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. The 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 avoid 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.
Fishbowls 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.
My 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 🙂 ).