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Bush Lawyers

In these first few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with teachers and school leaders about untruthfulness.  Chiefly, these are wonderful practitioners who are trying to implement a restorative approach, but they’re authentically worried that their students will corrupt the process with lies.

They often point out that the kids are like bush lawyers who call upon precedents and all sorts of wild and whacky arguments about past events whenever they try to initiate a simple conversation.  It’s so frustrating for them.

In response, I tend to ask educators to step back from that particular situation for a moment and to wonder more generally “Why do kids lie?”.  The most common, and correct, answer is that it’s to mitigate the chance of a negative outcome on oneself.

In the adult judicial system, we even pay people (they’re called actual lawyers) to colour the truth on our behalf in order to ensure we aren’t fined or incarcerated.

And here’s the problem.  If the system is geared judicially (for crime and punishment) then we should expect students to learn to become better liars and more adept at consequence mitigation.  We should thoroughly expect our most challenging students to become our top bush lawyers – bush QCs if you will!

Schools aren’t judicial systems, but learning systems.  And Restorative Practices, done well, teaches how to repair harm and relationships.

The solutions to the problem?:

  1. Don’t expect students convinced that yours is a judicial system to automatically transition to restorative cooperation. They might lie for a while yet, until they trust your learning system intentions.  You might be unlearning a deep belief with them here – stay patient.  When they eventually cross that bridge, they won’t go back.
  2. Don’t expect every restorative interaction to “work”. You will have both wins and losses along the way.  You don’t need to win every battle – it’s the war that matters.
  3. Commit to the long game of system change. Do you want a judicial system (full of expert lawyers and liars) or do you want a learning system (brimming with empathic self-regulated problem solvers)?

Then act in accordance with the choice you made in solution number 3 with outrageous consistency.

Keep fighting that good fight,

PS. I’m rapt to be running a FREE professional conversation on “Leading School Culture” on Friday 25th February from 10am-12pm AEDT for the Professional Learning Centre of the Victorian Branch of the AEU.  You – yep you! – can register at this link.  Yep again, I know you’re busy with people and covidy stuff.  That’s the very reason you should come!

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