26 July, 2012

Demonstrating order

When harm is done it is relatively easy to identify the primary relationships that have been damaged and need to be restored. In serious matters, restorative practices address close secondary relationships by including supporters of both the offenders and victims.

Well-meaning authorities may attempt to "keep the door open" for those who have caused some harm by implementing minimal consequences. For example, a court may apply a suspended sentence for a serious offense. In terms of the social discipline window, such approaches can be perceived as high support - low challenge. However, this can undermine the confidence of bystanders and their relationships with those involved and the system (justice system, school...). A bystander is anyone who knows that harm was done, before, during or after the fact. 

High challenge - high support approaches include the completion of substantial well-managed challenges by those who have caused harm. As part of the restoration of relationships, such challenges are likely to be known to those directly involved in any restorative processes. Communicating the successful completion of real challenges can be important for wider bystanders who need to know that justice has been done, and that there is order including social discipline.

18 July, 2012

Push-outs and zero tolerance in Australia

Push-outs and Zero Tolerance fail to deliver in the US
In the US zero tolerance is being abandoned as a core strategy to improve school safety and student achievement (IIRP). This shift is closely associated with widespread concern about the long term implications of push-outs.
  • Zero tolerance is usually implemented by suspensions and expulsions for unacceptable behaviour and can easily result in permanent push-outs
  • Push-outs disrupt a students' education and place them in situations where they are more likely to do dangerous and unacceptable things. This frequently moves students to the periphery of society permanently. For many the effect is a "school-to-prison" pipeline
Is Australia different?
Zero tolerance has not be explicitly adopted in Australian schools and we don't use or have a term that is equivalent to push-out. But does this mean that the phenomena do not to be found in Australia? Certainly not. 
Both zero tolerance and push-outs are alive and well down-under, but politely masked by a number of factors including failure of the student to meet the "required standards" of behaviour and/or academic progress. Families, communities and even school systems (unconsciously) collude with schools to maintain the masking of intolerance and exclusion.

Understanding push-outs
Particular students are excluded (pushed out) from particular schools for a wide range of reasons
  • Despite receiving government funding, non-government schools select their students from those who apply and in the process usually exclude the the least promising. That is, many students are pushed "out" from non-government schools before they are "in"!!  In contrast many of the same non-government schools offer scholarships to the most promising students in order to ensure that they get "in".
  • Should difficulties arise after being enrolled, students at non-government schools can be pushed out by having their enrolment terminated without much difficulty
  • Government schools may suspend students for short periods for less serious behavioural issues or exclude students permanently for serious matters. The school system then attempts to find an alternative school placement for the excluded student.
  • Students with high levels of special needs are less likely to be enrolled in non-government schools and may not be "main-streamed" in government schools if the schools cannot make provision that meets their needs.
  • Some students exclude themselves by refusing to attend school often as a result of social, emotional or material issues that make it difficult to meet the school's requirements
  • The latter students may also behave in unacceptable ways that result in their being excluded by the school
  • Or they may be pushed-out by their fellow students through bullying and harassment
  • Also families sometimes fail to enrol their children in school, fail to support attendance or even discourage attendance by their children for personal reasons
  • And families (and their children) can be pushed out from communities
In Australia, non-government schools are widely believed to provide better quality education. And this belief is supported by school performance data available from the MySchool website. A high proportion of non-government schools may well be safer and have better student outcomes (learning, attendance, parent satisfaction...) precisely because of their zero tolerance and the use of push-outs to other schools, particularly to government schools.
To a lesser extent some government schools have similar practices. The net result is that there is a movement of the most needy students away from the provision and social capital that could best meet their needs.

At the same time, some of the most courageous and genuinely high performing schools are to be found at the periphery although this is far from obvious from the available school performance data.

Schools that use zero tolerance have no real need to develop more inclusive strategies such as school-wide positive behaviour support and restorative practices.

07 July, 2012

Meeting School Requirements

There are limits to the range of sustainable provision that schools can make for their students. These limits are defined by the organisation, scheduling, arrangements and practices within the school.
And schools have requirements of their students. To a greater or lesser extent, most schools require students to be
  • at school - all day, everyday (in uniform?)
  • responsive within narrow timelines
  • in class and on time, every time 
  • ready for work - physically, emotionally, financially (with fees, materials & equipment), tasks completed, necessary prior knowledge & skills 
  • on task
  • compliant with school rules - no harm, no disruption & no offense to others 
  • able to acquire necessary out-of-school resources
  • able to complete out-of-school tasks (homework, work experience....)
These requirements are very reasonable for the vast majority of students. However it is virtually impossible for some high needs students to meet these requirements because of the combined effect of
  • poverty
  • ineffective parenting (especially lack of social and emotional learning)
  • fight/flight responses
  • family arrangements
  • health issues (ASD, ADHD, PTSD, various disabilities...)
  • cultural differences
  • fragmented attendance
  • ... 
For many students (80%?) school's requirements are rarely an issue. But, for high needs students the requirements can be an on-going moment-by-moment challenge, especially when things go wrong!!

Restorative Practices can be helpful in acknowledging and addressing these factors and thus help more students meet the school's requirements resulting in better outcomes for all.

03 July, 2012

Restorative Practices - Breaking down the silos

Sometimes silos can  be useful when they concentrate effort for specialist purposes. On the other hand silos can become barriers to collaboration between people who are struggling to meet the challenge of complex problems.

One of the strong themes associated with Restorative Practices is the breaking down of barriers between stakeholders.

As these barriers dissolve new, stronger, more positive relationships, practices and arrangements often emerge leading to greater success and well-being for all concerned.

It is often individual staff members in schools and services groups, government agencies... who lead the way in breaking down the silos that exist between their respective organisations. 

They do this by collaborating to improve their support for those who need it most. With luck, senior management will notice the improvements being achieved and incorporate the new practices of their respective organisations.

In this way the silos of education, welfare, health and justice are being broken down so that young people in need are receiving more effective support.