I often find that it's the early experiences in my career that are the most vivid. If asked to recall an example for anything or a story that stands out, I tend to pull something from 15 years ago rather than 15 days ago. Maybe that's because everything was newer, and therefore more striking, at the time? Maybe I'm getting old?? Whatever the reason, I found myself pondering this week how we sometimes treat our colleagues with less understanding and/or empathy than the young people we work with. Here's two stories (from 15 years ago of course) that may or may not illustrate this.
The first is involving a young person on just his second night ever in the care home I was working in at the time. He had clearly decided that life in care was not for him because he went about running away just minutes after I started my night shift that evening. To which I duly decided to follow him. There then followed, over the course of the next hour or 90 minutes, a series of wall jumps, sprints, stops and waiting games as he tried to either lose me or wear me out. At the end he went into a phone box (remember those?) and I could just faintly overhear the words "Gardai", "followed", "strange man outside", etc. To this day I still don't know whether or not the call was real, but it's not something you forget either. The young man (he was only 11) had by now realised he couldn't outrun or lose me and came out of the phone box and we talked for a bit. I can't remember what I said but I know how I said it. I wasn't cross or angry. I understood (or at least had an appreciation for) the magnitude of his situation. My presence was empathic. What I do remember being said later on was "c'mon, let's go back before you get arrested". Needless to say, I didn't hang about.
Around the same time a staff member who had been on longterm sick leave was returning to work. I (the newbie) was assigned to do various induction bits and pieces with her. I can only imagine now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I must have been a little too energetic in my re-training of her with the petty cash system (which she could well have written years earlier) and not understanding enough of what it meant to her coming back to work, because she "blew up" on me, i.e. reminded me how long she in the service (with some choice words), etc. I can't remember what I said but I know how I felt. I was angry. I didn't want to understand her or her situation. My presence was definitely not empathic. I made a bee-line for the manager and duly lodged my complaint. To be honest I don't remember how it was resolved either but I know my manager was quite supportive of me. That felt good - at the time.
The above scenarios are probably ones people can broadly relate to, i.e. the young people we work with do things to us or others, and we possibly expect it. Colleagues, if or when they do something to us or others, we possibly don't expect it. To me it's this expectation (or lack of) that's the key. And it's this gap between expectation and reality that leads to any subsequent frustration or anger. Basically (and generalising here a bit) we treat young people different to colleagues. Does it have to be this way?
I now look back on the above situations quite differently. I know you can't put an old head on young shoulders but, if the latter situation happened again, I'd hope to be a lot more supportive AND challenging, i.e. restorative. I wouldn't be accepting bad behaviour but I'd be curious what's behind it. I certainly wouldn't be letting someone get the idea they could get away with this behaviour but I wouldn't be looking for my "pound of flesh", i.e. punishment, either. I'd be letting the person know how I felt and what I expected. Restorative practice gets a reputation for being the "soft" option at times. It's not. The stories above are actually the opposite of they appear. The first one has a "soft" veneer, but that young person was taken back into a strange care system that night. It doesn't get "tougher" than that. The second one had a "tough" veneer but it called for a much "softer" approach. I know which one I have regrets in and which one I don't.
That's restorative practice
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own 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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.