4 Things Schools Get Wrong With Restorative Practice

4 Things Schools Get Wrong With Restorative Practice

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Done right, restorative practice can be a brilliant way of teaching pupils conflict resolution skills and encouraging them to behave positively because they care about the impact of their actions on other people.

But when restorative conversations aren†t introduced effectively, it can result in pupils, staff and parents losing faith in the process. That†s why, in this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we share 4 pitfalls to avoid if you†re using (or about to use) restorative practice in schools.

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Restorative practice isn't about removing consequences per se. It's actually about replacing one kind of consequence, the artificial meaningless kind with another, natural consequences. And we have to make sure our staff as well as our children and parents hear that message loud and clear.

Simon Currigan  0:21  

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and I'd like to welcome you to this episode of school behaviour secrets. And this week I like to open with the words of Thomas Fuller. In 1732. He said, "We are born crying, live complaining and die disappointed". Now imagine how much deeper his misery would have been if he'd heard this podcast. I'm joined by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:24  

Hi, Simon.

Simon Currigan  1:25  

Emma, I've got a quick question for you. What is the worst apology you've ever received?

Emma Shackleton  1:31  

Well I'm guessing an apology that includes a 'but' is a pretty poor apology. So you know the format where somebody says I'm sorry about this, but you did this. So not really an apology, but an excuse for someone to try and wiggle off the hook or blame me for the thing that went wrong. Something that springs to mind is a long time ago, when I was working in pupil referral unit, a child had thrown a book that hit me on the head. And later on, he did come to apologise to me, but it went along the lines of this. He said sorry, you made me throw the book. But you shouldn't have told me to do maths. So you know that boy had quite a long way to go with his sincere apologies. How is this relevant this week? Simon, have you done something wrong? Do you need to tell me something?

Simon Currigan  2:19  

And not that I'm going to admit on air. It's because this week's programme is all about restorative conversations and the mistakes that many schools make when they introduce restorative practice into their schools. And that practice is all about restoring the damage that's been done between two people restoring the relationship in a way that the child who threw the maths book in your example clearly failed to do so didn't take responsibility for their actions. So if you're a school about to start a journey towards restorative practice, I definitely recommend you get a pad and pencil because we're going to cover a lot of information that you are going to find useful to make sure that your journey towards restorative conversations is a positive one, and avoids these pitfalls.

Emma Shackleton  3:00  

But before we get into the details, please share this episode with two or three friends or colleagues who just like you are committed to improving children's lives and experience of school and who you think might benefit from hearing this podcast. All you've got to do is open your podcast app hits the share button, and you'll be able to send them a direct link, it takes less than 30 seconds. Thank you.

Simon Currigan  3:25  

So let's head out into the jungle, pull a banana and tease down from the branches that flea ridden duffer monkey we call behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  3:33  

So here is the first mistake that leadership team make when they're trying to introduce restorative practice in school. So one thing that they do is they talk about restorative practice as if it's removing consequences entirely. The problem with traditional consequences is that they're artificial. So there's no logical link between say, having a detention or staying in at playtime, or having a fixed term exclusion, and the child's original behaviour. So if the child's been calling out in class on a Monday, and they receive a detention for that on a Wednesday, that consequence isn't logical. It's not linked to the perceived crime. It's artificial. Although we're using that consequence as a punishment to deter that behaviour in future. It's just not meaningfully related. There's no clear link.

Simon Currigan  4:27  

As we've said before, the best consequences are natural consequences, those consequences that flow logically and naturally from the offence. So a natural consequence might be helping repair a display that you've torn down in your own time after school or at lunchtime or playtime, or say writing a public post on Facebook apologising to someone that you've made unkind posts about, or replacing a piece of equipment that you deliberately damaged through your own pocket money or say, using your labour to pay for it. So maybe You're going to work through lunchtime, supporting in the dining room, doing some mopping and sweeping and clearing up to help pay for new equipment with your time and with your labour.

Emma Shackleton  5:11  

It's kind of that old saying of letting the punishment fit the crime. So it's a logical consequence. And in the case of restorative practice, we actively involve the child in working out what they think is a fair way to repair the harm that was caused.

Simon Currigan  5:28  

And that's why it's really powerful because it helps them understand the impact of their actions on other people and the kind of things they need to do to put that situation right. Now, sometimes for smaller offences, it is going to be enough to say, sorry, and promise not to repeat the behaviour, often in life, that's enough. But just saying sorry, and promising not to repeat what you've done in the past, won't be the answer for everything.

