9 April, 2021


My parents always told me that the 3 R’s of education are: Reading Writing and (A)rithmetic. Let’s not worry about the fact that two of those don’t start with the letter ‘R’. Then, at the first school I taught at, the joke was that the 3 R’s stood for Rowing, Rugby and Repeating. Today we speak of the 3 R’s of 21st century education as Respect, Responsibility and Relationships. It is the third of these that I want to focus on.

People are social beings. Research tells us that being innately social, our brains find individual thinking less natural and more taxing than reacting, interacting and learning from others. And it is these social interactions that are the foundation of relationships, which are in turn what builds communities. Scotch Oakburn College is a community and as such relies on its intricate web of relationships to thrive and provide a sense of belonging and purpose for all of us.

One of my favourite concepts is the Gestalt phenomenon, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether we are considering a microcosm of our Scotch Oakburn community, such as a class, a sporting team or the cast members of a play, or the entire College community, the relationships that tie people together are what give us the capacity to achieve greater things as a group than we could as individuals.

When someone is wronged or an individual acts in a way that causes others harm, it is not surprising that it is the breaking of trust and the damage to a relationship that has the most significant long-term impact. Consequently, it is the relationship that must be repaired before we can truly move on from a situation, and this takes time. A methodology to enable that ‘healing’ to take place is Restorative Practices.

Restorative Practices are not new, many societies and communities have used forms of restorative practice for generations. Neither is this practice particularly new to many schools; however, it is not always well understood. In restorative practices, there is no ‘one size fits all’ as situations vary greatly from one to the next. However, there is a process framework of restorative practices that involves a ‘restorative conversation’ between, but not limited to, a moderator, the individuals involved, and sometimes a support person. The aim of this conversation is to identify:

  • what has happened,
  • why it happened,
  • what was the thinking happening at the time of the incident,
  • who has been affected by the incident,
  • what could have been done differently to avoid the harm, and
  • what needs to happen for the trust to be restored and the relationship to be repaired.

Sometimes there are consequences put in place and importantly, the person whose actions damaged the relationship understands why they have received that consequence. This vital step is achieved by that person being a part of the process that has enabled them to take responsibility for their actions. That is the pivotal moment; that is where deep learning and growth occurs.

Relationships are not only the foundation of communities, but what we as human beings need to thrive. Being so vital it is equally important that we have a remedy to repair damaged relationships, for the good of the individuals and the whole.

Andy Müller

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