by Maurizio Vespa | Oct 24, 2020 | Education
Restorative Practices (RP) is the name given to the educational practice that reflects a relational approach to resolving harm and conflict. The focus of (RP) is on repairing harm and to view inappropriate actions as an opportunity for guiding, learning and teaching replacement behaviours. To teach self-regulation, self-efficacy skills and resilience.
Indigenous cultures from around the world, share inspirational and life changing practices with us, and the Maori people raised my awareness of Restorative Justice (RJ). I refer to RJ as “Justice that has a Heart”, because it teaches us a humane and compassionate way of dealing with harm, conflict and damage to relationships. Restorative Justice, which is practiced within the Maori culture and used in the New Zealand Justice system, has over the years influenced education systems, giving rise to Restorative Practices (RP).
All schools should be safe environments so seeking effective ways of resolving issues is worthy of investigation. While conflict is sometimes inevitable, and anti-social behaviour damages the quality of relationships, we should consider the use of dignified strategies that lead to healing and enriching relational environments. Restorative Practices provides the opportunity for people to be heard and listened too without being judged, blamed and shamed.
Schools that embrace restorative principles and practices are committing to a teaching and learning model that engages in respectful dialogue, and guarantees the dignity and wellbeing of individuals. There is an obligation to build a learning environment that is inclusive, collaborative, and empathic, which is high in accountability and support. Plus, there is an assurance towards maintaining an individual’s connection to community and positive learning relationships.
Being restorative is not a soft approach, and it is certainly not an absence of consequences. However, the focus is not on retribution, and what the community will do to the individual but rather how can the community support the individual with repairing the harm. Restorative intervention is about reparation, and learning with supportive assistance to replace the hurtful actions with socially acceptable ones. Thus, providing a relational interaction and an opportunity for teachable moments. Engaging in restorative interventions can prompt empathic connections, incite personal reflections, feelings of remorse, plus enhance resilience and self-regulation attributes.
Having worked with Restorative Practices for over twenty years, alongside many outstanding practitioners and experts in this field, I believe it is time, to review how we work with young people in our schools in addressing actions that damage the quality of relationships and learning. A restorative approach is educational and reflective of all the ingredients of good teaching and learning pedagogy.
So, if schools are planning to take this journey to infuse restorative philosophy and practices, it may be helpful to have open and honest conversations about current school practices and whether or not they are achieving the best outcomes.
However, if there is a need to explain why schools are investing in Restorative Practices the following may provide some insight.
From a School Perspective.
- are seeking relational strategies that focus on repairing the relationship and promote learning from misbehaviour
- want to adopt strategies that are respectful and dignified, which integrates procedural fairness processes and learning practices
- are seeking proactive rather than reactive ways of dealing with behaviour, conflict, and damage to relationships
- are seeking an approach that contributes to opportunities for positive behaviour replacements, inclusivity and connectedness to a learning community.
From a Teachers Perspective:
- are seeking a framework & common language to manage & process behaviour which is not reliant on punitive/expedient interventions
- want a collaborative, accountable & supportive approach
- are seeking strategies that empower and utilize their teaching & learning skills as well as their wisdom
- want to feel safe & secure and to be treated in a respectful and dignified manner
From a Student Perspective:
- are seeking and need supportive role models to increase their social-emotional outcomes
- want to feel less anxious and fearful when they have done something wrong
- want to be engaged in processes that allow them to be heard and involved in the process of repair
- want to feel included, treated fairly, respected and spoken to in a dignified manner
From a Parent Perspective:
- are seeking processes that are fair, just and provide dignified practices that repair damaged relationships when there has been hurt
- are seeking behavioural practices that promote wellbeing, resilience, and contributes to positive behavioural learning outcomes
- are seeking respectful and non-judgmental dialogue with school leadership and teachers when addressing behaviour, and academia
- want to be involved in collaborative and relational meetings that focus on positive outcomes and shared responsibilities
From an Education System Perspective:
- want to encourage relational practices that promote wellbeing, resilience, provides opportunity for teaching replacement behaviours contributes to the growth of individuals
- want learning environments to be inclusive, collaborative and focused on building connectedness between students, families, teachers, and community
- want to see the implementation of positive school and classroom management strategies
- want a student management process, that reflects good teaching and learning pedagogy.