Emma Shackleton  5:49  

So if we try to remove all consequences, and then we send that message to children and parents, that our behaviour won't result in a consequence anymore, we've got to be really careful, because if we're not careful, we're also sending the message to some children that you can do whatever you want now, because there won't be a consequence to follow

Simon Currigan  6:11  

That consequence, it's so important that it's both meaningful and proportionate to the harm that was done. There's a group of people that I call the optimizers. And when they hear the anything goes message, we have to be really careful and take their actions into account. The optimizers are people who are extremely extrinsically motivated. So they will toe the line behave well for rewards or to avoid consequences because they don't want to lose something. Lots of us in education are intrinsically motivated, which means we're doing the right thing, because it's the right thing. Now, this is coming from completely the opposite end of view. And this group of people is, you know, reasonably small. But if they believe there's no external reason, no external pressure to do the right thing, or not do the wrong thing, then what they hear is, anything goes, you can do anything, you want free choice time, no one's going to stop you there are no consequences for acting in a way that impacts on other people. Because they care about their own experience. They're optimising their experience at school, to get the things they want to engage in the things they enjoy without worrying about the people around them. Now, it is a small group of people, but they do exist. And what the optimizers might do when they hear that anything goes is that they start to behave in very challenging ways that undermines the system, or the children will look at them and think, Well, this system isn't working, and other adults will look and think, you know, this restorative practices and working because it's been presented in the wrong way. It's been presented as now there are no consequences for your behaviour, rather than there are meaningful natural consequences for your behaviour, which is a completely different thing.

Emma Shackleton  7:48  

It's quite a shift in thinking for some people, isn't it? And don't forget that people in education, adults in education are likely to be intrinsically motivated. So people who are intrinsically motivated, do the right thing because they can. And because it feels good to make good choices, because doing the right thing is the right thing to do. And doing the right thing is the reward in itself. extrinsically motivated people aren't motivated to do the right thing, because it makes them feel good. That's not enough for them. extrinsically motivated people need an external reward to drive them to do things. So things like money, recognition, tokens praise, but it's a big mistake to assume that everyone is intrinsically motivated. like us because the reality is they're just not

Simon Currigan  8:38  

Yeah, there's even a term for this in psychology called the false consensus bias. It's a cognitive bias in error in thinking where we assume we overestimate how much other people are like us, we automatically assume that other people share the same worldview, the same politics, the same ideas, the same opinions, feelings, experiences, and characteristics, when that's not true. People aren't one homogenous group. We're all different with different motivations and ideas and worldviews, and when we assume everyone is like us, then we can get into real problems. Because the truth is, not everyone is like us. 

Emma Shackleton  9:12  

And this is made worse when people gather themselves into echo chambers. So for example, when people join groups on social media, they're often joining a group of like minded people. So they're hearing views and opinions solely from people who think just like them. And this reinforces this idea that everyone thinks like this. So if everyone thinks like this, I must be right. A lot of people go around thinking that everybody else thinks like them, and you'll hear it in their language. They say things like "everyone thinks", or "everyone says", or "everyone does it".

Simon Currigan  9:52  

So we have to be careful of this false consensus bias, just because we're probably intrinsically motivated. We deeply care about the impact of our actions on other people, it doesn't mean everyone else is, or everyone else is to the same extent that we are, then that goes for adults and kids. Very extrinsically motivated adults are likely to raise very extrinsically motivated kids, kids who work for rewards and adapt their behaviour to avoid punishments.

Emma Shackleton  10:20  

And that external pressure is what's making them adapt their behaviour, this small percentage of the population don't care as much about the impact of their actions on others. They're just out there to optimise their own experience.

Simon Currigan  10:33  

So what you see is these kids here, consequences are gone, I think, great, I can do anything I want. And all I have to do is say sorry, and they can very quickly bring the whole system crumbling down.

