Next Friday 15 March 2019 is National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence (NDA), an initiative coordinated by the Queensland Government on behalf of Australia’s government, Catholic and independent school communities.
This national day presents a timely opportunity to consider not only what bullying is – and isn’t – but also how we approach behaviour support at MIC.
This week all learning environments will be holding discussions around the topic of bullying as well as engaging in activities related to bullying, respectful relationships and what this means. Of course, these conversations take place continually with a particular focus when the need arises and throughout the year.
On an ongoing basis, we have a whole school approach to support all behaviours – including bullying – that is known as Restorative Practice.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is the ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert) and is repeated over time.
Bullying is not a disagreement (where there is no power imbalance), it’s not not liking someone, one-off acts of meanness or isolated incidents of aggression, intimidation or violence. While these conflicts all need to be addressed and resolved, it’s important to know that these incidences do not constitute ‘bullying’ – a deliberately emotive term that is often used in the media.
What is Restorative Practice?
Restorative Practice is a shared set of values (not a program) in the hearts and minds of everyone in our college community that ensures we all have a shared understanding and shared beliefs around discipline and behaviour support. It is a philosophy in action that places relationships at the heart of the educational experience.
It is based on the understanding that the development of safe and emotional learning – and relationship-centred classroom management practices – is the foundation of a safe and supportive college environment.
A Montessori education involves students learning many life skills beyond academics – from practical life skills that support self care, care of the environment and grace and courtesy, right through to care of the immediate community and, as they get older, skills required to be of service to others outside of our community, and even on a global scale. At MIC, students are encouraged to also learn the skills they need to behave appropriately and manage conflicts.
Traditional versus Restorative Practice
When it comes to helping children to learn to behave, traditional approaches often rely on retributive justice. This is based on age-old justice systems that make the (mistaken) assumption that those harmed are ‘helped’ by the punishment of the perpetrator.
Questions asked in traditional settings include – What rules were broken? Who is to blame? What punishment should apply? The focus is on stopping the behaviour – the cause is rarely addressed and there is little opportunity for self-reflection or taking responsibility. The main lesson learnt is: don’t get caught.
The Restorative Practice we utilise at MIC asks different questions – Who was harmed? How were they affected? What part did each person play in the incident? Whose obligation is it to make it right? How can the relationship be restored? The focus is on changing the behaviour as it addresses the cause and provides an opportunity to understand the broader ramifications for both self and others. Participants are encouraged to self-reflect and take responsibility for their actions. They learn about themselves and others and self-esteem is built, rather than diminished.
Restorative Practice at MIC
At MIC conflicts are considered a learning opportunity and students are explicitly taught the skills they need to behave appropriately, just as they are taught the skills they need to read, write, multiply or divide.
Restorative Practice focuses on the learning opportunity that is presented, rather than a focus on blame or punishment, and is based on three pillars:
- It addresses the needs of the person who was harmed
- It addresses the needs of the person who did the harming
- It addresses restitution – restoring the relationship.
Students learn how to participate with others, resolve conflicts, self manage, negotiate, collaborate, feel empowered, see their own part (and move away from blame/victim thinking), make amends and restore relationships. The skills required are explicitly taught in a developmentally appropriate way at MIC.
While it can be difficult to self-reflect, admit where we are wrong, see how others are affected by our own behaviour, accept accountability and responsibility for our actions and to heal the harm by making amends and putting things right – it is by adopting these approaches that all involved are able to develop the strength of character to participate positively in challenging situations with an approach that fosters understanding, clarification and forgiveness.
From role modelling, to using peace tables to resolving conflicts, to holding no-blame whole class meetings, to discussing individual obligations and responsibilities – Restorative Practice is a whole school approach that is utilised as part of everyday college life and is based on the principles of:
- open mindedness
How is Restorative Practice used to manage Bullying at MIC?
As Restorative Practice approaches are part of everyday life at MIC, the values it embodies are a fundamental aspect of our college culture across all ages and learning environments. All staff have engaged in Restorative Practice training and also attend refresher training on a regular basis. As a result, all community members engage in inclusive approaches every day.
However, when a conflict or bullying circumstance becomes evident, a Responding Continuum is adopted with a range of approaches utilised depending on the nature of the incident. This continuum ranges from minor incidents (such as name calling) where a “Connect before Correct” technique is used, through to an Informal Restorative Chat with those involved (exploring what happened, how it affected those involved and what each party can do to make it right), to a No Blame Classroom Meeting, or a Formal Restorative Chat.