CONNECT Conference


National Restorative Practice Conference for Education.

Our CONNECT will take place in conjunction with the Education Department of Maynooth University (led by Dr Anthony Malone) on 25th March 2017. We are very excited about the potential of this to help Restorative Practice gain further traction in the educational arena and to highlight how it can facilitate the relationships and wellbeing that are essential for effective teaching and learning. This is a cross-sectoral event that welcomes teachers and educators from primary and post-primary as well as student-teachers and students. We are delighted to announce that the wonderful Dr Belinda Hopkins will be the keynote speaker on the day.

The day will also include workshops of which you will be able to choose two depending on your area of interest:

The journey begins… Getting started with RP. Faclitated by Michelle Stowe and Claire Matthews of ConnectRP.

Teachers sharing their RP journey; the practitioner’s voice.

Student and parent voice; RP and school community.

Research 1: RP supporting student-teachers; the PME experience in MU. Facilitated by Dr Anthony Malone.

Research 2: RP research and sharing of theory and practice in education.

Proactive Circles. Facilitated by Dr Belinda Hopkins

School leaders walking the talk; sharing practice and vision.

In the afternoon we will be coming together for a ConnectMEET to share even more ideas and practice! This will be quite informal and an opportunity for people to give an insight into what is working for them in terms of their RP journey. If you would be interested in taking part and sharing for either 2 or 5 minutes please fill in your details here.

We look forward to meeting you for what promises to be a most enjoyable and inspiring day for Restorative Practice and education!

Please share this with anyone that you feel may be interested. I would love to see you there, sharing how we can all

…be the change we want to see in the world..

Book your tickets on Eventbrite at this link CONNECT Conference



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The Relationship SCALE

relationship-scale-imageBest of luck with the new term! It’s been a while since my last post but I have been working on my Connect RP book, with my friend & colleague Claire Matthews, and we are hoping to bring it to publication this year. The intention is to launch it at our RP Education conference in Maynooth University (currently aimed for the end of March 2017 – more details of book & RP conference to follow).

Here is a very short extract that I thought may serve you for the new year:

The Relationship SCALE (Smile, Connect, Ask, Listen, Engage) is a helpful frame to remind us to scaffold; mindfully invest in and actively create positive interactions. It represents simple but powerful intentions and tools to consciously build flourishing relationships, so that we are not just leaving them to chance. Maureen Gaffney’s research outlines that, due to the stickability and long lasting nature of the negative, an average relationship needs a ratio of 3:1 positive to negative interactions; a flourishing one that we hope to foster needs 5:1. Check out Maureen Gaffney’s TED for her reflections on how powerful our inner dialogue can be and how important it is to focus on the positive. The Relationship SCALE helps us to facilitate this and reminds us to tap into this internal power to positively influence relationships; to be proactive, to focus on and create what we want. It reminds us of the action required to follow through on what we already know, that relationships are at the heart of teaching and learning.

How proactive are you with the Relationship SCALE? How proactive do you want to be?

Rating 1-10

10 ☺ – 1 ☹

In my everyday life…



When I’m in challenging situations…


Examples …

Smile I am conscious to smile & make eye contact with my students as they enter my room When things have broken down with my students, I seek opportunities to smile again. I try to adopt a ‘catch ‘em when they’re good’ lens.
CONNECT I focus on creating love and belonging – Maslow before Bloom! I avoid blame and look at harm instead to deliberately seek empathy & understanding.
Ask I regularly use check-ins/ create opportunities to ask about other people’s lives I ask:

Why? What happened?

What’s the most generous assumption I can make?

Listen I am aware of how much I share versus how much I listen I listen to understand, I can be silent/ present for others
Engage I invite suggestions and involve others in our interactions I ask others if they have ideas about how we can solve a problem/ I seek to involve others in solutions


Here are some of my Top Tips for maximising your numbers:


When using the Relationship SCALE, the intention is always to turn towards one another, to CONNECT, to move towards love instead of fear when faced with challenge as ‘Love,’ by Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Milov at Burning Man illustrates.


If you are interested in training in Restorative Practice check out, there is also a 4 week Connect In course for teachers beginning on Mon 16th January in Dublin West Education Centre. There are still a few places but numbers are limited!


Wishing you all the very best for 2017 and remember as the amazing Rita Pierson tells us in her TED talk Every Kid Needs a Champion

Rita Pierson 2.jpg



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What is the difference between Shame and Guilt?

shame 4
Is it ever helpful for people to feel shame? No!

Very often, as loving parents or caring teachers, we unconsciously contribute to poor behaviour by shaming people who may have caused harm or done wrong. Our intention, of course, is to support the people in our care to do better, to teach the young people the difference between right and wrong, but to do this we must learn to separate the behaviour from the person, only then can we allow someone who has caused harm the opportunity to connect to their own values and goodness in order to do better in the future. Children, human beings, will ultimately become what they feel about their self. I often speak to my lovely niece and nephew about this, perhaps when helping them to make sense of hurtful comments form others; we realise that they may have ‘forgotten how to be kind’ and we explore how we can remind them of their loveliness, teach them to be this kindness once again. kindIt is not by matching it with an ugly retort or by an angry accusation, but of course by modelling it.  I believe this is as true for fifty year olds as it is for five year olds. Saying ‘you are a disgrace’ may be an obvious shaming declaration but there is also a world of difference between the statements ‘you are bold’ versus ‘that behaviour is bold”; the former is about the inner self while the latter us about the external action.