Emma Shackleton  10:44  

So we need to be super careful with our messaging. restorative practice isn't about removing consequences, per se. It's actually about replacing one kind of consequence, the artificial, meaningless kind with another natural consequences. And we have to make sure our staff as well as our children, and parents hear that message loud and clear. We're not pulling the rug out from under the staff's feet and leaving them with nothing to hang their behaviour management on

Simon Currigan  11:15  

Another mistake that impacts the effectiveness of restorative conversations is that behaviour promises weren't followed up. So at the end of a restorative conversation, where we've acknowledged the harm that was done, and we've talked about how we can repair that harm, then the perpetrator makes explicit commitments about what they're going to do to repair the harm. So repair the display, make a positive post about someone else on social media, or so on. Now, what actually changes behaviour, a big factor in that is accountability, someone checking up and following up to see if we make good on our promises. So let's take an adult example, your leadership team decided to change your school's marking policy, they give you lots of training on it, they tell you, they expect you to use it. But you know, for a fact that no one ever ever checks, like ever, and you realise that it doesn't really matter if you use it or not. And you know, change is difficult, and it's hard, and it requires effort. So what do you do? Well, there's a strong chance in that situation that you'll just keep marking the old way. Because you know, that's what you do and who's checking anyway.

Emma Shackleton  12:16  

And it's just the same with a restorative conversation. If a child commits to do something to repair some harm that's been done. Let's go back to the example that they've said something unkind on social media. And they've agreed to make three positive posts about the other person to repair that harm, then if they know that no one's actually going to check that they've done that there's a pretty good chance that they're not going to follow through, they're not going to repair the harm, because they know that no one's going to check up.

Simon Currigan  12:47  

The problem, then is that the adult believes some things happen, but it actually hasn't. And the impact on the future is the kids become even less likely to make good on their promises, because they don't feel like they're being held accountable. So we teach them to make empty commitments that don't lead to behaviour change. Remember, the act of making the harm good is what helps our kids develop empathy. The act of seeing the harm that was done to other people, helps our kids develop the empathy and that empathy becomes the reason for doing the right thing. No commitment, no accountability, no change.

Emma Shackleton  13:20  

So accountability changes behaviour, the adult involved needs to tell the pupil that they will be checking up to make sure that the commitments are followed upon, and that they actually do it. If the child agrees to write a letter of apology, for example, the adult needs to check that the letter was written and delivered.

Simon Currigan  13:39  

Another form of accountability here is about the word sorry. So if a child says they're going to repair the harm, that's been done by saying sorry, and you know, if that's appropriate, if it's a small thing, if the child then delivers that, sorry, in a sarcastic or unbelievable way, or a big smirk on their face, that isn't really repairing the harm that's been done. It's so important for the child who's been wronged to feel that the other person making the apology is honest, and that they're believable, and that they're showing empathy. They need to feel the process is effective, and they need to feel the other child really wants to repair the relationship or, and here's the kicker, they all start to lose trust in the process as well.

Emma Shackleton  14:17  

So another reason why restorative practice doesn't get off the ground in some schools is because the adults don't receive adequate training. And they actually feel out of their depth. If you're moving to restorative practice and away from that old system of rewards and consequences. That can be a pretty big mind shift for some staff. So most teachers and TAs are really comfortable with traditional ways of managing behaviour. We all like to do things the way that we've always done them. And if it's straightforward, if it's simple, if we believe that it works for most children most of the time, we might be a bit resistant to change it so someone does the right thing. You don't try to reward someone does the wrong thing. You issue a consequence. That's the old style system. These are the systems we experienced when we went to school, we know exactly how to use them. And we know exactly what they mean. So they're simple, they're straightforward. They're easy to implement. 

Simon Currigan  15:13  

And for some teachers, this reward and consequence, this carrot and stick approach, it's all they mean when they talk about behaviour management because of their background because of their training because of their understanding. 

Emma Shackleton  15:23  

So put yourself in the teachers position, they haven't had a lot of training about SEMH needs and behaviour, and the underlying conditions that affect children's behaviour, such as trauma and attachment, all of the good stuff that we've covered in other podcast episodes, if they don't have that depth of experience and knowledge. And then somebody comes along and says, here's an hour's training on restorative conversations. Next week, that's how you're going to manage all behaviour in school. Well imagine how that would feel it feels like the rug has been whipped out from under your feet. I don't think staff are going to feel confident in completely revolutionising their approach. And they're more likely to feel under confident and disempowered and quite resistant to making those changes.