by Maurizio Vespa | Sep 25, 2020 | Health & Wellbeing
At some point in our lives, we all experience anxiety. Often this feeling of anxiety is not a prolonged experience that weighs people down. In many cases, it acts as an energy and emotion that can spur growth and bring about change. However, when the feeling of anxiety remains with us for an extended period then the emotional, physical and physiological impact can be unbearable.
In Australia today, approximately 1 in 5 young women and 1 in 10 young men between the ages of 16-25 are affected by anxiety. Parents and Guides website states that “almost 7 per cent of Australian children and adolescents have an anxiety disorder”. A person living with this mental health issue may struggle to articulate just how overwhelming their anxiety feels, and how it severely affects how they interact with others. It affects how they manage their study, work and social environment. Anxiety is a debilitating modern-day illness that weighs a person down and prevents them from being themselves and enjoying life to its fullest.
Recent studies from the UK published by BBC news states that in October 2019, 54% of 13 to 14-year-old girls and 26% of boys of the same age said they felt anxious. When surveyed in May 2020 – several weeks after schools shut to most pupils, and nationwide lockdown restrictions came into force – the proportion of young people who were experiencing anxiety dropped to 45% of girls and 18% of boys. The researchers had questioned 1,000 Year 9 students from 17 secondary schools across the south-west of England.
There are six key learnings I believe that we need to be aware of as educators when working with young people:
Schools need to ensure that their learning environment does not contribute or heighten a young person’s anxiety. Hence, school communities need to be mindful of the language and tonality used when working with students, parents and fellow colleagues. Students make choices on how they can feel safe and secure within their learning environment. Embracing Maslow’s hierarchical needs model, unless the basic needs are met, high order intervention strategies are less likely to be as effective.
Conversations that involve the use ‘of shaming language’ can further damage self-esteem and self-image. Plus, it may drain confidence and the human spirit. It does not contribute to a learning environment where students are encouraged to explore, take risks and control of their own learning.
Anxiety contributes to uncontrolled difficulty in thinking clearly because of an overload of negative thoughts. So an environment void of fear, retribution, judgment helps to reduce feelings of anxiousness.
- Wellbeing Management
When working with young people, one can anticipate that there will be times when they will make irrational choices and decisions, which impacts on their behaviour and others. So what is effective, is for schools to have a student wellbeing and management process that is not punitive based. It is a given that there are consequences for inappropriate and antisocial behaviour, however, there are interventions that are respectful, and allow young people to learn from their mistakes and adhere to procedural fairness processes.
- Transparent Processes
It is important that there is transparency and predictability with school processes, particularly in response to students when things do not go as planned. Reactive responses are not helpful for young people who experience anxiety. Therefore, the language of correction and engagement allows for respectful dialogue and the opportunity to be listened and heard without being pre-judged.
Anxiety can be connected to hurtful life experiences, such as bullying, or excessive pressure of work, study or social dynamics. So the last thing needed is to trigger and add to feelings of anxiety. Every negative thought that a person feels has an effect on their physiology and emotional wellbeing. It is quite common for a person with anxiety to feel on edge, incapable of attempting tasks, and facing new and unfamiliar situations. This fear of the unknown, and the overpowering feeling of being judged, makes anxiety a challenge to manage. As educators, we need to be mindful of how the ‘other’ feel.
- Understanding Behaviours
A person living with anxiety will even try to avoid all social interactions, which contributes to further isolation, nervousness and reduced wellbeing. These unpleasantries fuel and contribute to stronger feelings of danger and insecurity. Even if the danger may not be real, it makes a person feel vulnerable and exposed to potential ridicule, and judgment.