shame 6Shame is very deep, damaging and can have life-long consequences. It is corrosive to a positive sense of self, which is exactly what we need to know our goodness, to live it, to positively contribute to ourselves and our communities. Shame is highly correlated with violence, addiction, bullying and anger. Shame is far more likely to cause misbehaviour than to cure it yet the culture and punitive systems that we operate within often dictate and encourage shaming responses to such behaviour by shouting, criticising the person; or imposing punishments TO them that usually sponsor blind resentment instead of recognition of values, armoured defense instead of open reflection, and shame cycles instead of healing connections.

cpmpassWhat do people do when they feel ashamed? We hide, we attack ourselves or others, we avoid, and most importantly we are disconnected form the part of us that believes we can change. Restorative Practice proposes the Compass of Shame to understand the impact of this feeling and how it may show up in our classrooms, living rooms or boardrooms. It is a helpful frame to consider when dealing with misbehaviour. It allowed the teachers in my action research study to not take students’ misbehaviour personally, to understand that it may very well be about the student’s sense of self. It allowed us to separate the act from the actor, the deed from the doer, and to open up new capacities of understanding and empathy. So, rather than perhaps limiting our understanding of a person by cementing them to a label by saying ‘He is such an X’ or ‘She is just Y’, this new consideration of the effects of shame allowed us to now refer to and explore their actions instead, emphatically considering what the unmet need might be, and then focussing on our circle of influence instead of a tiresome circle of concern (Covey 2004).

circle of influence concern

shame 3In Daring Greatly Brené Brown, who is a shame and vulnerability researcher, reminds us of what we may intrinsically know already; that shame corrodes the part of us that thinks we can change. So to shame someone into changing is like saying “you are horrible and worthless and incapable of change….. get better” (Brown, 2013). We must believe that we are capable of doing better in order to actuate that desire. It is also essential to understand that shame is also the only feeling that we must do something ourselves to transform. One of the reasons I am so passionate about the power of restorative practices is that it leads us down this path. My study outlined that a restorative response to students’ mis/shame-driven (Compass of Shame) behaviour had the power to offer new thoughts that sponsored new feelings which informed different actions.event response

shame 5RP is, above all else, a values-based philosophy and one of the key values is personal accountability. This involves giving people ownership of the problem and its resolution, encouraging them to reflect and listen to how people have been affected by their actions, inviting them to find solutions, or offering them new thoughts and feelings that can drive new intentions and actions. Despite some misconceptions to the contrary, this can be a lot more challenging and difficult to do than to merely passively receive an assigned punishments.

coveyWe know that guilt, as opposed to shame, occurs when we are connected to our values. It is when we hold what we have done or failed to do, up against who we want to or indeed believe we can be and it doesn’t feel good (Brown 2013). This is what inspires connection to our true selves, to our values, and to others; this is what motivates authentic apologies and a desire to make amends. It is my belief that, as human beings, RWwe are all doing the best we can based on the way we see the world, on our current level of consciousness (Tolle 2005) and when we know better, we do better. The use of sanctions and imposing punishment “TO” (Vanderring 2010) others often dilutes the support for teachers and students to know and do better. It robs us of the opportunity to grow and make repairs, to consider and express how we feel, and potentially discover a new way to deal with such conflicts in the future. It is the living of our values, this restorative way of being, that improves our communication and ushers us towards respectful or even synergistic conversations (Covey 2013).

vulnerability 2So what can move us from shame to empathy? Once again, it is the power of vulnerability that moves us from each end of this spectrum. It is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change (Brown 2013). The vulnerability to share authentically instead of attacking; holding the intention to connect instead of raging, even though we may then be no longer sure what the response may be; having the courage to seek the best in others rather than being comfortably certain of their limiting label.

parrotWhat do you see in this picture? How do you know? …………
A parrot? ……….. the colour, the beak, the tail….
But what if I invited you to see the dancer? Can you now see the arm wrapped around the white face and the outstretched leg? The point is that once we have decided that it is a parrot that is all we see. We must seek and then find the dancer within ourselves and others; often, if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. RP offers this transformative power. I believe that we need to, when dealing with shame, be vulnerable enough to treat people with their potential and not just their past in mind. This is where the light gets in, it is the path to connection and change. This growth mind-set has genuinely brought me much happiness by bringing out the best in me and others.

RP offers an explicit language and practices to facilitate such connection, understanding and transforming power. Restorative statements that might say “I am hurt or I feel embarrassed by what happened/ because I need X/Y/Z” instead of using language that blames and attacks, such as “How dare you do that, who do you think you are? You are a disgrace! You ought to be ashamed of yourself”. The questionsrestorative questions also allow us to listen to and transform shame. They create empathy and connection by asking “who has been affected by what happened and in what way?” and they promote active listening and personal accountability-“what needs to happen next?” These questions separate the person from the behaviour, seek to understand before being understood (Covey, 2005), honour values in action, and offer the opportunity to transform shame.

feel goodThis isn’t just for the heavy examples of shame scenarios that may spring to mind. This restorative mind-set (Hopkins 2008) and way of being informs how we engage, speak, listen and share all day every day. An everyday light example occurred yesterday when my gorgeous six year old niece scribbled on my white jacket with her green marker. I was reading with her lovely little brother at the time and not giving her the attention she wanted. I was a bit shocked and paused before I responded in order to support myself to support her. I guess I could have given out to her, “you’re a bold girl for doing that”, maybe shouted or put her into the hall for a while, or perhaps punish her by ignoring or deliberately excluding her from the games to ‘teach her a lesson’. But what would that response achieve? What ‘lesson’ would that teach her? It would merely compound the feelings of isolation or disconnection that she was already feeling, that drove this action in the first place. If her lovely heart felt full and secure in that moment she wouldn’t have done it.

