Restorative Practices & Safe Schools – changes in legislation in Ontario for primary students and the application of Restorative Practices
I was recently researching Bill 197 and its amendments to The Education Act, more specifically the changes in regulations to suspensions of Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3 students. I thought it would be important to brush up on these new regulations given that I had been recently called into a school as a “supply principal”.
The Ontario Ministry of Education’s website does a terrific job of explaining these amendments for parents and guardians (see Safe Schools: Suspensions and Expulsions (gov.on.ca)). In a nutshell, under certain conditions, discretionary suspensions by the principal for students in JK to Grade 3 are no longer permitted. Instead, positive behaviour supports must be considered. The website goes on to list 10 examples of such interventions. How exciting was it to land on intervention #6!!!
- using restorative practices to repair harm to people/relationships (with parental permission)
Restorative practitioners have long known the power of Restorative Practices in repairing harm. By asking open-ended questions, a safe space is created for the person who has been harmed and the person who has done the harm to “tell” their story. This benefits the person who has caused the harm in the fact that he/she has the chance to accept responsibility for their actions and to come up with a plan make things right or better, and the person who has been harmed is part of the “fixing” process, where he/she shares how he/she was affected. No longer does the victim feel left out in the dark – evidenced by the dramatic drop in phone calls to my office from parents stating: “…and my daughter/son said that you did nothing about it!”
BUT did you know that repairing harm is only 20% of our work? 80% of what we do is in the proactive. In my experience, schools that spend the time building positive, healthy, and caring relationships are more successful at meeting learning goals, repairing harm, and reducing suspension rates.
The Ontario Ministry of Education’s website describes a positive school climate as the following:
A positive school climate exists when all members of the school community feel safe, included, and accepted, and actively promote positive behaviours and interactions. Principles of equity and inclusive education are embedded in the learning environment to support a positive school climate and a culture of mutual respect. A positive school climate is a crucial component of the prevention of inappropriate behaviour.” (Safe and Accepting Schools: Promoting a Positive School Climate (gov.on.ca)).
A positive school climate should not be left up to happenstance. The good news is that we are all hard-wired to connect and need strong and meaningful relationships to thrive. So, with some time and careful planning, daily opportunities to connect can be easily implemented into a classroom/school setting. The investment put forth at the onset will pay off in dividends later down the road. And before you know it, this will become the way “we are” and “what we do”. Moreover, students and staff, who have the opportunity to learn about each other, develop empathy for one another and are less likely to harm each other. And when things do happen (as they often do in life), the underlying relationship is the foundation upon which the repairing of harm occurs. It is powerful stuff.