Social Capital


CaptureRestorative Practice is a way of being that aims to build social capital. The intention is to honour relationships above all else. RP has many effective reactive strategies that deal with conflict-resolution which can indeed transform relationships and negative dynamics. But by setting the priority of continuously nurturing relationships, it moves far beyond this. The proactive focus minimises potential conflicts that may arise and cultivates a healthy and happy space where people can indeed work WITH one another.

Social Discipline Window

Social Discipline Window

Using circles or quick check in/check out rounds in classes is one way to generate positive relationships. Reflecting and sharing in community can really inform a teacher about their students’ personal script; it can offer us all an insight into the current needs of the young people before us, or even perhaps our own needs on any given day; it has the power to shift a dynamic and usher in some positive energy that undoubtedly enhances the academic work that needs to take place in the classroom. A few examples of questions that I like to use are:

photo 1On a scale of 1-10 how are you feeling today? What was the highlight of your weekend? If you had a theme song for your life what would it be? Share someone that you admire? If you could invite any three people to dinner (living/dead/famous/known) who would they be? What are you looking forward to at the weekend? Share something nice that someone in this class has done for you. Think of three things that you are grateful for today?

I often do not have time to do a circle but a quick check in or check out at the beginning or end of class can take two minutes. I always find it is such a worthy investment of time, energy and consciousness. It is my experience that young people will cooperate and work harder when they know that they are cared for, when they feel seen, understood, acknowledged.

RP’s explicit practices such as using circles and affective statements Emotionsare effective ways to help us to build social capital but these are only a compass to help us cultivate this benevolent way of being. As we all know a simple smile, a kind word while passing a desk, can help fulfill the restorative intention of building social capital. I find that school is becoming an increasingly ‘busy’ environment which can sometimes distract me from this intention. But my core of being knows that this is the most important aspect of school life. It underpins the success of all else, the scaffolding that we build learning upon.  I remind myself of the importance of taking the time to say hello as the students enter the room, to smile, let them know that I are happy they are here and yes, sometimes I have to fake it ‘till I make it! But it allows the self-fulfilling prophecy to work to my advantage. I remember hearing the wonderful writer, Toni Morrison, in an interview saying that all children want to know is do our eyes light up when they walk into a room. I always try to keep this in mind when I meet my students, to remember their loveliness, even if sometimes life has smudged their capacity to reflect this. They may indeed sometimes need a little reminder but I love that I get to teach them this, see in them something that they may not yet notice or see in themselves. For me, this is where the magic is.

I think that the most important factor in maintaining a positive teaching environment is that the students feel good about themselves, their presence, when they are in my classroom. This a powerful and fruitful place to work in. Although I  can sometimes forget, it is such a privilege to be able to work with young people in this way; to perhaps touch their spirit, to have them impact mine. They say if you dance with your heart, the feet will follow. Maybe teaching is the same, when we teach with our heart, the students, the learning will follow. The background music that positive relationships manifests makes for a synchronised and enjoyable dance.


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Professional Learning Community (PLC)

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In 2011 I set up a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in my school as part of my action research project. The intention was to implement and maximise the use of RP in my school. Eight teachers initially agreed to join our weekly meetings.  The intention was for us to plan, implement and evaluate the impact of RP in our classes. I would action researchteach/share an aspect of RP with this group. I would invite them to implement a task relating to this knowledge with their class X. Teachers would  journal on this process and impact on them/their class x on a weekly basis and then share back with the group at the next PLC meeting. In this way we could encourage one another by sharing our success, and support one another by addressing the live needs of any problems that emerged.



The definition of a PLC iplc 3s a group of people who meet in an organised, structured space that is agenda and solution focused. The community focus promotes supportive relationships and develops shared norms and values. RP promotes the FRESH guidelines (Fair, Respectful, Engaging, Safe and Honest) that our PLC aims to promote and model. The focus on professionals is towards the acquisition of knowledge and skills. The fact that I had become a trainer in RP meant that I could facilitate and share this knowledge with my colleagues.