So now, what is my intention? It is to support her to be and know her best self, to help her fill her heart back with love. I knew I wanted to be calm and kind in order to illustrate what I want to teach her; after all if we are not modelling what we teach, we are teaching something else (Hopkins 2008). So I use the restorative questions to help me scaffold a conversation with her. I ask her what happened? At first she says she doesn’t know. I soften my tone to support her to be honest, I explain my intention (this is key for buy in) that I want us to try to be open and fix the situation. She then says she was upset. I ask her what happened to make her upset and she says that it was in her tummy. fill_up_your_heart_by_deadonarrival7When I ask her what she was thinking, she says that I wouldn’t want to play with her anymore. I ask her what she thinks now? Is that true? (Byron Katie); I want to develop her capacity to question her thoughts, a wonderful gift I am only learning in my thirties. She says no, it’s not true and she knows because I laugh with her a lot and often ask to play with her. I reassure her of this too, I remind her of the joy I feel when we play together. I ask her what she could have done instead of using the marker and she says that she could have asked to join in with her brother and I. I agree that would be a great idea, that we would have loved that. When I ask her what needs to happen next? She apologises and tries to clean my jacket with a wipe (ineffectively btw 🙂 ), she then suggests a game for the three of us to play – and all is well in our worlds. In this very simple example we connected, she was empowered by transforming how she felt and found her own solutions. This interaction was a long term investment, developing her shame resilience and cultivating important life skills. The questions allowed me to focus on our circle of influence by addressing her unmet need – filling her heart back up with the loving thoughts that were missing.  A simple shift from fear to love (ACIM).

The restorative language and intention allow us to transform shame and open up new possibilities that reside in love and connection.


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EQ – The better we feel the more we … learn/allow/engage/connect.

EQEmotional intelligence (EQ) is our ability to recognise and regulate our own emotions, and those of others. It is “the most important overall success factor in careers” (Goleman, 2001, p. xv). Restorative Practice (RP) develops our emotional literacy and helps us to understanding the complex world of our emotions which informs connection to the self and others. It is essential for good leadership, positive relationships, and undoubtedly a happy, successful life (and classroom!!!) (Golding, 1995). 

My personal definition of success as a teacher is that my students feel good about who they are, and what they do when they are in my room (and the hope is, by extension, in our world). Key SkillsThis is not something that you will necessarily find on a policy document but I do feel that our welcomed journey towards change in education and the acquisition of key skills breathes life into this intention; acknowledges that feeling good is a key to unlock learning, understanding that learning is state sensitive, and we should, therefore, be sensitive to our inner state of being for effective teaching and learning to take place.


RP DefinitionRestorative Practice is a way of being that allows me to bring this to life in the classroom. Key restorative skills include basic communication skills: “active listening; the ability both to express feelings and needs and to encourage others to do the same; interpersonal emotional literacy; relationship building and conflict resolution skills” (Hopkins 2006, p. 5). A simple 5 minute check-in circle, using a talking piece at the beginning of a class, asking students how they feel on a 1-10 can offer huge insight into how we can meet that person in that moment, it also gives the opportunity for us all to be aware of how we are feeling so that we can live from a conscious space.


download (1)A quick sharing of the highlight of the weekend, or asking people to think of and share what makes them belly laugh can immediately shift the energy in the room. Suddenly you see students smiling and nodding to others, or laughing out loud in that moment at a funny memory. Maureen Gaffney’s TEDx explores how we need a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative emotions/interactions in order to flourish. How can we put Joy (Inside Out) in the driving seat?


Relationship building questions allow us to consciously create her blue glow in the classroom and to connect with the students we spend every day with. il_570xN.487914151_rtvhThere are so many daily demands on teachers to meet learning objectives, fill in rolls, check and correct homework etc. and this may indeed take five precious minutes but rather than take away from learning time, it scaffolds a space for academic learning to occur. It develops a methodology that can be used for teaching, learning and formative assessment. It builds life skills, facilitates oral and emotional literacy, develops communication skills such as active listening and authentic sharing. Such engagement allows us to tap into students’ personal scripts, it changes the energy in the room, breathes the connection that fosters an enthusiastic, safe, and collaborative work space. In summary – IT FEELS GOOD!

feel mayaThe better we feel, the more we learn/ allow/ engage/ connect. I love Maya Angelou’s quote and try my best to use it as my compass to guide my intention and interactions with young people in the classroom. Bring to mind a teacher or role model who has made a difference in your life. How did you feel in their presence? Equally, can you remember a classroom where you felt fearful, nervous, angry, or exposed? What were these teachers feeling when they negatively spoke , embarrassed, or shouted at us? Were they conscious of the impact of their words, I wonder, or were they, perhaps more likely, just lost in their own “stuff”, doing the best they could in that moment? So the question is, how can we hold hands and do better together? I believe the answer lies within recognising and regulating the world of emotions.


anger secondary emotion


When we encounter problems in the classroom (living room or boardroom), anger can often dominate our responses and cause us to react as opposed to respond. Anger is always a secondary emotion that has its roots in some other emotion. It is a mask we wear and even when it is suffocating or corrosive to relationships, it can, sometimes, feel ‘safer’ than understanding and exposing how we really feel.

