I came across one of the most popular definitions for restorative practice lately, which got me thinking about something. The definition of RP goes like this: “to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and building relationships”. Here’s what I started wondering about. We know restorative practice is both preventative and reactive, i.e. building relations and resolving conflict. Yet, the bulk of the focus of training and the bulk of people’s perception of RP centers around the processes, i.e. the questions, the circles, the conferences, etc. What’s meant to be a 50:50 split (according to the definition) suddenly becomes something else. A center can easily become 40:60 in favour of acting reactively, or even 20:80, and still make the claim they are working restoratively. There’s probably some good reasons for this, which I’ll come to, but let me tell you about someplace that’s closer to 80:20 in favour of relationship building.
I work out of the Ceim ar Cheim school, and have the luxury of being the proverbial “fly on the wall” quite a bit of the time. Ceim ar Cheim is often seen as the “Mecca” of RP in Limerick, the “Mother Ship”, the “center of excellence”. Yet I’ve rarely, if ever, heard one of the six questions. I haven’t seen a problem solving circle since I arrived and I’m informed it’s been an age since there was a conference. When I came first I expected lots of these and waited and waited, and waited to see how they did it. But none came, at least not that I could see. Were they restorative at all? Then it hit me. What they’ve done is mastered the art of relationship building, or as close to mastered it as you can get. I’m not saying they’ve never had conflict or challenging behaviour before - they’ve had plenty, and still do sometimes. But, what you see and experience when you work or visit there is at least an 80:20, and some days a 100% focus on just building and maintaining relationships. Or at least, that’s how it seems to me. Everyone is greeted warmly numerous times every morning and there are fun group circles morning and afternoon to kick start classes. It seems simple, yet I’m sure it’s anything but. How many times have you heard, “oh here we ago again, with another circle”, but everyone actually felt better for having partaken? Motion creates e-motion.
Imagine a society where we were all just a little more proactive rather than reactive. Imagine parents taking the effort to text or call their teenagers each day just to say hello, rather than waiting for them to come to them. Imagine all teachers in all schools making a point to have a short conversation with every student at least once a week, rather than waiting to speak to them when the homework’s not done. Imagine if every social worker sent a text or made a short call each week to the young people they worked with, rather than waiting for issues to arise. Imagine if the Garda on his beat came up to groups of young people and asked in a good way “what’s the craic lads?” instead of only talking to them to ask them to move on. You get the idea. A stitch in time saves nine. The small effort to do any of the above would be returned 10 or 20 fold in terms of reduced conflict at the other end. What’s the smallest thing you can start doing to shift your focus from reactive to proactive?
My name is Joe Power and I am the restorative practice development officer in Limerick since May 2018. I first came to RP in 2016 when it was introduced to the residential centre where I also work. I thought I would start to write a little about my experiences in developing both my own understanding of RP, as well as my experiences in trying to spread RP across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thought (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it. Also please e-mail any thoughts/comments/stories you might have to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.