I feel that PLCs are a wonderful way to build community, promote reflection and to share our strengths and skills. There are two important factors to sustaining a PLCFirstly, physical conditions such as time, space and funding; and secondly, human conditions, including a culture of trust and supportive leadership. The fact that our PLC has been running since 2011 is a great testament to its success. There is a core group of committed teachers that attend our weekly Monday lunchtime PLCs but everyone is very welcome and the composition of the group changes quite regularly. I find ARKthe meeting cathartic and supportive.  Some yummy bread and tea are essential ingredients to the warm, supportive atmosphere that we create and we always begin by sharing the highlights of our weekend. This ensures that we are modelling the restorative intention of proactively building positive relationships among ourselves. Last month we set up an  ARK (acts of random kindness) initiative where we took a name from a jar to target our kindness towards. This generated some lovely energy, bonding and undoubtedly some needed pick me ups during the week! I highly recommend this, it is such a simple way to positively impact one another’s daily life and lift the spirit. It also generates that feel good ‘helpers high’ for the giver of the act. Our world could do with a little more of this energy, all it takes is a good intention and a few names in a hat!


After sharing our highlights in the PLC, we then reflect on the progress of our previously determined targets and/or share anything that we are currently seeking advice about. Our solution-focused lens promotes positive energy that ensures that we leave with a number of great ideas. In the outset we only had group targets but now each teacher often has individual targets/goals that they plan to implement with their class/case X. This week, however, we did have a group target which involves being positive with students and encouraging good behaviour. We have decided to focus on very short-term goals with our classes. One teacher suggested that we call our roll on a daily basis using a 1-10 number scale. Students gain points/numbers by arriving on time/ sitting quietly/beginning the warm-up immediately/ having homework completed etc. Another idea was to ask students to give themselves a number/ or to use the system to ask targeted students to reflect on their own behaviour and what number they felt they may deserve.

Social Discipline Window

Social Discipline Window

Obviously the tone of the exchange is essential here to cultivate genuine conversation or sincere responses from challenging students. We are mindful that our restorative intention is not to punish but to honour relationships; to improve behaviour and learning. The idea of involving the students in the process is to promote reflection and ownership of problems and perhaps also empower students to be able to solve these issues in the next class. If students offer a low number perhaps the restorative questions may help – What are your thoughts on that now? What needs to happen next to solve this? Etc. This system encourages cooperation but also explicitly and repeatedly instructs students how to be successful in the class. The 1-10 points can be added up to determine a student of the week/month/most improved. One teacher has a raffle ticket system where she offers them as an incentive to students who have fulfilled an expectation/reached an outlined goal. She pulls a ticket at the end of each week for a small prize. I guess the main idea is the intention of helping, teaching and encouraging our students to reside within the WITH box and cooperate freely and knowingly with what is happening in the classroom. This allows for a healthier and happier learning experience for everyone involved. A happy classroom, now who wouldn’t want to live in one of those!






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The Talking Piece – Meeting Sophie 



If you were an animal what would you be and why?

This is one of the ice breaker questions that I often begin a relationship building/ introduction to Restorative Practice (RP) circle with.  Circles are a structured process that can be used to build community, resolve conflict, and to share our personal script. They help us to understand and learn about ourselves and one other; to affirm the answer the the questions that I believe we, as human being, are seeking, ‘Do you see me?, ‘Do you hear me?’, ‘Does what I say matter?’.

This opening question usually offers some interesting responses and a few giggles. As a facilitator, I usually model the process by holding the talking piece and answering the questions. My response to this is always a giraffe, mainly because I’m six foot tall with quite a long neck but also because these gentle animals make me smile. My friend, Ciara, gave me a gift of a cuddly giraffe to accompany me on a trip to Ethiopia a number of years ago. I laughed when I gratefully received it, remembering the childhood jeers, and thinking that it was probably no coincidence that she saw this giraffe and thought of me!

