Restorative justice at St Thomas of Canterbury College, Christchurch

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1 The courage to forgive Restorative justice at St Thomas of Canterbury College, Christchurch Summary St Thomas of Canterbury College Christchurch Principal: Christine O Brien Roll: 500 boys from years 7-13 Decile: 8 Ethnic mix: Māori, Pasifika, Pakeha, Other Restorative justice is one of the best things to have happened at our school because it has helped friends stay together. Friendships have not been destroyed when some actions went too far. The restorative conversation helped friends to front up, talk about what happened and now we have a lot stronger friendships. St Thomas of Canterbury College has always had a restorative philosophy based on the values of the Christian Brothers who set up the school. This philosophy of restoring good relationships is essential for an authentic Catholic pathway of learning. It seems a contradiction in terms to be a Catholic school and not to be practising restorative justice, says Principal Christine O Brien. Restorative justice, she explains, is about the restorative grace of forgiveness, about atonement and restitution, about repair and reconciliation and the reduction of harm. It is about healing the broken-hearted and promoting community peace. For the last four years the college has moved away from a punitive approach for higher-level discipline issues, and fully implemented a restorative justice system. What has the school gained? Restorative justice repairs relationships in a way that retributive justice cannot. It is now in its fourth year at St Thomas College and College Leader Josh Maclean, who has been part of the change over those years, is confident it is working well: He values restorative justice for the emphasis it places on communication, and adds: Relationship is the key. It encourages you to think about resolving things rather than bottling up negative thoughts. Steve Hart, Head of Pastoral Care at the school, sees students making a more honest response. The restorative philosophy encourages honesty, he feels, because once the focus is on the incident and not the person, the culture of blame disappears. Left to right: Matthew Elia, Caleb Reweti, Josh Maclean from St Thomas of Canterbury College, 2009

2 It is not an easy philosophy to put into practice: A restorative approach requires courage because it s more difficult to face someone than just brew over the incident. The good thing about the restorative chat is you really understand how the victim feels, comments Karl, a Year 13 student leader. It also creates a more peaceful environment for learning. Steve Hart agrees with most observers: Our school is definitely now a more peaceful place to be! Background Our school is definitely now a more peaceful place to be! Steve Hart, Head of Pastoral Care The decision to build a restorative justice programme did not come out of nowhere. Since 2004 the school has developed programmes through the Health and Wellbeing curriculum and the Te Huarahi Pai (Pathways Forward) which encourage positive male development. Aspects of these programmes include emotional health which allows for boys to become more comfortable in using appropriate vocabulary for expressing their feelings. While it has been a four-year journey for the school to get to where it is today, this time has been necessary for shifting the thinking of staff and consequently the school culture. Historically, St Thomas of Canterbury College had a restorative philosophy for more minor offences but tended to revert to a punitive approach for higher-level discipline issues, as the statistics for 2003 demonstrate: Year Stand down Suspension Exclusion A serious start at implementing restorative justice as an all-embracing philosophy began with an intensive three-day conference led by Margaret Thorsborne. Five staff attended the first one in 2006, and since 2007 five staff make an annual commitment to attend. Professional development has also continued each year with the whole staff, and the processes are evaluated and refined by the deans. New staff have an induction opportunity each year. In 2007 terms 3 and 4 saw conferencing in place for high-level offenders. In 2008 the programme was fully implemented across all classes and levels of offending. Now in 2009 small changes have been made to the programme based on feedback for example, the creation of vertical Form groups and Form tutors and vertical House deans. Student leadership opportunities have been stepped up. Restorative justice is now included in the strategic plan and the whole school behaviour management plan.

3 Evidence the system is working As a result of St Thomas pastoral system of a proactive restorative philosophy, there have been major reductions in stand downs, suspensions and exclusions (see the Table above). There has been a noticeable increase in student honesty and empowerment, and greater staff ownership of pastoral matters. In 2008 the only stand downs (two) were the result of parental suggestions which arose out of the conferencing. Since early 2007 there have been no suspensions. Documentation systems are being used successfully by staff. The school is seeing real and lasting change in students with more entrenched serious behavioural issues. In the Restorative Room the offender is asked only three questions: What have you done? Who has this affected? How are you going to fix it? How does restorative justice work at this school? The built-in systems for behaviour management are understood and displayed prominently. Documentation is rigorous. Staff are confident it works because the structures and processes are in place, are comprehensible, and can be readily adhered to. Parent meetings at the start of each year establish the school philosophy and processes in place for conferencing etc. Communication via newsletters sent home includes practical suggestions for positive parenting and this all helps align the values being promoted. Senior students know the restorative justice systems and have the skills to take the lead in a number of playground and classroom incidents. Most behaviour incidents are dealt with in class. The classroom teachers feel more empowered and involved in student achievement through improved teacher/ student relationships. There is a clear hierarchy of levels of misconduct which involve different senior staff, depending on the seriousness and frequency of the offence. Peer mediation and class conferencing also run alongside the restorative justice programme. The school has created a pastoral hub around the Restorative Room which provides a quiet space where the conversation can take place. Students wait quietly to think about the effects of their actions in close proximity to the House Co-ordinator and Health Counsellor, and other supporting adults who form part of the pastoral team. In the Restorative Room the offender is asked only three questions: What have you done? Who has this affected? How are you going to fix it? Answers are recorded on the Restorative chat sheet. In contrast to 2008, this year the Restorative Room has been used only about once a week!