I would urge us to consider what causes us to get angry in the classroom and what the root feelings might be? Only then can we transform and resolve this feeling. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge and when we are authentic, reflective, and solution-focused, we can become the thermostat instead of the thermometer (Jim Kwik). 

Indeed working in community in the classroom offers many valuable opportunities to develop our students’ emotional intelligence but I believe it begins with the self. As teachers we need to be aware of how our thoughts, feelings and emotions influence how we behave and engage with others.emotions thoughts cycle We need to pause, reflect and pay attention to this as such insights can lead us towards learning, connection, and fulfillment. Our power lies in our response to an event, or in our ability to positively influence the thoughts and feelings and response of another. But how can we do this? Asking ourselves and others some restorative questions can facilitate such insights.

Rp Qs new

These thinking questions often elicit feeling responses. As teachers and leaders in our class we can choose to model this by sharing how we feel/have been impacted by an interaction or situation. Not in a way that cements or limits students into cycles of to negative behaviour:

“How dare you speak to me that way!””

“You are a disgrace!”

”Who do you think you are speaking to?”

NVC 2But in a way that separates the deed from the doer, that models the use of emotional language, that offers students a space to reflect and understand the connection between their own thoughts, feelings and actions. Using restorative language helps us to achieve this by offering structure and meaning to the world of our emotions.  It is characterised by using I and an emotion. photo (2)The intention is to authentically connect and share how we feel in order develop empathy and understanding. The focus moves away from blame and judgement (which fosters disconnection) and instead focuses on needs, solutions and the empowerment of choices (which facilitates connection). Marshal Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication offers wonderful guidelines to facilitate such restorative conversations. (Non-Violent Communication). Often students do not have this vocabulary to navigate and share how they feel and we need to consciously model and explicitly teach and develop their emotional literacy (for example a mood wall).


Sometimes the teachers I have had the privilege of working with express how using restorative language can make them feel vulnerable or exposed. It may feel safer to hide behind a mask of anger, especially when we have others watching us. I have also, in these reflective circles, heard many teachers share anecdotes about how a throw away or angry comment by a teacher, when they were a student, still impacts them twenty years later. Such reflective practice is at the heart of conscious engagement. It reminds us of the golden rule of the world’s major religions, not to treat others in a way we wouldn’t like to be treated ourselves. It facilitates compassion and, I believe, new capacities of mind and heart, it helps us to realise our words and the energy we bring can be very powerful and long lasting.  I have and can feel vulnerable and frustrated too, at times, but (on my best day) when I connect to my values and my personal definition of success as a teacher, it inspires me to use restorative language instead of perhaps mirroring a quick and cutting comment.


I have experienced and understand the success that the former can offer, how it can unlock cycles of negative interactions, and empower people to photo (14)understand how to meet each other’s needs instead of getting lost in blame, anger and frustration.  I have heard many other teachers’ success stories too, and success doesn’t always lie in a magic wand that changes every student, but success can very much lie in liking who we are in our classroom and getting to live our values. There is immense power in vulnerability as Brené Brown’s TED illustrates. We need it to live wholeheartedly, to fulfill the basic human need of connection and belonging. I’m learning that the easiest thing in the world is to cynically dismiss something. So even if the idea of using restorative language in the classroom causes you to raise an eyebrow or want to roll your eyes to heaven, I would urge you to listen to the heart and perhaps give it a try.
Fav TeacherMaya Angelou’s quote reminds me of my favourite teacher in school, Mr John Cronin. He’s the kind of teacher who visits you during your first year of college when you are struggling and feeling a bit lost; the kind of teacher who, even though he is now a busy principal, takes time to send a Christmas card every single year to his past pupils. He is a special type of human that the world is lucky to have.

He has made a big difference in my life and I try to pay this forward. He recently inspired me once again, twenty years later, when he gifted me a beautiful poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
…Don’t go where the path may lead,
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail
What lies before us and what lies behind us
Are small matters compared to what lies within us
And when we bring what is within out into the world,
Miracles happen…
For me, restorative language, and being tuned in and guided by our emotions, is somewhat of a new path in schools. It supports a new epistemology, a way of being in the world that exists long after the facts have faded from students’ minds; a broadened lens of success from the acquisition of points to the importance of key skills. It creates a paradigm shift from punitive to restorative, from understanding that authentic power lies internally – honouring values and conscious choices, instead of externally -trying to control others. It offers a trail for what lies within to emerge, in order to breathe empathy and connection. For me, on a spiritual level, this creates the miracles that Emerson speaks of, the little shifts in perception from fear to love (ACIM)!

The Power of Vulnerability – Brené Brown

Non-Violent Communication

Maureen Gaffney’s TEDx


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What is your Superpower?

Source: What is your Superpower?

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What is your Superpower?

photo 1 (6)We all remember what Uncle Ben told Spider-Man
“With great power comes great responsibility “.
But what if the reverse is also true?
“With great responsibility comes great power”.(Jim Kwik)
When we are responsible; response-able; able to respond in a calm, conscious, and deliberate way we are full of immense power.

