“My RA” – A new insight into the work of restorative practitioners

As the Service Delivery Manager at Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership (W.R.A.P) and one of its founding members, I’m accustomed to the widespread curiosity about restorative approaches. People want to know what it is, what it means and they want examples of how it can be used or seen.

As the Service Delivery Manager at Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership (W.R.A.P) and one of its founding members, I’m accustomed to the widespread curiosity about restorative approaches. People want to know what it is, what it means and they want examples of how it can be used or seen. This is almost always followed by them being hooked on the concept and its possibilities, and teaching us a thing or two with some outstanding ideas on how they can live and work more restoratively and how they might spread the word.

One of the strategic aims of W.R.A.P. is to raise awareness of restorative approaches, the umbrella of theories under which it sits and the toolkit it involves, including restorative justice. In a practical sense, during training or our coaching and modelling practice, we are often asked for personal anecdotes and examples of how we have taken restorative approaches and the results we experienced from doing so. Because restorative is something we are rather than something we do, people need to understand it and envision it before they can embrace it and become restorative or recognise that they already are.

I’ve challenged the W.R.A.P. team, our trainers, practitioners and managers to share their RA, what it means to them, how they’ve used tools and techniques and how the ethos and values have impacted their lives. Some of us are theory geeks and it’s inspired us intellectually, some of us love to work directly with people and see them meet their own needs and solve their own problems with the skills they gain, all of us are inspired to share the knowledge and skills with others almost evangelically. There are common aspects of becoming restorative but for each of us it’s a personal journey and a unique experience. In the coming weeks and months you’ll see blogs from our team under the heading of “My RA.” You can learn how we’ve each experienced restorative approaches and pick up some guidance and tips as we speak from our own backgrounds and day to day lives.

On our social media platforms @WalesRAP on Twitter, Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership on YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn and restorative_wales on Instagram, we will show you a picture of who is blogging and share with you a link to the blog itself. I hope you’ll get to know us and pick up some tips and inspiration. If you’d like to know more, call our office or email and ask for us by name, tell us you’re interested in our story and would like to know more and we’d be happy to share. If you think we can show you some new approaches and techniques, enquire about our training and coaching.  Here’s my story of My RA in education and business.

If you took nothing else away from this blog sharing my restorative experiences, I would want you to know without doubt or exception that restorative approaches work in education. I have seen it and lived it and not in the easiest of circumstances. The Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership team have an astonishing quantity and quality of experience working with restorative approaches across a variety of sectors. It’s why we’re so passionate about it, we know it works. For me this experience is in education and business.

After training to be a solicitor I fell in love with teaching during my post graduate year and went on to spend the rest of my career working in or with education. As a teacher of law from the first levels of understanding right through to a post graduate level, I always trusted that I was not the expert, just a guide and facilitator. The people in my classes, workshops and tutorials were the people with the knowledge, I just needed to share with them the skills to find and hone that knowledge, grow from it and use it. So in some ways I was restorative already but didn’t know the name for my approach. Looking back I was definitely not restorative in other ways, hindsight is a wonderful thing!

After progressing through levels and departments of management, in around 2012 I secured a promotion in the FE sector to a newly created role and department. As Social Engagement and Community Collaboration Manager the targets and expectations were high. They included a large income generation target and levels of attainment and retention that were challenging. They also included a remit to take the college into the community and to work with those who were furthest away from mainstream experiences of education and employment. There was an expectation that a curriculum and infrastructure would be built and funded and would achieve incredible results and that was what happened.

At the start of this new role, barriers could sometimes seem insurmountable, but I love a challenge and I had been successful on application and interview because I promised to give a voice to those who did not yet have one of their own which was heard and to work with those facing barriers to education in order to overcome them. I was already well qualified in being determined and a bit bolshy and never taking no for an answer.

I’d experienced use of some restorative policy in the ‘Duty Head’ role that all managers undertook on a rota basis but I had never been trained and didn’t know the background and power of restorative approaches.

I began by listening to understand rather than respond and went into the community with the brilliant team of which I was a part and held focus groups and had chats to find out what was needed and wanted. People who felt failed by the education system or society as a whole thus far provided only a small window of opportunity to engage with them if at all. If they told their story again, for the umpteenth time and we did not hear them or respond to them in an appropriate way, they lost opportunities to transform their lives, achieve their goals and we lost the opportunity to grow from working with them. We spoke with and listened to the homeless, sex workers both street and parlour based, those who were trafficked, children and young people who had been bullied, expelled, attempted suicide. We met with children who had undertaken perilous journeys alone to seek asylum in the UK and found themselves with nothing and no-one. We looked for the children who had dropped off school lists, the looked after children who went missing. We spoke to our colleagues in schools about the challenges they saw and they faced and we spoke to government and local authorities about how they might help.

People told us they needed and wanted to learn and to work, very few wouldn’t but many couldn’t, for all sorts of reasons the complexities and injustice of which this blog couldn’t cover in any satisfactory way. They told us that they thought we would put on a few short courses for them that wouldn’t get them very far. They feared that we would give them tutors who were close to retirement and would leave soon after they started something or those who weren’t performing as well as their colleagues as they perceived we may want to shift them into the community to get them off our hands.

What this consultation told me, among many valuable things, was that we needed to take a different approach and we needed an effective, consistent and compassionate framework and toolkit to work with. After much research and discussion I knew restorative approaches was the way to go. I set about gathering a team by asking everyone I met who the best teacher they knew was and recruiting directly from PGCE courses, by recommendation as to who was the best of the best. To be in the community outreach team you had to undertake 5 days restorative approaches training and we committed wholeheartedly to the restorative way of working. This influenced our relationships, our timetabling, our lesson planning and content, everything we did. As a result of this amazing team and the restorative approach we saw 100% progression and 60+% attainment in a sector group that had often previously seen a best nationally of around 50% progression and 40% attainment. We inspired and in turn were inspired and I know we created livelihoods and in some cases saved lives.

We worked with people experiencing chaotic lifestyles, limited choices, crippling poverty, threats of violence, mental ill health and numerous other hurdles but we used no other behaviour monitoring and address system, just restorative approaches. There were no sanctions, only consequences and total accountability, we had no difficulties with attendance or punctuality and no major incidents. Any conflict which was experienced and there will always be conflict where there are humans, was dealt with in a way that was satisfactory to all and was not dangerous. Resolution and moving forward did not in any way jeopardise engagement.

When mergers, public funding cuts and new government and local authority initiatives ended the department and team I worked within, I moved into the private and charitable sectors. I set up and still run my own training company and helped in the set-up of W.R.A.P. In this context I began using restorative approaches to form my meetings, line management, communication and strategy. Creating and growing W.R.A.P. was a unique opportunity for all of us to ensure that a restorative approach was not something we did but everything we did. For me, it was a lovely chance to prove that the law and a restorative approach were not mutually exclusive but could complement each other. A chance to share what I knew about restorative approaches in education and business with others. To build from the ground up wholly and wonderfully restorative aims, objectives, strategies, policies and processes.

This might sound idyllic or easy or even idealistic, but there were systems, policies, procedures, training, methodology, tools and techniques behind it and all are replicable, just ask us to show you how by becoming one of our valued clients and partners and in time a member of our co-operative.

Thank you for reading, please give the same kind attention to the blogs that will follow from my colleagues and let us know if you enjoy them or if they raise questions for you.