The following year, when I began to champion RP in my school, I decided to use this toy as my talking piece. I called her Sophie after my beloved goddaughter. Four years on, this cuddly giraffe has now adopted her own personality and is known throughout the school. Most of the students smile when they see or hold her, they ‘lovingly’ twist and fidget with her appendages. I think they may unconsciously find it comforting to hold Sophie while sharing with the group. Although I would be less than truthful if I did not admit that there wasn’t a little eye rolling from a few students (one vocal colleague friend of mine also springs to mind, he’ll know who he is :-)! ) when they see her coming their way. Whether this is because they are being asked to share or that they are holding a cuddly toy I’m not too sure! But for the most part she is a welcomed and loved part of my classroom and our school’s restorative community. I feel Sophie the giraffe suits my personality, she reflects an insight into my life story and helps me to connect the energy that I like to bring to the restorative work that I do. But others may be more comfortable choosing a more neutral object that can be effective for them or the community that they are working with.


The Restorative Animal

The Restorative Animal

I was absolutely delighted last year when Margaret McGarrigle, a restorative practitioner and kind friend, brought her masters students from NUIM to see the restorative work that we do in our school; she informed me that the giraffe was known as the restorative animal. I had absolutely no idea about this. They are considered restorative beings as they have the largest heart of all the animals, weighing up to 24 pounds. This represents how RP’s restorative language and use of affective statements help us to live from our hearts. The restorative intention to separate the deed form the doer, the act from the actor allows us to live from our core. I believe that when we forget this we are, perhaps, being dominated by our ego.  Similarly, the giraffe’s long neck enables this animal to see all around itself, to witness many levels of perspective.  This elevates connection and serves us as the true compassionate loving beings that we are, rather than being dominated by the ego that seeks to be separate, to be other. It symbolises RP’s intention to see everyone’s viewpoint, to build empathy, to walk in ‘one another’s shoes’.

The use of restorative questions encourages us to understand, reflect and empathise. These thinking questions elicit feeling responses. They go form the past to the present and very importantly, a solution-focused future. Simply asking ‘What happened?’ instead of ‘Why?’ has an amazing power to adapt a charged situation, I urge you to just try it. It shifts us from accusation to understanding; Asking, “What were your thoughts at the time/ since?’ ushers in the promise of grace, peace, forgiveness. Reflecting about ‘Who has been affected and how?’creates empathy. Posing the question ‘What needs to happen now?’ empowers people to solve their own problems, it allows us to evolve beyond punishment to healing; to become more conscious (Tolle, 2005).

The fact that the giraffe with its big heart and long neck had naturally found a home in our restorative circles still makes me smile and feel that the universe supports this work. For me, perhaps this ‘coincidence’ is also a sign that the life that I am living is the same as the life that wants to live in me. I am grateful for this.

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The Power of Vulnerability


Teaching - HeartThe title of this post pays homage to Brene Brown’s moving TED talk. Her insights and research on this subject matter spoke to my core as a teacher and human being. I have a sign on the wall of my classroom beside my desk that says ‘Teaching is a Work of Heart’. It had become an invisible part of my decor until a lovely sixth year recently wrote me a kind thank you card that alluded to this sign that he had been looking at and associating with me for the past five years that we have spent learning together. I will miss him and his classmates, they have engaged and etched a space in my heart. His card and Brown’s TED talk help me to realise that the restorative work that I am engaged in and advocating in schools is very much influenced by the intention of living ‘whole-heartedly’, of being vulnerable, authentic. It is along this path where we meet connection, where we find our true selves and see this in one another.

