Thursday, August 29, 2013

Restorative Conversations

Have you noticed that most Restorative Practices are just conversations? Well structured, open, honest, disciplined, respectful, insightful, and usually quite productive conversations?

Restorative conversations can be
- incidental within other conversations
- informal
- gatherings (e.g. circles) or
- formal restorative meetings or conferences

Restorative conversations involve statements and questions, in particular,
- affective statements
- restorative questions

As a result of the careful way in which they are structured, restorative conversations reveal and share insights that provide a basis for
- knowing what has happened
- understanding the impacts of what has happened
- sharing responsibility for what has happened, and
- repairing any harm done
- improving relationships

All conversations are social interactions. Restorative conversations are examples of the highest order of social interaction: “working with”.  Consequently, the outcomes of restorative conversations are usually sustainable and significantly better than a zero-sum result. And this helps to explain why restorative practices have been so successful in improving schools and other organisations - restorative conversations work!!

(1) Working with others involves both high levels of challenge and high levels of support.
This and contrasts with
- “neglecting” = ignoring or abandoning: low challenge/low support,
- “working on” = controlling and punitive: high control/low support
- “working for” = rescuing: low challenge/high support
(2) Most controlling and punitive activity is based on the notion that, at best, the situation has a zero-sum outcome!!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Culture, conversations and school change

Schools are under continual pressure to improve. Most major initiatives come as proposed changes.
Most school changes involve a culture shift for staff members. Some staff members have practices that are already close to the intended changes. Other staff members will be committed to practices that are not all that consistent with the intended practices. When our culture changes so do our identities, so this is not a trivial matter for many of those involved. But where does a school’s culture come from, and how might it be changed? 
Culture is basically “the way we do things around here. And the way we do things is continually constructed and reconstructed in the (everyday) conversations of those involved. In formal and informal conversations we continually construct (and reconstruct) our knowledge, actions, and arrangements. In the process we also construct and reconstruct our identities and relationships

Each conversation occurs in a context that involves the histories, hopes, commitments, identities, relationships and interests of those involved (staff, students, families, the school, its communities…) as well as policies, regulations and resources...
That is, the school's culture continues and/or changes (emerges) from the interactions of its people, hence changing the culture means changing the conversations.
In schools, ‘conversations’ occur at a range of levels including individual reflections, chats, meetings, workshops, publications, reporting... Conversations are central to formal processes such as policy implementation, scheduling, delegation, coordinating, staff selection, performance management and staff support (coaching, mentoring and debriefing)… 
Somewhat paradoxically, while the school’s structure, and organisation, and associated staff roles co-evolve with the conversations they also enable and/or constrain the conversations that occur.
Conversations and leadership
From the above, school leadership is largely a matter of engaging in everyday conversations by affirming what is working, and shaping and reframing key concepts, purposes (values), relationships, observations, evaluations, possibilities, processes… all strengthened by the stories told about the school and its people.
Responsibility for school leadership frequently resides with principals and senior staff and it is fairly natural for staff to attend to the contributions that senior staff members make to the ongoing conversations within the school.
Consequently effective school leadership requires three things:
  1. A sound knowledge of the how the proposed changes can become part of the life, work and culture of the school
  2. Extensive participation in the life and work of the school, and
  3. The capacity to engage in, and shape, the everyday conversations occurring in the life and work of the school.