4 ST THOMAS OF CANTERBURY COLLEGE BEHAVIOUR MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME Board of Trustees Conference Facilitated by Deputy Principal (Affected parties, BOT representative, Principal) Community Group Conference Facilitated by Deputy Principal (Affected parties, Principal, Police if appropriate) Used for continued offences or unsafe and antisocial behaviour. Family Conference Facilitated by Senior Dean (Affected Teachers, Students and Counsellor) Used for repeated withdrawals within a term Small Group Conference Facilitated by House Co-ordinators (Teacher, Student, SCT, Counsellors) Used for a student withdrawal from class, after a restorative chat has occurred and disruptive behaviour continues. Classroom Conferencing Facilitated by Senior/Junior Dean (Form class and Subject teachers) Restorative Chat If it is inappropriate to facilitate a restorative chatinclassoroutsideofroom,studentcanbe referredtorestorativeroombutitisthe subject teacher s responsibility to facilitate a restorative chat in the restorative room. Restorative Chat Facilitated by Subject Teacher in class or outside of room (Students, Teachers)Used for persistent disruptive behaviour. Student asked to wait outsideclassroomfor5minsorspokentoat endoflessonalsofor Lateness, Lack of equipment, incorrect uniform, Incomplete homework. Peer Mediation Facilitated by Trained Student Mediators

5 Threatening with an offensive weapon An example of the power of the restorative justice conference involved an altercation between two boys where an offensive weapon was pulled out. It came as a surprise because the two boys were close friends and their families were also close. Several adults were present at the conference, including both sets of parents. About halfway through the conference Student A broke down in tears, saying he had been subjected to racial taunts by Student B for more than a term. Student B admitted this and acknowledged that he had contributed to the incident. The power of a restorative justice system is amazing it has really strong outcomes for the parties involved. If I could put it into one word it would be empathy and this is a fantastic quality for young men to carry forward into adulthood and fatherhood. Steve Hart, Head of Pastoral Care Prior to the conference Student A had been questioned thoroughly and counselled but had never spoken of racial abuse: it was only in the safety of the restorative justice conference that he felt able to speak about it. The conference decided that the students were to work together on a school project. Under previous systems Student A would have been automatically suspended and left with a feeling of injustice and helplessness. At the end of the conference both sets of parents embraced the sons, demonstrating that relationships had been repaired. What changes does a school have to make? Two factors familiar to anyone involved in education are time and commitment. To be successful a restorative justice school needs to allow the time to: change attitudes and upskill staff in the processes of restorative conversations educate the students in new structures and processes for managing behaviour educate the wider school community in the new structures and processes and in the rationale for making such comprehensive changes across the whole school. One of the biggest factors at St Thomas has been a commitment by all staff, and in particular those involved in school leadership, to make this change a priority. Management at St Thomas acknowledge that it has to be a philosophy that is accepted by the whole school. It cannot be adopted piecemeal and shouldn t just be practised for serious offences. As a priority, the system needs to be resourced properly, and the school has therefore committed staffing (described as pastorally rich ), along with well-funded professional development, to ensure the programme is working successfully. Steve Hart, Head of Pastoral Care, used a full-school assembly to market the notion of having the courage to be a man, outlining strong role models of men who have faced difficulties and overcome them through courage and honesty. He is enthusiastic about the changes that have taken place: The power of a restorative justice system is amazing it has really strong outcomes for the parties involved. If I could put it into one word it would be empathy and this is a fantastic quality for young men to carry forward into adulthood and fatherhood.

6 While building this philosophy into a school-wide culture has been timeconsuming and challenging (and is perceived by some to be a soft option), the long-term results have made this journey worth it. Christine O Brien and Steve Hart both agree they d never go back to managing behaviour any other way. What does restorative justice look like? Recommended reading: Howard Zehr: The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, 2002 M Thorsborne and D Vinegrad: Restorative Practices in Schools: Rethinking Behaviour Management, Buderim, Queensland, 2002 Click on these to find out more: Chat recording sheet Websites

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