Anxiety reveals itself in many ways. It is not uncommon for some sufferers to want to do whatever is possible to please others, do whatever is possible to make things right. Some may become hypervigilant in their behaviour, always looking for safety and protection or keeping the mind busy with tasks and activities that they are confident and most comfortable completing. Others may isolate and avoid all contact, lock themselves in the bedroom, stay in bed and avoid all social contact.
- Supportive Action
If we have a loved one or a person that we know who is affected by prolonged feelings of anxiety. It is soothing to reassure them that they are safe, secure and they have your support. Dismissing how they feel does not help, however, listening to how they feel and asking them, what they need from you or others, is far more effective. Seeking the professional support of a counsellor or psychologist is ideal, and having a choice is likely to deliver better outcomes and contribute to a positive experience. In addition, it may be beneficial to explore the introduction of a healthier diet with the assistance of a dietician or family doctor, and alongside the exploration of activities that are creative and expressive such as art, music, writing/journaling, dance and meditation.
It is essential to remember that feelings of anxiety can make a person feel alone, so engaging in activities and being constant support helps reduce feelings of anxiousness. The encouragement and understanding of loved ones are invaluable and highly therapeutic. So being present, without judging, creates positive endorphins and a feeling of love, nurture, care, and understanding, which contribute to more uplifting and affirmative thoughts.
With the world experiencing the effects of the pandemic, feelings of anxiety are likely to be more widespread in adults and young people. As research shows us, we need to be open to building new ways to connect and support those experiencing all kinds of mental health difficulties. That is why I am passionate about Restorative education because it enables all of the points above to be implemented.
by Maurizio Vespa | Nov 22, 2018 | Health & Wellbeing
I am sure we have all read and heard about a child’s FIGHT, FLIGHT and FREEZE responses. However, we do not hear as much being discussed about how we continue to experience these behaviours into our adult years.
In the late 1960’s, Dr Silvan Tomkins shared his “Affect Theory” research with the world. For those who may not be aware, we all poses an “Affect System” that gets triggered when the spotlight is placed on us, so allow me to briefly share an insight into what is our “Affect System”, and the connection with Fight, Flight and Freeze modalities.
The “Affect System” is triggered when a person is stimulated by something that is received via the senses. The stimulus can be positive, negative or a neutral one. However, once our affect system is aroused, we may respond positively, which may give rise to pleasure or fun, in a negative way, which may stir up shame or anger and in a neutral way, which may show itself in the form of a shock or a startle. The shock and startle response, is a brief pause in time where it is hard to think or make sense of things. It lasts a few seconds generally until cognition is regained.
The “Affect System” when triggered creates a physiological change in the human body, such as a smile, rolling of the eyes, blushing etc. This is also accompanied by a feeling and when the two interact, we feel an emotion, like anger, fear, joy, excitement or just uncertainty.
This “Affect System” is interconnected to our FIGHT, FLIGHT, and FREEZE behaviour.
When a child is placed in the spotlight for having done something wrong, their “affect system” gets triggered. They will feel uncomfortable, and yet smile, or turn their heads, eyes and look away etc. (their physiological response). However, the adult will usually respond by saying ” look at me” or “you need to take this seriously, so stop smiling”.
If the child feels that their relationship with the adult is not a safe and positive one, the child may engage in a “Power Battle” with the adult. That is, the child will argue, deny, or participate in a blame game. This is the “FIGHT” response of the child.
The adult can also goes into FIGHT mode, especially when they believe they are losing control and power, so to regain the upper hand, the adult usually reverts to their “safety mode” and takes up a position of “Power Over”, by raising their voice, or implementing a punitive intervention. However, it is quite common for adults before they go into Fight mode to experience the FREEZE!!!!