This is what spiritual thought-leader Gary Zukav in The Seat of the Soul refers to as authentic power. It allows us to be the thermostat instead of the thermometer.
I agree wholeheartedly with Haim G. Ginott’s reflections in Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers

It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration; I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Aims RPI believe Restorative Practice facilitates this authentic power. It allows us to fully engage with our ability to positively influence others, to inform how the rest of the room experiences the weather, and most importantly how we care and empower our own self because as teachers, as human beings, we simply cannot give what we do not have.

The action research that I did as part of my masters revealed that the restorative reflective approach had a big impact of teachers’ feeling of empowerment, on their self-efficacy and, in turn, on their feeling of well-being. Teacher 5 says:
“I was regularly entering into power struggles and student X’s bad behaviour made me feel out of control”.
She later reveals
“I’m a dictator. I’m reflecting on the teacher I want to be. I’m going to change this”.

Communication-Quotes-39RP’s positive communication skills and mind-set can align us with our authentic power so we do not need to take anyone else’s. Even simply pausing to respond with a conscious restorative question such as ‘What happened?’ instead reacting with an accusatory
‘Why?’ can be transformative as Teacher 3 of my study suggests
“I loved that we were both expressing our needs in a positive calm manner. Knowing the right RP questions allowed me to respond in this way.”

When we are full of our own authentic power we have the confidence to be vulnerable enough to openly remind our students of theirs. The ease of deliberately admitting that we cannot control other people allows the exhale of the ego, leaving space to inhale from the heart.einsteinRather than backing others into a corner or engaging in a power struggle by doing something TO them, what if we consciously paused, took a breath, and chose to clarify our intention of working collaboratively in the restorative WITH box?; Understanding and facilitating the liberating idea that we, as teachers, cannot and perhaps should not “make” our students do anything allows us to invite them to understand that they are powerful agents of change. We want our students to understand that they are actively making choices in every moment and indeed the consequences or positive shifts are to be fully owned.

How powerful would our world be if we lived from the knowing that we are all, teachers included, responsible for the energy that we bring to a room, to a person, or to each situation? (Jill Bolte Taylor)relationsgip Window

Vanndering’s Relationship Window reminds me to usher my energy towards a supportive dialogue that feels good for the spirit, honours relationships, and that brings out the best in the self and others.

It frees us of the unrealistic and stressful expectation that we must/can control everything that takes place in our classrooms. Instead, we get to encourage, cultivate values-based expectations, model positive behaviour, and most importantly take responsibility for our own responses and how we feel.
Surely we want students to do the same, to understand that our engagement is invitational, mutually beneficial, and one that is led by connection and our own inner compass? I certainly don’t get it right all the time but in these moments, I am trying to honour my values and invite my students to seek and live through theirs.
After all
..If we are not modelling what we are teach, we are teaching something else..
(Hopkins 2006, P.165)

I am on career break from my lovely school this year and received a beautiful thank you letter from one of my dearly missed students last month. He shared how much he believed in RP, that it taught him
how to live (his) life, how to be a person in the world…
He inspires me. I thank him.

teacher superhero

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The Promised Land

downloadTo paraphrase Dan Sullivan, the skills that get you out of trouble may not be the same skills that deliver you to the Promised Land.

This really rings true for me when I think about how we tend to address misbehaviour in schools. Often, when there is a conflict of some kind, a dispute, a lack of cooperation, teachers can understandably feel frustrated. We may respond by getting angry, by shouting, blaming, embarrassing, or trying to control a situation through fear of punishment etc. We can feel a pressing pressure to ‘control’ thirty other people sitting before us. Archaic, retributive school systems promote a mind-set that usher teachers in this direction. Sometimes we feel the need to remind students that they will not “get away with it”, that “they’ll be sorry”, that they must do what we say, “why?”, Well simply “because we say so”. This approach may appear to work; to ‘solve’ or (more likely) to pause/postpone the problem for another day.

But I’d urge us all to ask a new question so that we can enjoy the response of a new answer –

What is our intention?

What are we trying to achieve? Teacher 5 of my study spoke about the fact that she was authoritarian and had control in her classroom, she appeared successful because most of her students did what she said.  She had the skills and authority to address problems but she found herself exhausted at the end of the day, she was regularly entering into power struggles with her Student X or Y which affected her well-being and her relationship with the other students. She now seeks to promote and engage restoratively because, through her reflective practice, she realised that her idea of success expands far beyond control. She re-connected with her original motivation to teach and wanted to share her gifts with her students who, I believe, are so lucky to have her.


When reflecting on our ideal classroom, what does the landscape of our own Promise Land look and feel like?

relationsgip WindowFor me, it’s a happy classroom where students are engaged and enthused. My personal definition of success as a teacher is that my students feel good about who they are and what they are doing when they are in my classroom, and perhaps (the hope is) by extension in their own world.  The restorative approach helps breathe life into this intention when things appear to have gone wrong. We are
working in the ‘WITH’ box; having high expectations of one another and supporting people to meet these expectations; Rp Qs newengaging in restorative conversations that separate the deed from the doer, that seek to understand before being understood, just as the insightful Stephen Covey encourages us to do. This classroom is light, free, easy, happy, engaged. It is full of grace and hope- hope that we will be successful, that we will learn, and that we will connect. There is a soft, flexible energy that feels good. As educators, we know that learning is state sensitive, and this type of environment is a wonderful scaffold upon which to build meaningful and authentic learning.

tribeI’m inspired by the amazing example of the Babemba Tribe of South Africa who live these restorative values in their community. When a member of their tribe does something ‘wrong’, they gather around them in a circle and take turns to remind the ‘wrongdoer’ of something good they have done; a reason why they like/value them. They understand that the correction for poor behaviour is not punishment, but love and the remembrance of identity. They believe a teacher, is someone who knows their song and sings it to them when they have forgotten it. As Alan Davidson states in his blog,

They are not fooled by the mistakes you have made or the dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused”.

