Coláiste Mhichíl - Snapshots of our Restorative Journey
Coláiste Mhichíl, CBS Sexton Street is an all-boys voluntary secondary school in the heart of Limerick City, under the trusteeship of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST). It serves a community of 440 children from all over the city. The school has 36 teachers.
Coláiste Mhichíl is supported by the Limerick City Children’s Service Committee to develop restorative practices in the school. Leading this development is a core group of teachers and staff who have trained in Restorative Practices including the Acting Deputy Principal, the Home School Liaison teacher, the Social, Personal and Health Education teacher and five other teachers.
The Principal (Tom Prendergast) is wholly supportive of embedding restorative practice in the school, and we embrace restorative approaches as an expression of the school’s charter, which promotes partnership in the school community and creating a caring school community. Central to this, is the belief that the school “community lives and grows where people share a common vision and mission, feel they belong, are allowed to contribute are recognised and consulted and have a say in determining their direction”. Restorative principles, values and processes can make a significant contribution to bringing the school charter to life. In addition, restorative processes can support the implementation of National Education Welfare Board Guidelines and the Department of Education and Skills, Anti Bully Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools. A core component of these procedures are creating a positive school climate and culture and restorative approaches offer a framework for supporting this.
A key factor in the school’s restorative journey has been our participation in awareness raising and training. To date, the school has participated in whole school awareness raising and refresher sessions. In a short period of time five teachers have been trained to run formal restorative conferences addressing conflict and challenging behaviour. A further three teachers have taken part in introductory training. This is a significant undertaking by the school, as it requires the good will not only of the teachers who are attending the training but also their colleagues who provide substitution cover for their classes.
Making our own of restorative practices
Using the emerging Restorative Practice knowledge and skills in the teaching community we have begun adopting restorative principles, values and processes in a few key areas:
We have reviewed our positive code of behaviour to reflect a restorative approach. At the core of this approach is the teacher/student relationship. Each student is encouraged to grow and take increasing responsibility. Towards supporting this code of behaviour the school is committed to implementing Restorative Practices to resolve any issues in a calm and respectful manner.
Impromptu conferences are being used on a regular basis to address harm caused by bullying, name-calling and fighting amongst other behaviour. Students who have been involved in these have generally responded well and have bought into the processes, participating well and responding to repairing the harm caused. Those students who experience challenges expressing themselves are encouraged to participate in ways that they can.
We have developed reflection sheets, which students use to help them reflect on their behaviour after an incident. These are proving useful tools in giving students time to think about what has happened and how their behaviour has affected others.
The school is creating a restorative space by revamping what has formally been known as the “interrogation room” into a student and restorative friendly space. This has been repainted, made more welcoming, restorative questions, values and guidelines are displayed on the wall as reminders, a circular table has been put into the room and student achievements are presented on the wall. It is quickly becoming known by the whole school community as the “conference room”.
Challenges and rewards
One of the key challenges we’ve experienced in the school is time. Time taken to train staff and then implement the approaches in school has to be prioritised and this is always at the expense of something else. It depends on the goodwill of teachers and colleagues to make themselves available to free colleagues up to prepare and implement restorative practices.
While in its infancy in the school, management, teachers and parents are recgonising the benefits of restorative approaches. The school Principal notes “We have found that using restorative questions or having impromptu conferences and conversations about small issues and conflicts between students during school have not only resolved the issue but has also prevented the issue escalating in the school. Where previously these issues may have been played out in communities and on Facebook, this has not happened in situations when restorative approaches has been used”.
A parent has reported to the Deputy Principal that her son appeared “more confident in himself” after he took part in a small impromptu conference. She also expressed her appreciation and recognition that the school was addressing the “bullying” issues her son was experiencing.
One teacher using restorative approaches describes feeling a greater sense of closure on issues, feeling like she has done all she can when she has used a restorative approach in relation to harmful behaviour.
So what’s next?
We recognise that embedding and nurturing Restorative Practices in the school takes time and will happen gradually. Our next steps towards this include:
1. Working with the CSC Restorative Practices Development Officer to plan and implement whole school training for all teaching staff. We also hope to have a briefing session for the school Board of Management.
2. Using restorative approaches to consult with students on integrated curriculum development. We are exploring how we might use circles to support this process.
3. Where possible (with acknowledged limitations) we hope to include time for restorative practices in the timetable for designated and restorative practice trained teachers.
We take encouragement from the potential that restorative approaches make towards improving the learning and teaching environment of our students and staff.