RESTORATIVE PRACTICES BLOG
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A famous and experienced pianist took a break in the middle of a concert to chat to his audience. Whilst chatting, a child ran onto the stage and began to bash away at the piano, to the wide open mouths of the audience. The pianist, smiled, turned and sat down beside the child. Then he began to play alongside him. Using his competence and knowledge of the piano he began to compliment the notes the child hit, building on them and the beginning of a beautiful song emerged. The child smiled and played more intently, listening to the famous Pianists notes, watching his fingers, copying his riff’s. They played for a few more minutes before they stood up together and took a bow, connected by their shared music and attached to each other in this new relationship of collaboration.
Teaching is just like this – as is any role where you provide discipline (from the Latin verb “to learn”). But how you do, and who does this is up for grabs. I’m a pancake wizard. It is my calling on this earth to provide perfect and yummy pancakes. On our kitchen wall it is written “I love you… I made you pancakes.” I started to teach my son how to make them when he was about 5. Now he will remind me regularly, “butter in before the milk or it will go lumpy.” He’s nearly 10 and he is still mastering the “flip” but he’s getting there and nowadays we eat more pancakes than we do clean them up off the floor. Progress. Learning. But he also teaches me things. Like yesterday he taught me how to build my dream home in Minecraft. It has two, completely glass walls overlooking a lake below. I doubt very much if it is architecturally secure, but it looks amazing.
One of my step-sons (to be), given a reprieve from GCSE’s this year because of Corona-Virus, took on the challenge of supervising my 10 year old’s school work while I am out working. He is remarkably good at it and is now nick named “The Professor”. I watched his style – he was all “I don’t know J, let’s try it out together and see if it works.” Curiosity and Collaboration – two of the most important things in learning.
Whether it is the story of the pianist you remember, or the pancakes, or of 16 year old’s supervising 10 year old’s school work, remember that learning works best when you use curiosity and collaboration alongside the expectation to discipline – when you are “with them in it.”
Ted Watchel a well known proponent of Restorative Practice and models such as the Social Discipline Model said: "Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
Recognising your natural position within the Social Discipline Model (see fig 1) and how it impacts on your style of teaching, is crucial to your ability to connect with students and develop their skill to take responsibility for their own (first dependent, then co-dependent and then independent) learning journey.
fig 1: The Social Discipline Window: P McCold & T Watchel
You can read more about the Social Discipline Model by clicking on the link below.
Or if you are interested in learning more about social discipline styles and the impact they have on a child’s capacity to learn as well as on the environment in which they learn, (be that the classroom or the kitchen table), then check out our online Introduction to Restorative Practices by clicking below. You can get 50% off by just entering RESTORE at the checkout and receive this course for only £24.
We also offer Group Discounts – just contact us below to find out more.
As we got closer to bedtime it was brewing, the behaviour was getting more boisterous, nothing was right, he wanted this, he wanted that, but not this way and not that way. It was somewhere around this point that I realised this was not boredom, this was not “focus on me, not your work mummy” I realised we were heading for a big tsunami which had been coming for weeks.
After the last “it’s not fair, why can I not have your laptop to load up my games?” and the accompanying slam out the door, (and boy can he slam) I got up from the sofa where my partner and I were watching Ozark, and said “carry you on watching, I’m going to be a while.”
I knocked his bedroom door. “Can we talk?” “I hate you,” came the reply, “you never let me do anything, you always take everything away from me. You’re more interested in your work than in me.”
I got onto his bed and held out my arms. He came straight in, snuggled into my chest and he let rip. I mean really let rip. It started with “You won’t let me have your laptop, you won’t let me have the living room TV in my bedroom, I didn’t get pizza for dinner tonight,” and I listened, occasionally saying “you are so mad at me aren’t you? I’m sorry you are so mad at me.” I don’t know how many times I repeated this or versions of it, just reflecting back to him what he was clearly feeling without commenting on what he said was the trigger. And then somewhere about 5 minutes in, when he finally understood I was really listening to him, we got to it, the torrential outpouring of loss and grief. The real stuff. The stuff you can’t hide from when it smacks you up the face. I’ve got to hand it to him – for an almost ten-year-old, when he finally feels brave enough to express it – he does it remarkably well.
