Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Restorative or punitive

Some schools in Norfolk (and the police!!) are training their staff in restorative practice. What this means is that professionals are enabled to mediate and solve disagreements by finding a solution that is palatable to all parties in any conflict situation. Needless to say, this involves a whole load of communication.

This seems like a massive shift in fundamental philosophy from when I was at school - when anything that rattled the status quo was challenged by automatically dishing out a punishment. (The conflict being identified as a pupil not doing what the teacher said s/he must do). Now being the hippie I am, I completely approve of restorative practice! Unfortunately, however, attitudinal changes like this don't happen overnight or pervade the whole of society!

I have had debates with many people about which works better - the consequence of a punishment to clearly show something is wrong or time dedicated to listening to all parties to attain understanding and the best way forward. I am surprised by how many people think a simple punishment to match a crime is obviously the answer - no debate. However, I have also seen first hand, as a teacher, how a punishment might suppress a behaviour but not change the underlying issues that caused it in the first place. Restorative practice might have more chance of doing this.

The following example of behaviour suppression was once used in some training I attended to illustrate this point. For those of us that sometimes venture over the speed limit, when we drive past a speed camera, we slow down. Once past the camera, most of us then forget to take notice of our speed (especially if we are late). Our behaviour is suppressed momentarily but our underlying attitude has not been altered (i.e. we still think it's OK to speed a bit).

However, if I was shown the potentially devastating impact of speeding and made to reflect on it - my undelying attitude might change and I might consistently modify my behaviour because of my changed belief.

I might take this example further though. If I was going to be fined for speeding and I couldn't afford it, it might slow me down. If I had nine points on my liscence and risked losing it by speeding, I might slow down. So maybe the threat of the right punishment might suppress behaviour in order to keep the roads safe for everyone. Perhaps punishment should be renamed a preventative consequence, be made very clear and hopefully never have to be issued.

So preventative measures (in the form of a possible punishment) could be appropriate to help clearly define undesirable behaviour. This alongside helping people to change their attitudes to elicit desirable behaviour might just be the answer.

That's that sorted then. I am off to my attitude change class now.....


  1. This is what this post triggered my sister to write...

    Triggered me off...

    Restorative practice (which seeks out the emotional thing underlying the child's/adult's behaviour) is sort of in tune with something I've been reading about (but different)...

    What teachers and parents do much of the time is "negate" children. For example, if a child was in a supermarket with their parent and the shopping was taking ages and the child was upset because their favourite TV programme was starting soon and they were going to miss it, it is mostly likely that the parent will say something along one of the following lines:

    "I'm going as fast as I can - I don't like shopping either you know."
    "It's on every week - it doesn't matter if you miss it this once."
    "You'll only miss the first ten minutes."
    "Oh for goodness sake, stop thinking about yourself."
    "Just let me get on and do the shopping and then we can get home."

    All of these "negate" the child's emotion - they don't acknowledge it at all - just ignore it or suppress it or go against it. This makes the child more upset/angry/etc. (and will make the child's behaviouir worse and the parent's life more difficult).

    What works much much better is to totally acknowledge the child's emotion - and then still explain that the situation is what the situation is. e.g. "I know you really really love that programme. I can see why you feel really upset and annoyed that we aren't going home on time. etc. But... (doesn't actually make any difference to what will happen - still have to finish shopping).

    It can work miracles! Child feels acknowledged, understood, cheers up, accepts situation...\

    It all sounds like common sense, but I hear parents (even very clever and 'good' ones) negating their children all the time now - it's absolutely everywhere whether it's obvious or subtle. A toddler really upset in the garden centre at the weekend: "Be quiet. No one's listening, no one cares." (extreme case) A child who doesn't want to leave toddlers this morning: "We have to go - it's closing now." (typical case) instead of "I know you love coming here and it makes you feel really sad when we have to go, doesn't it?" Not negating can stop tantrums, crying, whining, etc etc

    Suppose it all ties in with my emotional stuff I wrote about.

    End of trigger.................

  2. Restorative sounds good but I do find it very difficult! It takes a lot more time than just keeping the offender in for a few minutes and I am not the best at it. I try to listen to all sides and sort things out but sometimes I feel I have just got all confused and made things worse! Sounds good that people are getting trained. I did flag up that I feel unequipped to deal with children's emotional problems compared with how I feel very confident with helping them to learn but no assistance has been forthcoming as yet.

    Love From Nikki (PS Like your blog, impressed it is still going strong!)


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