The announcement by NSW DoE of their new Student Behaviour Strategy has caused some ripples of anxiety amongst the teaching fraternity.
That’s fair enough too.
With 2209 NSW Government schools to be impacted by the changes that are now on the cards, specifically when it comes to the clear intention to reduce student suspensions, that adds up to a lot of teachers and a lot of students whose lives will be touched by this document.
One sentence in the report has attracted sharp attention, being that “Key intended changes will include alternatives to suspension, including restorative practice and performing a service for service for their school community”.
It’s easy to draw assumptions from this statement. Among them might be:
- that Restorative Practices are something you do instead of suspending a student.
- that there aren’t any consequences in a restorative school.
- that students could be asked to pick up some rubbish no matter what they’ve done, instead of being sent home for a while.
Each of these assumptions is patently false in a sound and thoughtfully implemented restorative school. Yet here we are.
And whose fault is it that these misconceptions abound across Australia, and indeed, the world? Well … I’d hate to admit this … but it’s my fault.
Advocates of working and learning restoratively, like me, spend so much time talking about its benefits – and they are real – that we tend to gloss over its pitfalls.
We gloss over the implementation and philosophical barriers to authentic implementation as a cultural platform.
We preach the effectiveness of our training but fail to partner with educators to bust pre-existing myths about what teachers need to be and what they thought they knew about good practice.
It’s not fair. It leaves a profoundly powerful opportunity out of the hands of those teachers who most need it and tarnishes the whole approach’s reputation.
There’s some stuff to be unlearned about Restorative Practices and it’s work that the NSW DoE will need to engage with if it wants to genuinely support its teachers to practice accordingly.
After all, you can’t ask people to do something that you don’t fully understand yourself.
The great news is that, if they do that work, the currently concerning rates of student suspension in NSW can become a story of authentic success and a new dawn of teacher effectiveness and wellbeing can be born.
NSW DoE – if you want the benefits of working restoratively, you’re gonna have to earn them. It won’t be easy, just worthwhile. And it starts with unlearning what you thought you knew about Restorative Practices.