In 2017 IIRP (Europe) and SynRJ were pleased and excited to be approached to join the RESTORE Project, an Erasmus+ funded programme that aimed to ‘develop safer and more positive school climate through restorative practices.’ There were Partner organisations from six countries:

The aim of this project was to create an implementation plan for Restorative Practice (RP) training that could be used by any organisation, anywhere in Europe. An idea that quickly proved to be both complex and difficult.

Les Davey

The Partners in the RESTORE Project brought with them very different levels of RP knowledge and experience. In order to achieve a level of consistency the group provided training for everyone following a structured model approach, using a combination of training materials developed by IIRP Europe and SynRJ. For research purposes this ensured consistency of material and training, as the different Partners introduced the concepts in their own countries.

The RESTORE Partners produced a number of ‘tools’ aimed at helping organisations along their restorative journey, starting with the initial contact, through to aspects of ‘restorative leadership.’ However, there are two aspects of the implementation process that we would like to focus upon, the first, born out of circumstances and necessity, ‘Student Workbooks’, and the second, ‘Professional Learning Groups.’ These ‘tools’ enabled us continually to support the schools that we were working with. This article reflects our journey as one Partner working in the UK to develop training that could be used inclusively in any country.

Photo: Les Davey

Interventions Level chart

The training

The courses and workshops that we delivered helped the organisations and individuals address negative behaviour, though our emphasis was on the concept of restorative practice as an opportunity to create an organisational climate which promotes positive relationships and is therefore proactive e.g. the use of Circles, reducing the chances of the negative behaviour occurring in the first place.

Post training: will the organisation ‘fly’ with RP or will it ‘sink without trace’?

At the end of a day’s training, loading the car is always accompanied by positive emotions. The day has gone well and the group has worked together in a constructive way as they successfully moved through the various sessions.

During the journey home we tend to ponder upon what will happen next within the commissioning organisation(s). Will restorative practices ‘fly’ or will it ‘sink without trace’? These are the two extreme outcomes and for most organisations, the future is usually somewhere between the two. The underlying theory is not difficult to understand and indeed, we have delivered a version of our One Day Introduction to RP to school children as young as 6 years old, so the real question is around applying the theory to their practice.

The organisations that ‘fly’ … are often characterised by having people who can identify the bridges between theory and practice and have the will and drive to move in the desired direction.

When we created SynRJ in 2016 we recognised that applying the theory to their practice was a major issue for many organisations and it was something that we wanted to help address. The organisations that ‘fly’ (the ones that fully integrate the new ideas into what they already do) are often characterised by having people who can identify the bridges between theory and practice and have the will and drive to move in the desired direction. Unfortunately, all too often, many others enjoy the training and leave the session enthused, without fully recognising the scope and opportunities for its practical application. For this group, the everyday demands of their work slowly but surely consume both their enthusiasm and will to make the necessary changes.

Time to focus on implementation

It is against this backdrop that we now want to highlight the two opportunities mentioned before that arose via the Erasmus+ route: the use of Student Workbooks and Professional Learning Groups (PLGs)

Student Workbooks

Two schools from Bury (the north west of England) had agreed to work with us as part of the RESTORE Project. One was a secondary school (11 to 16 year-olds) and the other, a Primary School (3 to 11 year-olds). One of our key areas of focus was upon the ‘transition process’, looking at what each school had in place, or did together, to help the pupils as they move from the primary to secondary setting.

The early meetings with both schools went well. Time and space were made available for us to provide the necessary training, and where possible, the separate school staff groups came together for these sessions. As is often the case, the primary school found it easier to interweave the ideas and restorative approaches with their way of working, though the secondary school was also making similar significant changes too.