An essential part of living from our whole hearts involves allowing its light to shine on and embrace our fears. It involves a love, a vision that melts, not who we are but who we are not. Acknowledging and opening up to our shame offers the power of vulnerability that Brown alludes to. Recognising shame and how it may manifest itself is essential if we are to transform it into something else – growth, awareness, compassion, not only for others but for ourselves. Perhaps more importantly for our own selves because it is this, I believe, that navigates how we engage with our world and how we treat one another. A restorative process allows us to reflect and acknowledge something so that it can be changed, improved, so that it can evolve. The Compass of Shame illustrates

Compass of Shame

Compass of Shame

how people can demonstrate negative secondary behaviour if they do not find a way to deal with their shame in a healthy way.  Anger is a secondary emotion, it requires space and reflection to identify its roots and how it can be changed into something that serves us. Fear, perhaps of exposing or exploring its root, of being vulnerable, can be a blinding and driving force; fear of taking ownership over a situation which may present our inner critics with bountiful reasons to avoid another potential failure. So we, often unconsciously, “protect” ourselves with the Compass of Shame. The compass offered by restorative practice signposts a new direction that involves peace and cooperation; that offers our classrooms, our schools, and indeed our world a hope of a conscious now and perhaps a brighter tomorrow.

I understand that sharing in an authentic way can be very scary and intimidating at times. But surely the alternative of getting trapped in fear and anger cannot be easy. It is the restriction of the frustrating negative cycle that is hard and relentless, that tires our lovely spirit. Some teachers in my study expressed valid fears about exposing themselves emotionally by using affective statements[1]. This was especially challenging for teachers whose identity of a good teacher was attached to being or feeling the need to be authoritarian and in total control. The eight teachers in my study were invited to experiment with restorative practices and often bravely did so where the need was the strongest – with challenging individuals and classes. Group reflection of our Professional Learning Community (PLC) revealed that the reward of this interaction was often a process but a very worthy one.  Some teachers chose not to engage with this restorative language initially, needing the nudge of the success stories of others before experimenting, but even asking ourselves ‘How did I engage with that situation? Was I restorative? Was I punitive? Why might this be?’ offers a great insight. Teacher 5’s journal reveals this ‘I went nuclear, he responded similarly, I’d backed him into a corner.” Her honesty and reflection allows her to engage differently with this situation, to try to redefine her engagement with this young man in the future. What is of paramount importance, I feel, is for us to be crystal clear about the intention of our response so that we can then find an action/tone/support/reaction that may meet the needs of the situation and achieve our intention.

It takes courage to reflect, share and express our true selves. But this is where we find peace, this is where we find the solace of a “me too” or meaningful growth. Teacher 8, who was initially reluctant to use affective statements shares in our PLC, when reflecting on a restorative conference, “I realised that he felt humiliated by my actions. This wasn’t my intention so I changed the punishment and told him he didn’t have to apologise in front of everyone as that would add to the humiliation, that I never wanted him to feel this. It really worked; he acted like he was sorry in front of the others when we returned to class, totally different than before”. Teacher 8 was flexible in his response, he did not rest on an automatic punitive TO reaction (Wachtel and McCold, 2001). He was brave enough to ask, understand and share so he consciously achieved his intention – positive change. We see that reflection, authentic inquiry and openness are key.

Personally, I feel that we are always walking in either of two directions, towards love or fear. When I am looking for inner guidance about a situation I ask myself, “What would love do/say/think about this?” I find this often offers a benevolent solution that guides my actions for the best outcome for everyone. Love would be open, vulnerable, kind and authentic. I feel vulnerable writing this blog, sharing my spirituality in such an open way, and if I am to practice what I speak of, then I too need to choose vulnerability and share in an authentic way. The truth is that my spirituality is the inspiration behind my commitment to the restorative work that I engage in but the explicit practices are the compass.