He sat straight up and looked at me, tears streaming down his face. “You left my dad… you took me away from my dad… you moved me away from my school and friends… I loved my house in Greenisland… you ruined my life… I want it to be 2016 again when it was just you and me… I want it to be 2013 when it was you me and Dad… I wish I’d never been born, then you and Dad would still be together and I would live with both of you, (you have to appreciate the mix up of a child’s reality and fantasy here)… you care more about living closer to your mum and dad than me living close to my dad – how do you think that makes me feel?”
Bam! There was the question. It was like a kick up the teeth. The decisions I had made, for us, without consulting him. Now to be fair he was four years old and didn’t really understand the basis for the decisions that were made, and despite having a good co-parenting relationship with his dad, we do now live an hour apart, rather than the 20 minutes it used to be. But that is irrelevant, because right now, I had to suck up the fact that my decisions impacted him beyond the day on which they were made and long past the situations in which they needed to be made, had passed. My decisions now had come to bear and I had to deal with the feelings of loss and grief that happened as a result.
I took a deep breath and thought here goes - off the diving board, dark waters below – let’s crack this issue wide open. “I’m sorry Jacob. You are right to be so mad at me. I made all these decisions that affected you and I didn’t ask you how you felt about them. I made all these decisions and they hurt you. I’m so so sorry. I took you away from your friends and your school and your home and I didn’t ask you about any of it. You must have felt so confused and lost. I’m so sorry. I totally understand why you are so angry at me and feel so hurt. I would feel the same if someone did that to me.”
I didn’t make promises that I could change these decisions. I didn’t justify the reasons for those decisions. I just apologised for the pain he was in. For the loss he had experienced. He threw a few more examples of things I had done to him. (I’m pretty sure one of them was giving him an unreasonable bedtime!)
It was surprising how quickly the tsunami left. Cuddled back into my chest he hiccupped a few times and then asked could he watch TV for a little later than usual tonight. I gave in. “Sure” I said. (So sue me – I was exhausted, he was exhausted, I was fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to stay awake too far past his bedtime anyway).
This grief comes around every so often. It’s like a tunnel that he spins around and every so often he touches the jagged edge and it hurts and then the wound opens and we deal with the outpourings. It can be triggered by anything from a particularly good weekend with his dad and the disappointment of coming back to the mundane of me, or it could be watching his friends’ Dads’ pick them up from school and he realises his can’t. Life throws curve balls at him too, that ricochet him back into that jagged edge, like Corona Virus, which stole his summertime with his friends, and will steal the 10th birthday party he had dreamed to have. These losses just reopen the trauma of his most deep running loss. I know my pending marriage to my new partner and his dad’s pending marriage to his new partner will also open a wound, and while it will be a happy, happy, day for me, consideration has to be given to how it will be another loss for him.
We can’t stop our children from feeling loss and grief, it is part of life. But how we teach them to deal with it when it comes is important. Ignoring it, devaluing it, or pretending they are too young to have these feelings, that they are silly, insignificant or misunderstanding the situation is not helpful. You don’t have to solve it. You just have to empathise with it, normalise it, feel with them.
I am preparing myself for more loss and grief to come. Send wine.
Why do we find it so hard to say no? Being a “people-pleaser” I have struggled with this all my life. And I don’t mind telling you it has landed me in some difficult situations, some of which were just downright risky. So why is it so difficult to just assert our true feelings about something and say “No – I disagree,” or “No, Don’t Do that to me,” or “No, I won’t do that for you.” Why are we sometimes so loose with our personal boundaries? Let’s dial back a few years to unpick this a little.
Toddlers are switched on. They get that they can say no and so they do. Without fear or favour. Just “uh uh.” “Nope.” “Not happening.” “NO!”
And then a few months after we are through with the dramatic eye rolls and chuckling to our friends about how cute wee Callie is saying “no” to everything like she is practising for government, we suddenly realise that shit just isn’t going to get done if wee Callie says “no” all the time.