John Boulton

Unfortunately, towards the end of the first year of our involvement, there was an extremely serious incident involving pupils from the secondary school, which not only impacted upon the school, but also had serious implications for the local community. As a result of this incident the focus of the school had to temporarily change and the ongoing work that we had planned was understandably put on hold. This difficult period slipped into the long summer break (July and August) and our contact with the secondary school was significantly less than our time with the primary school. As a consequence, they were no longer moving at the same pace and we were having real doubts around the viability of continuing with the secondary school. Following discussions with the School Leaders it was decided that we should continue, but that we needed to find a way of re-launching the RP initiative and at the same time, providing a ‘booster’ for both the staff and pupils.

At that point, the training provided had been for the staff groups and due to several delays at the start of the project, training for pupils was still some way off. Even then, it was envisaged that the pupil training would be for relatively small numbers. Our long experience of working with schools has repeatedly shown that working with pupils and engaging pupils in the process can be a key component of the implementation process.

Photo: John Boulton

We therefore saw the need to train all of the pupils, delivering the same concepts, using similar materials provided to staff …

We therefore saw the need to train all of the pupils, delivering the same concepts, using similar materials provided to staff and it needed to be completed in a very short period of time. An admirable goal but could it be achieved? Out of this need an idea was born that fully addressed this need.

We used two ‘twilight sessions’ (after school time), to introduce the SynRJ ‘Student Workbooks and Teachers Guides’ to the staff, to show them how to present the material and to prepare them to engage the pupils in the process. The additional benefit of this process, is the fact that the materials lend themselves to be delivered in various formats. These range from merely facilitating group or circle discussion, using a story board style, through to the pupil working through the workbook independently. Thus creating an inclusive approach, particularly important for those pupils who would otherwise struggle to engage.

At the same time the process also reacquainted the staff with the key RP concepts and materials. Following on from these sessions with staff, the school then created the time and opportunity for staff to work through the workbooks with their pupils. The general feedback was that this intervention had been well received by all pupils and it had succeeded in making up for the time lost.

The primary school also followed the same process with the appropriate age-related workbooks and they too reported the whole process as being a success. Both staff groups recognised that the implementation plan could be flexible to respond to changing circumstances, as long as the end goal is not lost.

Professional Learning Groups (PLGs)

Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) became the missing link between theory and practice.

When reflecting upon the many training sessions that we have delivered over the years, we cannot recall a single example of when an attendee could not understand the training or the theory. As tempting as it may be to cite the brilliance of the trainers, the reality is that the underlying theory and principles are both straightforward and easy to comprehend. The course feedback supports this notion and many attendees also add that the sessions are fun and practical. So, if all of this is true, why do so many organisations struggle or fail to integrate the training into their everyday practice?

… why do so many organisations struggle or fail to integrate the training into their everyday practice?
RST and Relationship styles window

We would suggest that there is not a simple, single answer to this question but ‘time and guidance’ probably encompasses the myriad of factors that come into play.

There are many models used to explain how PLGs (sometimes also referred to as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)) work and how they can be used. However, for the RESTORE Project we wanted to create a process that could be systematically followed by any of the Partners (or others), one that focussed on practice (both current and desired), and continually linked theory with practice.

One of the main components of the RESTORE Project PLG model is identifying a staff group who will be instrumental in overseeing aspects of the implementation plan, who can provide ‘challenge’ when necessary and who will engage in regular ongoing sessions with the RP trainer/consultant.

Our focus is on linking theory and practice, so how does it work? The basic steps are as follows:

  1. Assess current practice and plot it on the Social Discipline Window (IIRP) or ‘Relationship Styles Template’ (SynRJ), as illustrated in figure 2. This can quickly highlight what practice is identifiable as being ‘restorative and relational’ (working in the WITH box) and that which is not.
  2. Having identified areas of practice that are considered not to be ‘fully restorative’, consider the specific area of practice in greater detail using the key restorative elements:
    - Relational Styles Template (based on McCold and Wachtel, 2003)    ;
    - Fair Process (Kim and Mauborgne, 2003);
    - Relational Questions (O'Connell, 2015);
    - Free Expression of all Emotions (Nathanson, 1992);
    - Braithwaite’s Hypothesis (Braithwaite, 1989).