One does not have to share my spiritual sentiments or inner dialogue to reap the same benefits and guidance from this compass. The simple set of proactive and reactive explicit practices that give RP its framework naturally guides us past fear towards a path of love. We just need to honour the process. Teacher 3 shares how the explicit nature of the process has helped her improve communication, “We were both expressing our needs in a positive calm manner. Knowing the right RP questions allowed me to respond in this way”. RP’s use of affective statements, fair process[2], FRESH[3] guidelines, restorative questions and the free expression of emotion [4]allow a process that builds understanding, that creates empathy. As human beings we have a need to be heard, to know that what we say matters. For our young people, especially those that live challenging lives, this need can manifest itself in a negative way, motivating destructive behaviour patterns. We, as teachers, have a wonderful opportunity to model emotional literacy skills for our young people so they can satisfy their need to be heard in a way that serves them and their environment, so they too know and do better. Teacher 5 shares the evolution of her relationship with her challenging students, “Those students X and Y, they don’t rule my day anymore. They come and talk to me, tell me stuff outside school. It feels good”. We have the privilege of making a difference and teaching our students ways to be in the world that will remain long after the facts that we have taught them fades from their minds. My favourite writer, Maya Angelou, says that children may not remember everything you teach them but they will always remember how you made them feel. I aspire for them to know who they are at their core, to remember their loveliness, to feel that they are competent, powerful and peaceful human beings.

I think if we are full of true internal power then we will not need to dominate our students, to seek any of theirs. We will reside within the WITH Box of the Social Discipline Window (Wachtel and McCold, 2001) instead of the TO Box that the punitiveSDW school system promotes. Although it may feel vulnerable to offer our students their power, we need to be willing to be explicit about it in order to avoid the power struggles that create tight reactive situations. It’s important to give them ownership over solving the problem, remind them of their power to affect the situation and how they are meeting it, to offer them healthy choices. We get to help our young people to realise their self-efficacy, to be positive agents in their own lives, and in turn, in our world.  Perhaps we only back them into a corner when we are seeking what Gary Zuzak (1989), author of  The Seat of the Soul, refers to as external power, when we feel fear.


It is clear, for me, that  when we engage in a power struggle we, even if appear to’ win’, in fact, always lose our power. We have engaged in a struggle that negates who we are at our core- loving and peaceful beings. This response is of course understandable at times, I have and no doubt will find myself locked into an unconscious battle in the future. It’s often a natural reactive response when we, as teachers, feel backed into a corner ourselves, vulnerable in front of all the observing eyes. It can be lonely at the top of the classroom and we are all doing the best we can based on our current level of consciousness, when we know better, we do better. Being reflective practitioners and engaging in restorative conversations offer us the potential to know and do better. It gives us our own power to respond to these situations differently. Students that reside at the top of Morrison’s Pyramid (2005) require intensive restorative responses. Sometimes teachers of Morrison'a pyramidour study reported that their attempt at RP did not ‘work’, reminding us that it is a process that requires time and indeed a paradigm shift. This may be a lengthy process but when we broaden our lens we see that RP can still offer success even if Student X’s behaviour remains unchanged. Teacher 4 says “When I’m restorative the others don’t jump on board with Student X” and Teacher 5 openly shares the merits with our PLC group, “It’s great for my mental health, I definitely feel less stressed using RP, I was going from zero to ten, their bad behaviour made me feel out of control”. RP offers us the breath to thoughtfully respond as opposed to react, it allows us to manage our internal responses rather than let the outer world dictate our inner landscape. It allows us to live from our hearts, our spirit. This is authentic power, when the personality serves the energy of the soul (Zuzak, 1989). The power that Glinda, the good witch of Oz, alludes to “it is ours all along” and the restorative practices may just be our Yellow Brick Road.


Morrison  (2005). Restorative justice in schools. In E. Elliott & R. M. Gordon (Eds.), New Directions in Restorative Justice (pp. 26–52). Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.

Wachtel, T., & McCold, P. (2001). Restorative justice in everyday life. In H. Strang & J. Braithwaite (Eds.), Restorative Justice and Civil Society (pp. 114–129). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zuzak, G. (1989) The Seat of the Soul. Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.

