The topic of the week is David Lisowski on Restorative Practice in Action.
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We returned to the topic of Restorative Practice this week and spoke to David Lisowski about his experience of implementing the approach in different settings.
David’s first role was as a member of Special Needs Support Staff and then his first teaching post was at Sidney Stringer Academy in Coventry, UK, as an SEN teacher. After teaching elsewhere, he returned to Sidney Stringer Academy as Head of Learning Support responsible for behaviour and rewards. This is where he feels he found ‘his niche’. David is now working for one year as headteacher at Riverbank School, part of the Sindney Stringer Multi-Academy Trust.Sidney Stringer Academy is a school for 11 – 18 year-olds in a deprived area of the UK and has 1,300 students. The school is recognised for the amount of progress children make, often from a low baseline and they are involved in offering training programmes to other schools.
What drew David to the concepts of Restorative Practice?
When David looked at the systems which were in place, it was clear they were primarily punitive and were working for 95% of the students. So it was time to concentrate on that 5%.
After a pilot, Restorative Practice has now grown to be part of the daily routine at Stringer. In behaviour management, David believes you need to have different approaches and Restorative Practice is one which can work with the most challenging pupils but in terms of emotional awareness, it benefits the whole school. However, Senior Leadership Teams have to be behind Restorative Practice and it must be linked to values.
This was an original problem David experienced – when they started to hold Restorative Conversations, the children didn’t have the emotional awareness or emotional literacy to use the language the staff wanted them to so they could think and learn about their behaviour rather than being punished by their behaviour. When they were asked what they needed to do, they said that they needed to improve their behaviour. Then a series of careful questions allowed David and the other teachers to start teaching the children about their behaviour and agree what it was they needed to concentrate on in order to improve.
To give the students the language they needed, they came up with three core values after a consultation process in which the whole school community was involved. They came up with:
Every half term they focus on one value which is threaded through the tutorial system so every student has that education in the values and what they are comprised of.
This means that when dealing with the ‘repeat offenders’, the school can use the common language that is displayed on the walls and constantly referred to. This helps the staff have purposeful conversations with the children – there is a consistent approach because everyone is using the same set of language.
A culture of Restorative Practice
This is imperative, according to David. Restorative Practice is a useful tool but you have to have buy-in from staff.
David describes how he works with new staff and uses the example of a pair of scales to illustrate the importance of balance in approach.
What were the first things David ‘drip-fed’ to the staff?
The Restorative Script – every member of staff has 5 questions on the back of their lanyard:
- What has happened?
- What were you thinking at the time?
- Who was affected and how where they affected?
- What needs to be done to put things right?
- What do you need to do differently in the future?
Unfortunately, staff held the lanyard in front of their faces and read out the questions. In fact, when they re-visited the training, they found that the most important questions are the last two. The rest can be used as a support to these and there’s no need to go through them in a mechanical way.
Like many schools, Stringer has an ‘on-call’ system. There is always someone who can be called on when the member of staff has used up all the tools in their toolbox. This member of staff starts to have the Restorative Conversation as they collect the student from the classroom. This was a big improvement on what happened previously, where the student was just taken out to the time-out room and when they were ready they returned to the classroom. This promoted the repeat-offender culture. The purpose of the ‘on-call’ system is now to repair relationships, rather than just removing the student from the classroom.
When the conversation has reached a satisfactory outcome, the on-call member of staff will ask the class teacher if they are happy for the student to return to the classroom, which makes it clear to the student that the class teacher is still in control of the situation.
80% of the time this works and often quickly. If this is not enough, there is still the time-out room where learners can spend 30 minutes doing English or Maths work. The role of the time-out room manager has also benefited from the adoption of purposeful conversations.
All the activity is monitored and rated on a 1-7 scale. Statistics are kept which are then used to gauge the effectiveness of the approach – and also as data to share with Ofsted.
What about those staff who are set against adopting a Restorative Approach?
You have to be resilient and believe in what you are doing. Sometimes it’s those staff who have difficulties with children who find Restorative Practice hard. David invites the member of staff and the young person to a room with a plaque entitled, ‘Restorative Justice’ where a carefully-managed Restorative Conversation takes place with the support of one of David’s team. The member of staff and the student are carefully spoken to before this event because it is never going to work unless both parties are prepared to take ownership of their behaviour. This process can be very helpful in showing the members of staff how useful Restorative Practice can be in developing and improving relationships.
One of the most interesting aspects of practice at Stringer is the use of Disciplinary Panels. Using the scripts, 6 pupils from a school house meet with a repeat offender from the same house. The panellists are trained in how to run a Restorative Conference and they talk to the individual about the effects of their behaviour on the house, on them and on staff. This is very powerful and can facilitate really effective change.
There is also a Senior Disciplinary Panel to which the Police are invited as community figures to talk about how the behaviour is affecting the community.
How does Restorative Practice differ in a Special School?
David sees one of the main differences as communication. They use pictures to help the students understand the Restorative Approach.
David mentions lots of positive ways in which the while school has been affected by the embedding of the Restorative Approach.
David on Twitter – https://twitter.com/staff_david
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