And so we begin to “socialise” them. We manipulate their needs and behaviour for our convenience and we teach them that “no” is not a desirable word. That it isn’t nice, it’s wrong, perhaps even bold. We teach them not to make a fuss, to just button that lip and get on with it. We teach them that grown up’s, people who are bigger than them, have the final say about whether their “no” really matters or not.
Now like all parents, we don’t get a manual, we often haven’t a clue what the hell we are doing and mostly we are just repeating the histories of our own childhood. We think we are teaching children how to be sociable, how to get along in life with others, but really what we should be doing is teaching them how to explain why they don’t want to go to bed, put down the video game, share their favourite toy, kiss their auntie (don’t get me started on emotionally coercing your kids to kiss random relatives that they don’t want to), or why they don’t want to take their pants off their head.
Instead we skip this step and go straight to the convenience of a quick fix. A guilting and shaming of the “no” word, of exercising the right to make a choice. We say “don’t defy me,” or “it’s naughty to not do as you are told” or (my worst one) “no one will want to play with you if you don’t share your toys.” We communicate that by saying “no” we risk disconnection or worse, rejection. And what do kids want more than anything else? To belong and connect. And so they conform. They learn to say “yes” when they want to say “no”. And big people are pleased and little people reinforce their belief that “no”’is a bad word.
At the lower end of the continuum this creates teenagers and adults who are overwhelmed by saying yes to too much, who have a fragile ego based on “if I don’t say yes to everything then I will not be good enough to be liked.” But imagine it at the worst end of this continuum. Imagine it for a child who learns not to say no when they are uncomfortable with a predatory adults behaviour, or a teenage girl or boy on a night out who doesn’t want to make a fuss and says yes when they really want to say no, to alcohol, to drugs, to sex.
Basically, we are conditioned to say “yes,” to be agreeable, compliant, obedient, helpful and facilitative. Educating our children and ourselves in how to exercise our free will (with positive loving morals) and to say “no” is an important life skill. Learning to say no has been one of the best things I have done for my self-care. I still find it difficult, but I am learning to sit with that difficulty and face down the demons of rejection and displeasure of others.
When was the first time you realised you were not colourblind? That you think, interpret, and value the world in colour? That you are also part of racial discrimination through your ignorance to be aware of it?
For me I was about 21 / 22. About to start my social work course full of ideas about how I might “change the world.”
It was watching Matthew McConaughey as a white lawyer making his final summing up in the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, a black father who shoots the men who raped and battered his 10 year old daughter. It was when he said “now imagine she is white.”
How did you feel when you watched that film? Did it highlight something uncomfortable for you?
I watched that film feeling angry and horrified about the rape of Tonya by two white men, but until those words were uttered I was unaware that I watched it as a white woman. It was very uncomfortable realising in that moment that I was inherently part of a system, an institution, a group, that saw ourselves as more valuable, important, worthy, than black people.
If we are to really change the world, it begins with admitting who you are and what your cultural inheritance has placed in you. And then working every day to change you.
Storytelling sometimes gets a bad reputation. It is seen as exaggeration, day dreaming or telling lies. But I believe story telling is more about promoting the painful or joyous parts of an experience rather than exaggeration, about visions of better futures rather than day dreaming, and about transforming a difficult experience into a desire for what it should of, or could have been, rather than telling lies.
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of recording in the world. People used it to educate, to pass down family history, cultural traditions and moral values. Obviously over the years stories change, interpretations are made according to the culture or politics of the day, sometimes words are changed, replaced or erased.
There is an interesting challenge to be considered around the journey of stories and who it is that holds centre stage in the telling of stories that reach the masses, which change, replace or erase the words and direction of stories in history and ultimately the story that is told in future generations. When people of one race (or predominantly one race) hold this power, and we do not challenge this or push against it, we are complicit in the smelly water of generational and institutionalised racism. Promotion of the voices of others is a requirement of someone who calls themselves anti-racist or anti anything for that matter. It needs to have many positions which are “against” the predominate other. It is not a neutral or passive position.
Storytelling is a very powerful medium for communicating experiences, ideology, and desires of the past, present and future. In restorative practice storytelling is central to understanding the experiences of all involved in relationships with each other. Here are 3 ways you can use story telling within restorative practice in anti-oppressive ways.
I would love to hear your recommendations for more.