I’m inspired by such a vision, a classroom that honours the worthiness of all who learn within it. It’s a beauty-full way to revere, to call forth the very best of who we are, especially when life may have smudged our capacity to reflect it.738bd8142bcd37933814782f676ce045-300x200 As teachers, we are honoured with the opportunity to remind our students of their inner loveliness so that they consciously choose to behave and engage in a way that reflects their true being; so that they are inspired intrinsically by their inner guidance, as opposed to being controlled by a fear of external punishment or retribution.

In my Promised Land, we live, as Brene Brown says, ‘whole-heartedly’, imagine how and what we’d learn in a world like that!

tough world

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The Ripple Effect

download (1)I love this quote. It often guides how I try to meet the day, especially when working in my lovely school. I think Love Bomb week breathed life into this intention for our whole school community. The week before midterm can, at times, be a week you drag yourself to Friday but I think the positive energy that we all intentionally channeled into that week inspired many magic moments – the little ones, the ones that may not make a speech but can lift a heart on an ordinary school day.

keep-calm-and-sparkle-on-67The lovely Helen (my Thelma to the Louise of Love Bomb Week 🙂 )and I bought decorations- hearts and stickers galore. Others joined in decorating the staff room on the Monday morning and sure we were off to a great start. Tanya and her students had cut out one hundred and fifty love heart shaped paper for what I call sparkle statements. This is a statement that is honest, specific and kind- that would make someone’s spirit sparkle. This really falls in line with the restorative aim of proactively and deliberately building social capital and cultivating community. I’d bought mini love hearts sweets that rested in a bowl beside the blank hearts/markers and staff were invited to take a sweet and write a sparkle.

There was some fellow ‘Oprah-loving-pals’ like myself that couldn’t wait to grab a marker, there were some giggles, a few gentle accusations of sweet bribery and I’m sure the odd raised eyebrow could be witnessed:-). Overall, a big feel good hit I think. 738bd8142bcd37933814782f676ce045-300x200One member of staff came to me and told me she had been a little dubious about the idea of Love Bomb week but she wanted to tell me that she’d just received a sparkle from someone that she’d had tense words with in a meeting. She said the person thanked her for being such an amazing Head of Department and that she may never have known this unless she had been sparkled. The fact that her colleague consciously chose her images (2)to sparkle meant a lot. It’s stories like these that inspire me to continue to seek innovative ways to promote restorative practices. It simply feels good and this creates interactions and learning experiences that feel good. I want to feel good and be part of the reason others do the same. I think it’s that simple. The proactive restorative intention helps us to vibrate at a higher frequency and to keep the ripple moving downstream.

I knew that the Google Doc questionnaire that students were using to Love Bomb their teachers was scheduled all week. The night before Love Bomb week began I spoke to my insightful friend Sharon. She had loved the idea but pointed out that the fact that it was mainly anonymous would dilute its impact when it was fed back to teachers. I knew this to be true but couldn’t think how to structure an alternative. When I arrived to school that morning, the feel good energy inspired me to invite my first years to write the name of each of their teachers on a page and to write a sparkle about that person if they chose to. They LOVED it! They broadened the vision and suggested that we add in the care takers, secretary and management team.
cc4763c205c90572c88f6dfb85f17ec5They were in flow, the ripple was expanding.
It was brilliant to see the joy on the Liam’s (one of our caretaker) face when he told me what the students said about him. The auxiliary staff in our school foster fantastic relationships with our students and the Love Bomb initiative was allowing a space to acknowledge the little acts of kindness or the daily friendly banter that makes a real difference to how our students feel when they are in our school building.

The personalised Love Bomb sheets were the biggest hit. Once the students had written a comment on each page they then delivered them to the teacher saying “You’ve just been love bombed by 1B, pay it forward” (thanks to lovely Lydia for helping out). Fresh bamboo leaves over waterI was impressed when two boys, who can be challenging and often find themselves before their Year Head, absolutely jumped from their chair to volunteer to deliver his Love Bomb Sheet. I happened to walk by when he received it and I saw his eyes light up, the smile he gave the boys. I loved that this prompted a positive dialogue between him and these students who usually reside at the top of Morrison’s Pyramid. This could indeed just be a moment on a corridor but we have no idea of the new dynamic it may offer, how the students may see themselves.

il_570xN.487914151_rtvhThe feel good vibes that I witnessed or that bounced back to me are hard to do justice here. I had no way of structuring/controlling the momentum of this but I just hoped it would take off and I do hope it reached everybody. All I could do is trust the pebble would start the ripple. I received some lovely sheets back unnamedand it was the positive chat around the our lunch room table. The students’ sparkles not only make you feel like a million dollars, it develops the emotional literacy skills of our young people and offers them that addictive ‘helper’s high’. The Science of Happiness confirms that gratitude is the key to feeling good. Many teachers commented on how amazing they were, that they’d pinned them up in their room. I now keep mine on my notice board too to inspire a smile as I pass. My pal told me on Friday, two weeks later, that she’d had a tough day at school and sat down that evening and read her three love bombs sheets and it totally shifted her mood. Once again, this illustrates the far reaching impact of one little intention.

