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
WEEK TWO - REFLECTIONS
The questions could be asked, how much do we take for granted that students have the skills to handle complex situations and how little do we take for granted students capacity and willingness to learn new ways of handling conflict? During this trip I have been reflecting often on assumptions that some educators can often make – that students know how to sort conflict situations out but fail to do so by choice – this may be especially so with secondary schools who sometimes forget that we are often dealing with children in adults bodies. The reality may be that the errant student has a skill deficit - in other words, doesn’t know how to address their own shame, put themselves in a place to accept mercy, and fulfill their obligation to their victim. Alternatively, the student may suffer a performance deficit in some situations (knows how to address conflict responsibly – but not in all contexts). But to staff (who maybe take for granted their own cognitive capacity to deal with stressful situations), the assumption often is that the student is willfully bypassing their own capacity to deal with the situation.
Unless schools create the macro and micro environments where shame can safely be explored by students, they are unlikely to employ their own emotional capacities to the fullest – if at all. If this is the case, is it not a skill or performance deficiency on behalf of the school, not the student(s)?
In the last two weeks I have been the victim of school’s generosity – they have been kindly plying me with large piles of documents that will be enormously helpful when I return home. However, the Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane to Auckland will not leave the ground if I keep them all in my suitcase and so I have posted most of it back to college. I kept one or two papers to look through and one by Denise Lane (Lonsdale Heights Primary School, SA) captured my imagination. In particular, I hooked onto the discussion surrounding boy’s behaviour and the unfortunate truth that schools may be unwittingly supporting their behaviour.
Let me share a great quotation from the paper. “ … and punishment allows boys to successfully avoid any guilt feelings for bad behaviour by setting up a cycle where punishment cancels the crime, and having paid for his crime, he is free to offend again without the attendance guilt feelings. A boy who does all possible to provoke some form of punishment is carrying a secret debt on the sin side of the ledger which the teacher is invited to wipe out by means of a punishment. Punishment is just what the boy doesn’t need”. William Pollack, cited in, Lillico (2000) Boys and their Schooling, p.13
In fact, I would go further than Pollack’s description. I believe that for significant numbers of students, there is the notion that the school is an adversary (if we judge schools upon their intentions, this is rarely true – but if we judge schools upon their actions, this is often true). And in the development stage (seeking autonomy) that teenagers are in, it is necessary to have a regime to be autonomous from. By responding to challenging student behaviour through disciplinary force, schools unwittingly place high profile students into the ‘persecuted hero’ (my term) role amongst their peers.
Although I am no historian, I understand that most true heroes and heroines (Ghandi, Mandela, etc) have been the product of an individual’s struggle against an oppressive regime. People may believe that it is unfair to compare British Colonial or South African Apartheid rule with the running of a busy school, but there are some parallels – in the words of Peter Ross (see yesterday’s posting), the school appoints itself as judge, jury and executioner, then wonders why students rebel.
This is not the exclusive domain of boys – I believe that there are plenty of ‘persecuted heroines’ out there too. These heroes and heroines naturally congregate ideologically and socially to form a subculture within the school that represent a constant thorn in the side of the school – and the community too, no doubt.
I believe it is time for schools to change their outlook towards student behaviour and thereby put schools in the position to finally be recognised as the ‘overlooked hero’ of society (I am sure that there is a cinematic analogue to this – but I don’t watch enough movies). How?
1. Schools must create a climate so patently fair that the school cannot be reasonably accused of bullying students (several adults that I have met over the past few years have told me that their secondary schools had been the biggest bullies that had ever encountered).
2. Schools must compete for the hearts and minds of the ‘peer group’ (that 80% of students who are essentially bystanders in the daily battle that unfolds between the school and the heroes/heroines. I have often seen bystanders swap allegiances from the hero to the school during a conference because the school was being more honourable than the hero.
3. Schools can do more to give students something to be grateful for. From what I have seen in my trip so far and from what I have witnessed in conferences at Rosehill College, I believe that students are genuinely grateful to the school for building their character through restorative experiences.
4. By better marketing restorative practices as an element of ‘character education’ – which I believe it is. Every parent want their child to become a fully functioning and responsible member of adult society. If these same parents understood that the restorative practices that their son/daughter was involved with on a consistent basis at school was character building, schools would better win their favour and support.
One of them is the obvious truth that one or two people working alone with restorative practices in a school will achieve little. Schools working in a ‘cluster’ such as I saw this week have greater opportunity for good practice to flourish because individuals from different schools can support each other until the practices can be recognised and valued by the schools. The wonderful team of Jude Moxon and Stuart Newby (from Massey High School, Auckland) have been very good friends to Rosehill College but in many ways, Rosehill College has made progress with relatively little management interaction from other schools. I suppose this has brought us the benefit of being self-reliant – but also exposed us to the danger of ignorance to new ideas.