Simon Currigan  16:14  

Yeah, if that member of staff then attempts to use a restorative conversation in the early days, and it doesn't go well or it doesn't get the result they were expecting or the kids were saying things that they weren't expecting, and they didn't know how to react or change the questions or follow the process, then what is that person's reaction likely to be? They're going to put up their hands and say this doesn't work, management doesn't know what they're talking about. And they're going to lose any commitment to the process.

Emma Shackleton  16:37  

That's right. Sometimes they might use it, sometimes they won't, they don't really wholeheartedly believe it. So it's not convincing when they use the process and the techniques, maybe they just give up, maybe they just resort straight back to what they've always done. Perhaps the result of every conversation is actually the adult shortcutting to making the child say sorry, but that isn't the purpose of a restorative conversation. So what happens there is you'll get some staff who are naturally skilled and able to adapt to a new system, you'll get others who need more input, more support, more time, more training, so you quickly get inconsistency between classes. So it can feel like as a whole school, this new process of restorative practice just isn't working?

Simon Currigan  17:26  

Yeah, ask any senior leader and they will tell you inconsistency kills behaviour policies. And the thing is, right, all behaviour management is a skill. It's not something you learn in an hour and a PowerPoint, I always compare it to the idea of teaching a child to ride a bike. So what you're doing is you're teaching them a skill. So what you wouldn't do if you were teaching your child to ride a bike is grab a PowerPoint, and tell them all about angular velocity, and what balance looks like in terms of physics and levers. And at the end of the hour, turn the PowerPoint off and say, bang, there you go. You know how to ride a bike, what you've done is given them lots of information about riding a bike, but actually riding a bike is a skill you learn over time with encouragement and guidance. And it's the same with behaviour management, it's a skill, you can read about it. But until you've put it into practice with advice and guidance and support, it's not something that you can just pick up very, very quickly. It requires coaching and mentoring. 

Emma Shackleton  18:20  

And I think behaviour management is ever evolving. I mean, I'm nearly 25 years in education now. And I'm learning new things all the time about how to manage behaviour. So the solution is sustained support over time. And especially in those early mornings when the school is transitioning to a new system, we need to give plenty of opportunities to talk and compare notes with other teachers. We need mentoring and support from leaders, it's about creating a culture shift. And that isn't going to happen overnight.

Simon Currigan  18:53  

Another thing to bear in mind is as leaders, we can suffer from the curse of knowledge, which is assuming people know exactly what we know, to the depth of our experience and the depth of our knowledge, we don't make allowances or perhaps we don't make enough allowance for the difference in the levels of knowledge. We take ideas, which we understand on a scale of complexity, it's a 9 out of 10. And then we kind of dumb it down, we explain it in a simpler way. And we sort of bring it down to a 5 out of 10. But actually, sometimes we have to go right down to a one or a two, to communicate effectively because the person that we're speaking to or the staff that we're speaking to, or segments of the staff were speaking to, may have very little knowledge about this and taking it right down to that level is, you know, essential for ensuring they understand the process and that we carry them with us. This isn't being patronising. It's differentiation.

Emma Shackleton  19:45  

And our final reason why sometimes schools find it hard to launch restorative justice in their school is what about the adaptations for pupils with special educational needs? So schools always need to consider how I'm going to adapt the process for kids with additional needs. And here are a few pointers to bear in mind.

Simon Currigan  20:06  

Does the child experience toxic shame due to their early childhood experiences or trauma. Now toxic shame is a condition where you feel that on the inside, you are genuinely a bad person who isn't worthy of love or praise. If you have this condition, then a restorative conversation is going to ask you to take responsibility for negative actions you've taken against another person. Now these negative actions are going to be yet more evidence from your point of view that you are bad through and through, so you're not likely to want to engage in that because even admitting that you've done something that's impacted badly on another person is making you sort of confront this underlying belief that I am genuinely bad. So we need to think about what do we do for children that experience toxic shame issues.

Emma Shackleton  20:54  

And the next point to consider is can the child take responsibility for their choices? Can they actually do that during the incident? If not, maybe we need additional time for discussion. So we might need to use visual resources such as Comic Strip Conversations, for example, or choice points to map out what happened and where children made specific choices. We've got to go from where children are at. And if they're simply unable to take responsibility. We've got to start from there and help to teach them how to fully understand what happened in a situation, not just from their own viewpoint, but from other children's viewpoints as well. And lots of children, particularly very young children that is developmentally appropriate that they are entirely egocentric. They can only see things from their own perspective. So as children go through the school, we've got to work with them not at their chronological age, but at their developmental age. And some children, even older children still find it incredibly difficult to view a situation from another person's perspective. So what can we do to help them with that? What resources what visuals have we got to facilitate that discussion? 