As the week progressed the ripples were creating fun waves about the place. The talented Irish Department had a Valentine’s speed dating event and cake sale. By Friday my dear friend Ciara was even sporting a love heart jumper and the talented Lorna made a heart shaped chocolate cake for the staff and advertised a games lunch for a Fun Friday  – we roared laughing at the antics of Taboo and charades. The cherry on the top of that Love Bomb lunch was when our principal delivered handmade, individualised thank you notes/decorations for every single member of staff with a mini bar of dark chocolate attached – imagine the time and energy that went into that! images (3)I bet there is a lot of magic that went on that week that I don’t know about to share here; that undoubtedly takes place all year around, not dependent on an initiative like this. Of course our school is far from perfect, there is upset, discontent and disharmony at times. But there is always great love and community, especially when you deliberately focus your lens upon it. That is what Love Bomb week was about- the little ‘miracles’. A Course in Miracles defines miracles as a shift in perception from fear to love. For me, on a personal spiritual level, this is the essence of RP. It’s why I know it has so much to offer us all, in our schools and in our world. I am grateful for what RP serves me through the benevolent view it fosters. This is why I will continue to serve it through initiatives like Love Bomb – who knows where the next wave will bring us!

download (2)the-ripple-effect-michelle-frizzell-thompson

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The Love Bomb

Love-BombThe Love Bomb – do these words make you smile too? I originally heard this expression from my lovely colleague the first time that I experienced a Fishbowl (thank you, Kevin 🙂 ). He offered it as a suggestion to a teacher who was finding it difficult to get a challenging student on board, “try love bomb them”. We all laughed at the new verb but instinctively knew what he meant. Every teacher will know the impact that being deliberately positive, encouraging and caring towards a student can have, especially those in great need of such. It reminds me of wise words offered to a newly qualified teacher trying to find her way in a challenging disadvantaged school
the students won’t care what you know until they know that you care
I agree whole-heartedly but this month I got to thinking about students having the opportunity to show teachers that they care. I felt that it might be the right time to show the teachers a little love bombing too.

RP is about building emotional literacy, about creating environments that are conducive to sharing and connection. I wanted to create an opportunity to cultivate this and to focus lighton the positive. If we keep beating the drum of everything that is wrong, it gets so loud that it can drown out the music of the inspiring theme song that we need to feel good what we are doing in our school.  At times, it’s easy to get caught up with the frustration of students who reside at the top of the pyramid. They tend to remain in sharp focus, even at times in our solution-focused PLC group when we discuss our Case/Class/Student X.

RP is a Process- Focus of 'Success'

RP is a Process- Focus of ‘Success’

As an antidote we recently changed our intention to seeking opportunities to find things to celebrate. Traditionally, in our opening circle, we share personal highlights of the weekend but now we also consciously invite highlights of the school week (thank you , Lara)! I loved the impact of this and felt that the large majority of our student body would also welcome an opportunity celebrate our lovely school and to show teachers how much they were appreciated.  They can do this already, of course, but the added focus of a direct invitation could give this loving, feel good energy a lot of momentum!

questionnaireI thought of the questionnaire idea when chatting to some dear teacher friends over dinner. One of them (thank you, Sinead) shared that her principal had posted some positive comments from a first year survey in the staff room and she mentioned the positive impact this had had on the teachers. My ears always seem to perk up when they recognise the opportunity to spread a little joy, I think it’s the ‘helper’s high’ I love! This casual chat gave birth to the Love Bomb Questionnaire (thank you Claire for helping me to jazz it up). I got thumbs up and guidance from my principal who is always so supportive of these initiatives. My colleague, Enda, who does great work with the student council, came on board. Although he disliked the name :-), he thankfully welcomed the idea. He helped me pitch it to the Student Council who advised us and thought it would be a big success. A number of teachers also gave feedback on how to improve the questions. Thinking about and sharing the intention of this with others was key, it has allowed it to evolve into Love Bomb Week (thank you Helen, Jean and Eithne).
The intention is for the Student Council and Ember Group to work with the SPHE and Religion teachers (thank you, Sandy/ Anna/ Lydia/ Claire/ Nicola/ Helen/ Rachel/ Rita/ Polly/ Amanda/ Tanya/ Mary/ Ross). They will represent the students’ voice and help the teachers to facilitate the classes in the computer room to fill out the Love Bomb Questionnaire before midterm. They will then present the data collected using statistics and anecdotal references to the staff. We will also (hopefully) use this information to launch St. Mark’s Celebration Station (thank you, Mary). That week love bombteachers will be invited to come on board and to love bomb their students and their parents by phoning and/or writing at least one celebratory note each day (70 teachers x 2= 140 per day x 5 = 700 opportunities to make someone smile, feel appreciated and open a positive dialogue). Staff will also be invited to write anonymous sparkle statements to one another on heart shaped cards and leave them in their pigeon holes (thank you Tanya, Helen and students). I’ve also pitched the idea of creating a similar questionnaire for parents who may also welcome the opportunity to show their appreciation of their children’s teachers and our school. We could easily send a URL using text-a-parent; this has yet to be given the thumbs up though! If not now, I am hoping this Love Bomb Week will be such a huge success that the initiative will grow wings for next year – that’s the vision anyway.
lovebomb_6I think we will ‘get away’ 🙂 with ranking so high on the love barometer as it is the week before Valentine’s. As confirmation that we are in flow I received a link from a friend tonight (thank you, Orla) which coincidentally outlined a similar initiative in the corporate world called ‘Love Week’. I took it as a major sign (amazing act of synchronicity) that this is exactly what we should be doing in our school and schools around the country. Creating opportunities to connect, show appreciation and love – this is what inspires me, what fills my spirit, and what I believe will serve the lovely world I want to be part of.
I am really excited and looking forward to all of this coming together. Thankfully I have the guidance, energy and insights of my friends, principal, colleagues and students  (and the universe 🙂 ) all working together to make it happen. I am very grateful for this. I hope this bomb disperses love and gratitude far and wide.