The Freeze response may not be as obvious to some but it happens when the adult is confronted with a situation that requires management, and for a moment are uncertain how to deal with it. There is often some internal thinking that takes place for them. Used wisely, it can be of benefit to all but when rushed, it can have damaging outcomes. For instance, if a child says something rude and offensive to the adult, the adult is shocked, “FREEZES”, gets angry and the emotional energy surges quickly, so that the response is a statement that is intimidating, and aggressive. It may even contain judgemental, and stigmatising language. Then it is followed by a punitive action because it helps the adult feel as though they have regained the Power status back to the “FIGHT” response.
The “Freeze” response can be useful to the adult, when managed effectively. If the adult is uncertain about what to do, take that moment to reflect, a statement can be delivered with honesty and dignity that addresses the affect of the comment on the person. Then redirect the child onto something else and find the time later to address it properly. Once the adult has had the time to think about what needs to happen and reflects calmly on a way of managing the situation with the child being allowed to do the same, the prospect of coming up with a more positive outcome is enhanced.
For the child, the FREEZE response will take the form of silence or denial and reluctance to engage. This will often enrage and frustrate the adult. Again, take the time to be “with” and “in the silence” and to think of a statement that will disapprove of what has happened or the behaviour and move on to something else, so that the and space time can be used to reflect and address the situation with clarity.
The “FLIGHT” mode for a child can be instantaneous, especially if the child is fearful of what is going to happen to them. They will often run when they feel guilty and when they know that they have done something hurtful. The child may run when they do not have a great relationship with the adult. The feeling of not being safe or in a safe place with the adult can trigger “FLIGHT” responses from children. So, the first thing is not to run after them, let them settle and calm down, then find the best time to interact with them. Again, use language that is respectful, and a tone that feels safe, calming and yet assertive. For the adult the “FLIGHT” response can be to pass the problem onto someone else, which tends to happen in schools and in the home. In the home, one parent passes the problem onto the other. Neither of these behaviours are helpful because it disempowers one and makes the other responsible. The same applies in schools when one teacher refers the problem onto another. Sadly, that person experiences ,the damed if they do, and damed if they don’t reactions.
While, FLIGHT, FIGHT and FREEZE modalities are a natural part of human behaviour, being aware of these in our actions and responses can help us to manage situations more effectively when we see it being played out in children or other adults.
by Maurizio Vespa | Oct 25, 2018 | Family
If we were to reflect on our parenting behaviour when our children were babies and totally dependent on us, we may notice that an enormous amount of time is devoted to comforting, nurturing, feeding and talking to them. While our children are dependent on us, they get a great deal of attention, stimulation and nurturing.
Studies in human brain development show, that a baby’s brain, develops in tandem with adults. Our emotional connectedness with our children actually assists their brain development. However, as our children get older and become more independent for some of their basic needs, the intensity of the one on one time to teach children can drop off.
It is possible for parents to become complacent and heavily dependent on other social groups and networks to impart important skills and knowledge. Place greater responsibilities on school communities for example to take up the role of responsible adult role modelling and social learning.
In reality, as our children get older, approach and experience adolescence they need more quality time, wisdom and the explicit sharing of a parents knowledge of their child’s strengths and qualities.
The time of growing up for our children should be a time of ongoing educational relationship between the child and parent. As a parent, it is my role to seek special moments when we can sit and talk about important issues impacting on the life of my child. Together we can talk about how these issues could be managed and solved. Whilst, in conversation with my child, we talk about the choices we can make and which would be most appropriate for the situation. These conversations help us to teach and guide our children about how to make choices and to choose what is right. It is a wonderful way of building self-esteem and resiliency and it helps to build a trusting an honest parent and child relationship.
by Maurizio Vespa | Apr 25, 2018 | Education
When I completed my high school studies, I wanted to get into acting or take up electrical engineering and instead I fell into teaching. Quite a logical thing to do!!!!
My parents even advised me to rethink my career in teaching.