[1] Affective statements are I statements that express an emotion/affect. The intention is to share in a way that promotes empathy and understanding. That reduces the potential for accusation and self-defense that often cements us into negative interactions and thought patterns.

[2] Fair Process involves engagement, explanation and expectation clarity.

[3] FRESH is an acronym for: Fair, Respectful, Engaging, Safe and Honest.

[4] The free expression of emotion (Costello and Costello, 2009) refers to a practitioner’s commitment to sharing how they feel and inviting others to do the same: to express themselves affectively (using emotions).


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The Power of Intention

My intention in creating this blog is to promote a restorative way of being in our schools and perhaps by extension, in our world. My engagement with RP has been an insightful journey that I began in 2010 and am still voyaging. I hope to share this here with others who may also hold the intention to be the change that they want to see in the world. For me, this is a world that honours people, care and community; a world where we see ourselves in one another, where we live form our hearts, our core. This inspires me.

My interest in RP is driven by its transformative potential; its ability to create caring, respectful communities that I wish to be a part of; communities that develop the emotional literacy skills of all it serves and who serve it. Martin Seligman (2011), who is a major figure in the well-being movement, believes that well-being should be taught in schools and I am very interested in a restorative community’s ability to do this, especially when considering the “flood of depression” (Seligman, 2011, 80) and disconnectedness that face not only our youth, but people of any age and background today. Community has the potential to impact positively on relationships and well-being.

Restorative Practice has a clear set of explicit practices that are both proactive and reactive. This offers an exciting potential of a framework for school wide implementation. But RP is, at its core, a way of being – communication, thinking, listening, speaking, approaching, engaging and working together. For me, it is a way of being in the world that not only speaks to my core beliefs as a teacher, but echoes my values as a human being. Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher and activist, suggests that if we know what changes a heart then we know what changes the world. It is my belief, informed by the evidence of the action research that I engaged in as part of my thesis, that RP offers the capacity to live from our hearts; to change, if not yet the whole world, our way of being in our own world- in our classroom, school and community.

When I think reflectively about what I mean by community, I realise that it is inspired by my spiritual beliefs and value system. Being part of creating community speaks to my own inner truth about who I want to be, as not only a teacher, but as a human being in this world. Similarly, my desire to promote RP is, somewhat, connected to my perception of my life’s purpose, my personal ideals regarding all of our purpose in this world – to see ourselves in one another (Tolle, 2005). My definition of community, for the purpose of the action research study I completed and for the work that I will share on this blog, is a group of people who meet in an organised, structured space that is agenda and solution focuseda Professional Learning Community (PLC). But community, on a personal, spiritual level, is a group of individuals who are connected, who share who they are, who see themselves in the other; a group who seeks to serve one another, to promote reflections that offer truthful ways of seeing and being in the world; that offer community. RP practices can, in my view, offer the opportunity to achieve this – to understand, to empathise; to become more conscious, connected, and aware. To help us “remember who we are” (Walsch, 1997, 21). It also offers the chance to engage and seek our own truth, sometimes, through knowing that of others. Palmer alludes to a need to create such community in education, a connectedness that honours a spiritual understanding of the “hidden wholeness” (Palmer, 1993, xii).

My personal vision of an ideal school community is one dedicated to honouring and evolving the relationship between schooling, well-being and happiness. In my view this can be synthesised through positive relationships, those that RP aims to promote. I am inspired by the potential synergy between these and I feel that working in community with fellow teachers in a PLC could help to achieve it. I hope that this blog accelerates the potential of this work.


Palmer, J. P. (1993.) To Know As We Are Known – Education as a Spiritual Journey. New York. HarperCollins

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish – A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. London. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Tolle, E. (2005). A New Earth. England. Clays Ltd.

Walsch, D. N. (1997). Conversations with God. Great Britain. Hodder and Stoughton.

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