Simon Currigan  22:09  

Building on that we need to think about does the child have additional needs in terms of how we develop their empathy restorative practice is all about modifying our behaviour because we do care about the feelings and thoughts of others. If the people has difficulty around empathy, as Emma was describing, then restorative conversations have been proven to help them develop empathy over time in the future. But also, it might be that they need some additional planned structured work about developing their empathy for other people. And again, some people's can find this incredibly difficult. And it will need to be a planned ongoing process, which is where we set up as an individual target on their IEP.

Emma Shackleton  22:45  

All this I know requires additional time. And where do we find that time? Who is going to talk through those conversations in additional detail? Where are they going to do it? Does it need to be someone who has a positive relationship with the students? Well, I would say that yes, it does. The point is, over time, you're going to be developing the children's skills, imagine how wonderful it would be to reach a point where all children can accept and understand the implications of their actions. And when they make a mistake, they can come up with ideas and solutions of how to put it right and repair that harm. In the long run, that is going to save a lot of time and heartache from pupils and staff. So it's really worth investing that time.

Simon Currigan  23:34  

Now, lastly, in terms of special needs, many children with communication difficulties may also find it hard to express themselves or understand the flow of a restorative conversation. So we need to think about how we explicitly teach them about the language we're going to use, what the conversation might look like, maybe help them visualise its flow using visual aids and appropriate vocabulary to use during the conversation to help repair the harm that's been done. So we're rehearsing the kinds of things that they might need to say, to engage productively in the conversation. Because remember, we need the other person, the person who's been harmed by earlier events to have trust in the process and believe that the other person is being genuine and wants to repair the damage that's been done. So using the right language is an important part of that. So how we pre tutor and help them practice those kinds of words is important. Again, this is work that people will need to do before the conversation starts not during the conversation.

Emma Shackleton  24:31  

So essentially, it's all about identifying any barriers to engaging in a restorative conversation, and then putting in place support to help the child to overcome those barriers so that they can access this practice just like everybody else.

Simon Currigan  24:46  

So we've talked about a lot there. As a reminder, here are the key points.

Emma Shackleton  24:50  

Don't talk about restorative practice, as if you are about to remove all of the consequences in school. It's more complicated and nuanced than that. So be very careful about how you communicate this change.

Simon Currigan  25:04  

Make sure any commitments the child makes to repair the harm are followed up. The pupil is held accountable for those commitments. 

Emma Shackleton  25:11  

Give your teachers adequate training and commit to supporting them in the mid to long term.

Simon Currigan  25:17  

And think about how you're going to adapt the process to support your pupils with additional needs.

Emma Shackleton  25:22  

Would you like support in holding a restorative conversation? If you would, then our Inner Circle membership programme has got you covered. We've got a training module that will walk you through exactly what to say and do to hold a successful restorative conversation. And you can get a trial of our Inner Circle programme right now for just one pound, which also includes access to over 30 other video training resources as well. Head on over to www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk  and you'll find a link to the Inner Circle near the top of our homepage.

Simon Currigan  26:00  

And remember to subscribe to the show and make sure you hear each episode as it's released. It only takes 10 seconds. So open your podcast app now. Click the subscribe button or the Follow button as it's called in Apple podcasts. And your podcast app will automatically download every single episode for you so you never miss a thing and to celebrate Well, why not form a pigeon choir? Wrangle together 10 to 12 pigeons and then using pieces of bread and seed as positive reinforcement. Gradually teach them to coo in concert to create a magnificent bird choir. No, that's wrong. Actually train the pigeons before you subscribe. Then when you hit that subscribe button, get the pigeons to coo you the most fantastical heartwarming fanfare anyone could imagine and then disband the choir, leaving everyone with memories of the good times.

Emma Shackleton  26:48  

And remember if you've got a colleague or friend who's unsure about restorative practice and you think that they'd find this podcast helpful, then don't keep this episode all to yourself. Use the Share button in your podcast app to let them know about this episode so that the classes and students they work with can benefit as well. That's it for today. Have a brilliant week. I will see you in the next episode of school behaviour. Bye for now.

Simon Currigan  27:15  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)