Teaching was never a profession I had envisaged taking up. However, I am so glad I did, because it directly contributed to the person I am today.
So, did I have what it takes to be an effective teacher? YES… I believe so… and was I good at teaching? YES… I was. Did it come naturally for me? NO…. it did not. Did I have to work hard? YOU BET I DID.
The hours preparing lessons went on for years. Even after 20 years, I was still writing lesson plans and preparing a variety of activities to ensure that students were engaged in learning. There was always that spare activity up my sleeve, in case things backfired, which happened many times.
It is unrealistic to think that we can always be in total control of the classroom, however, we are in a far better mindset, when we believe that we have the capability to manage situations when required.
Anyway, the reason for this blog, is to share some tips on managing the classroom environment. Like clothing that is passed on from one sibling to another, I would like to pass these ideas from great teachers who shared and taught me. There are strategies that I was taught when I completed my Diploma in Teaching and others I picked up from reading about Choice Theory by Dr William Glasser, and Human behaviour by Dr Rudolf Dreikus, plus Cornwell University’s, Therapeutic Crisis de-escalating Intervention strategies. Of course, the best strategies came from observing teachers and colleagues while at work.
1. Move around the classroom while teaching
When I was in my very first teaching practicum at a school in Western Sydney, my supervising teacher made comments about a variety of skills that I had demonstrated during the lesson. One comment stuck in my mind. It was a comment referring to how I moved around the room while instructing and engaging students. It is easy to stand out the front and lecture or hide behind a desk or bench but when you move around the class, one can easily see what students are doing and it makes it easy to manage behaviour, while at the same time share information, plus ask and respond to questions.
2. Plan for the unexpected and the Student/s who may pose a challenge
The unexpected can happen in any classroom and over the 20 or so years, I have experienced way too many to recall. However, what I found useful was, when planning a lesson, not only did I focus on what I was going to teach, and how, as in the type of activities would I use, I would plan for how many and how long would each activity last and most importantly planning for the students that I had in my class. Within each lesson plan, I would be thinking of the students in my class and what activities best suited their learning styles, allowed them to be successful and focused.
The reason for this is because sometimes a child’s behaviour is communicating that the work is too boring not challenging enough!!! or that it’s too difficult and so they feel inadequate and do what they can to avoid doing the work. Hence, they will be distracted and try to distract others. Ultimately, the student hopes that you will do something to put them out of their discomfort. Usually, it results in isolation in or outside of the classroom and maybe outside the office of a senior teacher. An outcome, which the student was hoping for, to get out of doing challenging work. Therefore, let’s for moment reflect on who is in control in this situation. If the student is seeking to be removed, is it the teacher or the student in control. Who really gets what they want?
3. Prompts can be very helpful to the teacher
As a teacher we tend to do a great deal of talking. It is valuable to stop ourself from scolding and lecturing and I learnt that some situations can be managed without having to say to much. In fact, you do not have to say anything to manage and prevent situations from escalating. As a student in the classroom, the teacher I admired the most often said very little when correcting or redirecting students back to the task. They would often look at you, nod their head with approval or disapproval, sometimes raising their index finger up to their mouth to indicate that silence was required or pointing to their ear to suggested that I needed to listen, and it was very effective. So, these non-verbal prompts can be so useful in a classroom.
4. A caring comment goes a long way
If a student senses that the teacher does not like them you have a tough job ahead of you. Hence, it is easy to be distracted by misbehaviour, to single a student out and to be convinced that there is no way of getting through to a child. However, it is possible to shift this negative thinking by looking for moments when that child can be acknowledged for their effort or positive behaviours. Genuine and caring comments can help to rebuild learning relationships and contribute to positive student behaviours. Comments like, 1. “You expressed your ideas and thoughts honestly and clearly in the writing task I gave you”, 2. “You managed to complete some difficult questions without seeking help today” and 3. “Your contribution is class was really appreciated”, 4. “I noticed were were not at school yesterday, I hope you are feeling better today”.
