As an ELSA I often had to deal with incidents of bullying within school and I dealt with this in a restorative way. I have decided to write something on this for Bullying week. If anyone wants to know what restorative practice is then Johnny from my Facebook page has written a wonderful post on restorative practice which you can read below.
He says ‘I recently started using the restorative practice approach. While this should really be a whole school initiative, for now I am making do with a solo effort for my own situation. Hopefully the school will take note in time and begin to embrace the practice. Very briefly, the approach consists of circle time sessions every day. These can be a mixture of simple circle time check ins at the beginning of the day and another short check in after yard time. It also includes the traditional circle time approach as outlined by Jenny Mosley and co. The purpose of theses check ins and circle times is to consistently model for the children the appropriate way to speak and listen to each other. Obviously, there is a lot more to it than this, but in a nut shell, this is the main objective. Running along side this is the restorative conferences that take place when the need arises. e.g. a bullying incident, a serious incident in classroom etc. Here, the harmer and the victim are present. The teacher then asks a series of questions to each pupil. Specifically-What happened?, What were you thinking about at the time?, What have your thoughts been since?, Who has been affected by what you did? In what way have they been affected? These questions are asked of both parties. I prefer to ask one question at a time, allowing each party to fully express their answer before moving onto the next question and repeating the process. At no point is there to be any judgement. The crucial point is to very clearly model the appropriate way to speak and listen as you ask the questions. When all four questions have been answered, and responses are repeated when necessary to ensure clarity, a fifth question is asked of both parties- What do you think needs to happen next? At this point, a resolution may be forthcoming. In more serious cases, a resolution may not be forthcoming at this particular point. But the process has started, and through consistent modelling and listening, a resolution from the harmer should eventually come. This is a whirlwind introduction I know, but more info can be got at www.iirp.edu/uk’
I was personally trained by Hull in this practice and I have seen it work over and over again. I have seen bully’s reduced to tears when they realise the harm they have caused. Anyone can do this, you don’t have to be a teacher, the principles are easily learnt. I actually delivered some training to our dinner ladies at school and I reduced the process to three questions and put those questions on little business cards as a reminder. The most powerful question in my opinion is ‘What’s happened’ this immediately stops the child feeling defensive. It is amazing how you are more likely to get the truth with this question. When you ask ‘Why have you done this?’ or ‘Why have you kicked Susan’ then you most definitely will not get the truth because you are immediately accusing them with the ‘why’ question. Bringing feelings into the conversation is so important. How does what has happened to you make you feel? A bully needs to know how he or she has made the person feel. The final question ‘How can we put things right’, I remember one incident where two boys were bullying a little lad in the same class. I watched my colleague dealing with this incident and both boys ended up in tears and when asked ‘How can we put things right?’ they said they thought they should be excluded from school. My colleague said that we didn’t want that to happen and they then said they were going to protect this little lad from now on and they were so sorry. They couldn’t believe how much they had hurt him. It was amazing to watch and at no time did my friend raise her voice or get angry or show any emotion she was the perfect mediator. Those two boys went on to be good friends with the little lad and he had no further bother.
I have loads of stories like this where children who were bullies when confronted with how they had made someone feel and actually being at a meeting with the victim and seeing how their behaviour had affected them actually made them turn the corner. I honestly believe that many bullies bully because they have low self esteem and it makes them feel better for a bit to show how tough they are but they give no thought to the victim. As a mediator you can actually show the bully the effect he/she is having.
In a nutshell:
Be impartial – it is important not to take sides and make assumptions
Every child has a voice and only ONE child speaks at once – listen carefully to each child and make sure there are no interruptions.
Start with the uninjured child first – amazingly you are more likely to get the truth.
Focus on children’s feelings and how each other feels.
Take suggestions for repairing the harm (making things right)
Children come to their own agreement on how to make things right.
Restorative practice should be a whole school approach but this isn’t always practical but to make everyone aware in school of how to deal with conflict/bullying then they just need to follow the basic principals.
To find out more about restorative practice then check out the Hull website