    ​​​​​​​The PLG then looks at what is working well, what needs to be changed, and also suggests as to how the practice can be changed where needed. Important aspects of this include being clear who is responsible, what is the timescale and what resources are required.
  3. Re-assess changed practice using the same methodology.

This process can be used to consider ‘practice’ in any area of the organisation and this reinforces the belief that RP is not just something we use with young people or the client group.

The impact of training and how can we do better?

As this project came to a close in 2020, we were invited work with a new Erasmus + project called Schools & Solutions. As the name suggests, the practical application of RP was one of the main goals of this project.

The Schools & Solutions Project is still in its early stages, but it is already clear that the school that we are to work with welcomes the opportunity to examine the problems that they face, and consider the ways in which they currently respond. Some of the staff have previously received RP training and in the first instance, it will be interesting to see how much of their current practice reflects this input. Initially the schools will identify the various problems that occur within their schools and at the interface with the local community. The next step is to look at how they currently respond and judge how ‘restorative’ that response is. After this has been assessed the project aims to help the schools work out if the processes could be made ‘more restorative’. A further interesting aspect of this project is that where appropriate, the schools will be encouraged to look beyond the school gates and look at how the wider community may be involved in helping to address and resolve incidents/problems.

Although it is too soon to say exactly how this project will work in practice, we will be taking into this project lessons learnt from the RESTORE Project. Partners initially assumed that once the key components of the implementation plan had been formulated and agreed, the work with their respective schools would be straightforward. With hindsight, it was probably the case that each individual Partner was considering their own circumstances and assuming that everyone else was working within the same parameters.

Different countries, different systems, serve as a reminder that even within the same country, there are sometimes different systems which may impact upon the implementation plan in subtle ways.

From our UK perspective we assumed that as schools in all the other countries had agreed to join the project, the respective heads/leadership teams would be in a position to make the final decisions around implementation. It was something of a surprise when one Partner had to await further approval once the implementation plan had been formulated. A similar situation arose with another Partner when it became clear that the teachers in their school could choose whether or not to utilise the training, though the headteacher could expect the animateurs (the staff who supervise the pupils outside of the academic times) to engage with the initiative. Different countries, different systems, serve as a reminder that even within the same country, there are sometimes different systems which may impact upon the implementation plan in subtle ways.

Conclusion

As part of the introduction to our courses, we stress that the training is an opportunity for the trainees to step back from the ‘day job’, reflect upon their work, and think about why they do what they do, in a particular way. For many, the everyday demands and routines become relentless. We feel very privileged to have had the opportunity and flexibility provided by the Erasmus+ Programme, to take our own advice, and reflect upon the wider issue of changing culture, for in most cases it is change at that level that we, as the trainers/consultants, are trying to facilitate. Yes, the training element is important but there is little doubt in our minds, it is how the training is applied, that provides the real key to success. Inclusion of the young people/client group in a meaningful and proactive way is critical, and ongoing support usually proves to be a very inclusive way of ensuring that the theory and practice link is maintained and strengthened.

John Boulton and Les Davey are the Co-Directors of SynRJ.
Contact: johnboulton@synrj.org and lesdavey@synrj.org

References

Braithwaite, J. (1989). Crime, shame and reintegration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kim, W.C. and Mauborgne, R. (2003). Fair process: managing in the knowledge economy. Harvard Business Review 81(1):127–136.

McCold, P. and Wachtel, T. (2003). In pursuit of paradigm: a theory of restorative justice. Restorative Practices EFORUM pp. 1–3.

Nathanson, D.L. (1992). Shame and pride: affect, sex, and the birth of the self. New York/London: Norton. 

O’Connell, T. (2015). Why the real justice script? From dream to reality: dawning of a new social science.