5. Collaborative help or hurdle help
The art of teaching involves explaining difficult concepts, showing students how to do things and then to practice a few times using a variety of activities to reinforce the concepts. Some students catch on easily, while others can still find it hard.
It is a common experience for teachers that when tasks are set for the class, there is always one or two students who find it difficult to commence. When they look at what they must do, and see others at work, they become anxious, possibly distracted and unable to start. The hurdle help approach is useful in the situation. The role of the teacher is to approach the student, sit with them and ask which question could they do together. Once you have collaborated with the student, the teacher instructs the student to select one question that they can attempt and let them know that you will come back to check it with them. This technique allows the teacher to monitor the students’ progress and to keep them on task. It is useful to ask the student, if there is a peer with whom they would like to sit with who can help when things get difficult.
6. Redirecting a student’s attention and using silence
When I did my first acting class, I was taught about the importance of speaking clearly and to be aware of my vocal tones or tonality. For teachers’ the tone of their voice is important to teaching. If a student is off task it is helpful to redirect that student and to do it in an authoritative and respectful way. Using statements such as 1. “May I remind the class, that this task will continue for ten more minutes, then I will invite students to share their answers”, or 2. “Please, keep in mind our class agreement about noise” and 3. “If a question is too difficult, move onto the next one”. 4.” If you have finished the task, use the link I provided you and explore the next task”. These are examples of redirecting statements that may assist with student management.
Another practice I found useful, is to ask the class for their attention in a respectful and assertive tone, then wait in silence for the students to calm themselves down. It may take time at first but eventually students will work with you. Especially when they appreciate the respectful way in which you seek their attention without having to single out students. Silence and waiting is very effective.
7. Using Proximity during lessons
In a previous point, I mentioned the importance of moving around the classroom during a lesson. Well proximity is a strategy that works well with movement and it has an immediate effect. These days most of my work is Professional Development workshops for adults. I like to use technology in the workshops as it saves paper and allows me to incorporate a variety of internet tools as part of the activities. However, adults like students, go off task, so when I move around the room sharing information, sometimes I stop at a table and immediately that person closest to me stops doing what they were doing. The same applies in our classroom. If a student is off task and being distracting, simply by moving and standing next to the student stops the behaviour. It does not draw attention to the student especially if you use your presences without commenting, scolding or lecturing the student.
8. Provide positive attention and ignore the negative
I would often explain to my students that they may observe times when I may not correct and single out a student but instead I may redirect the class to our classroom agreement. However, my ignoring the student’s behaviour does not mean that I will let it pass. I would explain to the class that rather than draw attention to that student, I will follow it up privately with them. However, in the meantime, I would refer the class to the attitudes and behaviours we had agreed to support and practise. Hence, if a student was distracting others I would ignore the negative behaviour but seek to get them back on task by focusing on a positive action. An example of the comments I may make are; 1. “I noticed that you are well prepared for working on the task I set”, 2. “Having a discussion with the person next to you may be helpful to both of you”, 3. “You seem to have everything in readiness to start this task, do you need my help”? If one encounters a student who feels that they are singled out more than others, this type on intervention, helps to de-escalate the situation.
9. Using directive statements
When students are working on an activity to keep students on task it may be necessary to direct a student’s attention to what is required of them, the amount of time they have and the impact if the tasks is not completed. Hence, directive statements raise awareness and is aimed at refocusing the student’s attention. Here are some examples; 1. “I am going to give you five extra minutes to finish off this task”, 2. It may be necessary to complete this task as part of your homework”, 3.” I will need to check what you have worked on before you leave this lesson” 4. “In 10 minutes, I will need you to show me what you have accomplished so that I can give you feedback”.
These suggested strategies are organised in no particular order but they can easily be used in combination with others. If at first, they do not have the impact that you desire, it does not mean than they have failed, try another and come back to it again.