‘Relationships are the key to education.’ The Good Shepherd Centre has embedded a restorative approach that’s supporting its residents to deal with conflict in a positive and constructive way. Leona Donnelly (Depute Head of Education) – along with staff members and the young people – tells us why this approach is having major benefits for the GSC community.
Our restorative practices journey began on August 17, 2006 – the day the Good Shepherd Secure and Close Support Centre opened. As a new teacher, straight out of my probation year, I had a lot to learn. Teacher training had provided me with an insight into pedagogical theory, learning and teaching practice and the well-intentioned advice: “don’t smile until Christmas!” Coming to work in the GSC turned this theory on its head. Almost immediately, it became evident that relationships are the key to education and a smile can go far.
Our young people are referred to us from the Children’s Hearing or Criminal Justice system and likely to have experienced relational trauma and mental health problems. Many have disengaged from education and had negative experiences of school. During my years of working in the GSC, I have been fortunate to be mentored by great teachers and leaders, who understood how important relationships are to learning; and nowhere more so than in our sector. In my previous school, I was part of the Discipline Review Group. Learner behaviour was ‘controlled’ using rewards and sanctions. In the GSC: listening, understanding and conversations are fundamental.
It wasn’t until several years later that we formally labeled our practice as ‘restorative’ when a few of my colleagues and I attended Education Scotland’s Restorative Approaches training. We developed an implementation plan, in-house staff training and provided awareness sessions for our young people. Our restorative approaches pilot commenced in February 2016 and lasted for seven months. The pilot involved taking a record of all restorative meetings alongside their outcome, monitoring and tracking attendance, school exclusions and serious incidents. Young people and staff provided feedback using evaluation forms at the end of the pilot.
The evaluation demonstrated that the pilot was a success; but we knew this, even before analysing the data. You could feel the change in the air! Although relational approaches had already been in practice, the formality of the pilot provided us all with the reassurance that we were on the right track and removed the dutiful feeling of using rewards and sanctions to respond to behaviour. Moreover, becoming aware of the benefits of restorative approaches provided us with a compelling case that it was not only best practice, but essential to supporting our young people.
This practice is now embedded in the GSC and complements our nurturing and trauma-responsive approach. Safety, collaboration, trust, choice and empowerment – the guiding principles of trauma responsive care – permeate through restorative approaches. The practice is non-punitive and endeavors to remove the destructive feelings of shame. Developing relationships, resolving conflict and problem solving to reduce harm require each of these elements.
We utilise restorative approaches throughout our full centre community. Conflict is part of life and can occur whenever individuals, or parties, have differing values, perspectives or opinions. In our setting, conflict can arise between young people, between staff members and young people, or between staff members. Restorative approaches provide us all with the skills and understanding to respond to and repair harm. It teaches us the importance of listening to others’ perspective, linking feelings to behaviour and working together to find a way to move on from conflict and reduce the likelihood of further incidences. Our young people and staff are very familiar with the language of restorative approaches. If you observe daily interactions, you will notice it in unconscious practice. When conflict does occur, you will hear both young people and staff requesting ‘a restorative’ (meeting) and at times, when emotions remain heightened, others may step in to mediate in a more formal restorative meeting.
Here are just some of the thoughts of our staff and young people on the value of taking a restorative approach…
Victoria Bogle (Assistant House Manager)
If I am asked by someone outside of work who has no experience of Care or of the GSC “Why do you work in care” I always answer about the joy I get from spending time with our young people. But if they asked me “How do you care?” I might give a bemused “I just do” or I might start giving practical examples of what I do on a daily basis. But dig a little deeper and the answer I give is “We care for our young people by using a restorative approach”.
So what does this mean? In every interaction with young people we provide support to develop or repair, and then sustain, relationships. Why do we do it? Sometimes this is because the relationship has been damaged through disagreements, arguments or negative behaviours and we need to help the young people make amends or to accept the other person making amends. Sometimes it is to support a new relationship forming between young people and new friends, workers or adults in their life.
How do we do it? Staff across GSC role model healthy relationships and interactions and provide time for listening, support and encouragement when young people need help to restore or build a relationship. This can be through individual chats and gentle encouragement for the young person to take the lead or it might be a sit down with the young person and the other person(s) to chat. So when we hear “it’s his fault” or “I’m not talking to her” we listen to what has happened. We make sure everyone’s point of view has been shared. And then we help them to find a way forward.
Restorative approaches like this work because they give the young person voice and agency. Telling a young person what to do to resolve an issue or giving them a consequence for their negative behaviours does not give them the tools to solve issues. Restorative approaches help support the skills required to maintain relationships throughout life.
And the reason I don’t think to give it as my first answer?
Because it is so deeply embedded in everything we do that it’s become a way of living.
Joan Hodgkiss (Wellbeing Team Manager)
As the Manager of the Wellbeing Service, our aim is to promote good mental health which is the foundation of the young people’s emotional and intellectual growth, underpinning the development of confidence, independence and a sense of self-worth.
Restorative approaches are part of our planned response to relationship difficulties with young people that promotes accountability and seeks to repair any harm caused in a situation.
When considering and implementing restorative approaches with the young people, the Wellbeing Support Service, through intervention work, support young people to deal with conflict in a positive and constructive way. This involves developing emotional literacy, communication, thinking skills, problem solving, social skills and an understanding of others’ feelings. This enables young people within the GSC to build trust and develop the skills for more mature responses to a difficult situation and deal with these through engagement in restorative conversations.
Anouska McBurney (PE Teacher)
My experience with restorative approaches has been great. I have had several restorative conversations, not only to discuss issues, but to reflect upon potentially dangerous incidents with young people. This has allowed them to understand the situation from both sides, including my feelings and point of view.
Restorative meetings are a great opportunity for both parties to sit down, speak calmly and come to an agreement of what has happened. They allow you to open your mind and get an understanding of the young person’s perspective. Restorative approaches encourage relationships to grow and develop – sometimes by just talking and getting things off our chest, we feel better. Long term, they help you develop resilience to deal with similar situations.
Quotes from young people
“It was an opportunity to talk about something that has gone wrong. It was good because I was able to get my point across and I also felt bad for how I behaved. It let me restore my relationship with the teacher and apologise because I liked him. It’s good as you are calm before you go into the meeting and have time to think about things.”
“Restorative helps to fix relationships. We talk about what annoys us, and then we get to apologise to each other. I had one with another young person. It gave me a chance to let him know how I felt about it. We got on okay after it and he stopped doing the stuff that annoyed me. It has also helped me fix relationships with staff and think about situations in a different way.”
“It’s better to get it sorted out rather than leave it festering.”
“It’s been positive. I spoke to staff. You explore the issue and get both ends of the story and speak together to solve it. It moved on and never got dragged out.”
“It’s good to speak about it because I feel if it’s not, it will be raw and a negative atmosphere and feel if it is spoken about it’s better to understand the situation.”
“When you use restorative thinking you stop yourself from having an outburst.”
“It allowed me to see how my comments had hurt someone. It gave me a chance to explain what happened.”
“I liked having someone I could talk to and learned quite a lot of new skills.”
You could feel the change in the air!