The school I work at launched the ‘restorative chat’ as part of the behaviour system this year. Although this is nothing groundbreaking or new and, I suppose it is something we sometimes naturally do, it was implemented as something we should try and always do when following the behaviour system.
Returning to work after Mat leave, I told myself that I would follow all systems to T from day one to fully assert my authority to students, and hopefully get things right. Because, after all, systems are put in place to be followed and they are designed to work.
In the morning briefing we were shown a video by Paul Dix -behaviour expert – explaining how restoratives generally take place between heads of years/SLT/ parents and head teachers. The class teacher who deals with the negative behaviour day in day out is usually shut out from these meetings and therefore the root cause of the issue is never tackled. This resonated with me as I have experienced this in many schools before. The student would return to my lesson following the meeting displaying the exact if not worse behaviour because the metaphorical ‘promises’ weren’t made to me.
Any type of sanction in the lesson would be followed with a a form of restorative chat. If the student was given a sanction and owed me 5 minutes after the lesson, I would use that time to have a quick conversation about their behaviour and give them a chance to explain why that happened and let them recognise why it was wrong. These little conversations would quickly turn into the student opening up to me and explaining why they felt they were tempted to misbehave or talk. For a lot of students it felt like a safe space to speak their mind away from the eyes of other student and free of any bravado.
I had students telling me they had an argument with the previous teacher and knew they weren’t focused in my lesson. Others explaining they found the work difficult, didn’t like where they were sat and some even opening up about problems from home. Ultimately, all students were, themselves, taking responsibility for their actions.
But what I took most from these conversations was that the students felt like they weren’t being punished but rather that I was taking out the time to find what I can do to make the lesson more comfortable for them in order to minimise disruptions. I was becoming better informed about what I could do to create a more effective learning environment. The students would ALWAYS say ‘sorry miss’ but also ‘thanks miss’ which always means a lot.
Following these short conversations, I would always see a conscious change in behaviour. I had one boy walk into the lesson saying ‘right today I’m keeping my thoughts INSIDE my head not outside’ – repeating the exact words I had used the day before. During one chat, I gave the example of zipping the lips and throwing away the key then putting up the hand, all demonstrated in primary school style. This student did the exact same actions in the next lesson. This really made me smile.
One of this reasons I feel this has been successful for me is due to the change in language I have now adopted. This was given to us as guidance by the SLT lead and as I was looking to follow the system religiously I used the same language that was suggested. Emphasising to the student that I understand and also recognising the positives they have displayed during the lesson. Using phrases like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ and ‘what can I do to help you?’ And then reiterating how the expectations were not met.
The key for me was to remember that it is not another chance to discipline the child but instead to find a way of moving forward and wiping the slate clean. In doing so, I feel I have really got to know the students and formed the strongest relationships I ever have.
If a student had a 10 minute detention with me I would keep the behaviour discussion to just 2 minutes as advised, and then use the time to get to know the child. Asking about their family or their interests really went a long way and I could see the attitude change in the child. This was something I was afraid of doing previously as I felt I wasn’t strong enough to talk to students off topic as it would derail the point of the conversation. (Negative experiences in past schools) but this has worked a treat for me. Students feel as though I take an interest in them as a human being and then this reciprocated with positive behaviour in the lesson.
One more thing that I felt made this process successful for me was explaining to the child how their behaviour made ME feel. Approaching them on a human level really worked and I could see they genuinely felt bad for their actions. Sending a strong message of care resonated with the student.
The school I work in is amazing at embedding these systems school wide and students are aware that these conversations will take place. There have been occasions where I wasn’t sure how to approach certain students and SLT and head of years were happy to step in and offer advice and sometimes join me during these restoratives, emphasising the united front approach. But ultimately keeping me, the subject teacher, at the heart of the restorative – because it is the relationship between the student and I that needs restoring.
Following the change in behaviour I would always make a quick comment of praise to the student to show I have recognised this change and improvement. And sometimes I would follow this up with a positive phonecall home to parents. (this deserves a blog post of its own!) just the mere recognition and appreciation of their changes behaviour is enough to make a permanent change in attitude.
These two minute chats, for me, have been incredible and has genuinely transformed the way I deal with behaviour. It has been a key player in improving my general behaviour management and unlike in previous schools there is not a lesson or a class I dread to teach. But in turn, it has also strengthened the relationship between me and my students and created a bond where there is mutual respect. When students feel you genuinely care about them they will really want to work for you and make you happy and I am pleased to say this is now something that is ever present in my classroom.