I was in a primary school lately doing demonstrations to pupils and teachers on how to run circles. The first few classes had run pretty much according to plan. The pupils were interested, engaged and, considering the novelty of the situation, very patient in waiting their turn and respecting others. Some of them wanted to keep going and were suggesting alternative questions for more rounds. This was easy I thought. Then, I made that classic error like they do in the movies. I took on "just one more job". I went into one final class and started the circle time. And it was chaos. Two or three of the class couldn't/wouldn't settle and ultimately ruined it for the rest. I tried what strategies I had (verbal, non-verbal prompts, gently challenging, appealing to better instincts, ignoring, etc, etc). You name it, I tried it, to no avail. And, do you know what, it was the best thing that could have happened me.
Now I'm sure teachers reading this will empathise with me. And, do you know what, that's one of the reasons why I'm glad it went that way. Empathy. I've been teaching restorative practice principals and theory for a while now and, typically, the conversation at some point turns to "what do you do with the hard to reach/difficult/impossible kids?" And, as much as I've experienced kids like that outside school settings for 16 years, I'd never seen it in a class. And, as a result, I couldn't empathise fully. I could, and did, listen to teachers. I did try to empathise. But now I'd been there and, as I left the school, I was talking to some of the teachers in a different way altogether. Now, I'm not saying it's impossible to empathise with someone unless you've experienced whatever it is they're talking about, but it's pretty hard. In hindsight, I wish I'd said to teachers "I've no idea what a class like that is like, but I really want to try and understand".
So what's all this got to do with Find it, Face it, Fix it and why am I (seemingly) a sucker for punishment? If you've picked up anything about shame from some of the recent blogs, you'll know that my options to the above class are pretty much as follows: stop going to do circle demos, beat myself up over it, pretend it didn't happen/don't talk or think about it, or blame the students and/or teacher (maybe even take my feelings out on someone). That's the way shame works. But, recognising these feelings, I now have a choice. After the initial thoughts and feelings (and I'll admit they were all there momentarily), I have resolved to Find it, Face it, Fix it, which is the healthy way to deal with something. I have now explored and prepared variations of circles to use if presented with similar behaviours. I have reminded myself that not all children have learned the necessary skills to sit still and some need to be taught those skills (which will take time). More importantly, I need to keep learning, recognising the gaps in my own knowledge and skills and, then, do something about it. We have a choice. We have people we can go to if we need help or support. Being vulnerable does not mean being weak. It's the exact opposite in fact. We can recognise it in others in a second. Overcome the shame. Find it, Face it, Fix it.
That's Restorative Practice.
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 thoughts (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.