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Fishbowls/ Solution-Focused Circles

solutions 2

One of the things that I love about Restorative Practice is its intention to be solution-focused. Of course we need to identify our problems, become conscious of them; acknowledge that they exist. I’m sure problems in most schools are plentiful and undeniable, whether it be with disruptive students, the demands of new initiatives, issues over attainment/attendance/attitude, decisions made by people in power that are seen from a different lens that causes frustration, or perhaps management feeling their needs are not being met by teachers, or hard-working teachers feeling unappreciated etc. Such issues are probably prevalent in many a work place, evident, i’d imagine, in most staff rooms around the country, but we cannot get stuck there. I absolutely agree with the successful life coach, Tony Robbins, when he encourages people to give their power and focus to solutions. After all, we need to do something different in order to expect or achieve a different result.

Fishbowls are a wonderful way to offer such solutions. They help us move past ineffective and endless negativity or frustration, into a fresh pasture that disperses seeds of new possibilities, that shifts energy, that broadens or indeed sharpens our lens. They allow us to advertise for help in a way that doesn’t damage the ego, or to offer each other guidance and support without sounding like a know-it-all! Teaching can be a lonely profession at times. I believe that we have so much to offer one another and de-privatising what goes on in our classrooms is a wonderful place to begin.

Fishbowls can facilitate such sharing. They are tightly structured solution-focused circles. fishbowlThe process involves an inner circle that consists of a facilitator who invites the person with the problem to share this with the group. It also contains a small number of people that may ask clarifying questions about the problem once it has been shared, this inner circle also has an empty chair so that participants in the outer circle can contribute to the solution focused suggestions at the end of the process. Suggestions are offered using the imperative “Try…./ Try…../ Try….”. The person sharing is asked not to comment on any of the solutions offered in case it limits the potential or filter of what could be offered by the group. They are only invited to write down all suggestions and at the end of this process they are asked to offer two or three ideas that they will now try. This type of process is an excellent way to FB summaryavoid getting endlessly lost in the narrative of the problem that exists, it maximises the potential of everyone to actively listen, and encourages participants to offer their contributions through a constructive and thoughtful filter. I have been involved in a number of fishbowls and they have all been very insightful, even for the people listening in the outer circle who may not verbally contribute at all but have or could encounter such problems themselves in the future. I do not advertise/facilitate/participate in them enough and they have so much potential. I intent to try to breathe more life into this practice throughout my school in the January.

fb 2Fishbowls are also a way to offer groups (as opposed to an individual) a chance to share, offer feedback/ perspectives in an authentic way. The inner circle can share, perhaps less self-consciously, without being interrupted by people in the outer circle whose role at that time is to listen and be attentive, only asking clarifying questions (no judgments /commentary) at the end. For example, this process can be done with the inner circle having one set of needs, such as a group of Year Heads, and the outer circle made up of individuals with different needs such as a group of classroom teachers (or teachers of a class group/ students of this class; male students/ female students in a SPHE class etc.). Each group could get a chance to occupy the inner circle and share their needs, issues, problems, potential ideas of supports and solutions. This process could be used for any varying groups that may have different pressures/lenses/perspectives which can cause conflict or disconnect. It’s a wonderful way to understand one another’s unmet needs; to perhaps see ourselves in one another. It is my own spiritual belief that this is what we are here to do, to recognise ourselves as one. But from a restorative point of view, our intention in always to honour relationships and build social capital – empathy and understanding are necessary components of such.

5 years stagesMy school has been committed to the use of RP for a number of years now. There are many stages of implementation but it is essential that we, as a staff, are living this way of being among one another. The ‘Restorative Mind-Set’ (Hopkins 2004) affects how we engage, communicate, think, and work together. It’s imperative that school leaders encourage/ model/ invest in this restorative approach, that they cultivate community in professional relationships, if long-standing implementation is to be a possibility for a school.  My lovely school has made great strides in this regard but, like all schools, we are a work in progress. This is the type of school that I believe in, the vision that captures my heart, that encourages me (like many of my wonderful colleagues, school leaders, and peers) to invest time and energy into nurturing its birth.

I’ve also recently been introduced to the idea of using fishbowls in the classroom as an educational tool. I love that I am continuing to discover ways to ‘walk the talk’ as a leader in my own classroom. I’ve yet to try the educational fishbowl myself but I will attach the clip below to offer potential ways to do this; another restorative adventure for me to try in the New Year! I’m looking forward to this (thank you Claire 🙂 ).

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