expectations required of students but simultatneously giving them the skills to meet those expectations.
Thanks, Terri – keep up the great work.
The day was finished by a short visit to Calwell Primary School where Faye and I were hosted by Rachel Matthews (Deputy Principal) and Sharon Hickey (teacher). A circle was arranged for us and once again, it was clear that the students knew exactly how to behave and how to respect other student’s opinions. I am afraid to admit that some of these young children (from exposure to this type of engagement) are probably more ‘emotionally intelligent’ than some of the 15/16 year olds that I have contact with – rather than feeling down about that, it should provide hope to all of us for a safe and orderly future.
Thanks Rachel and Sharon for your gracious hosting.