Returning to school after the coronavirus lockdown is likely to be difficult for children and staff – and for parents and carers, too. A new free guide released today by experts in restorative practice aims to change that by helping schools think through how to handle trauma and emotions as they plan to re-open.
With pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 poised to head to socially distanced classrooms and playgrounds on 1 June at the earliest, each school's leadership team is working out how to move into a healthy 'new normal'. For schools that need extra help and resources, the approach taken in the guide's RESTORE model will help them take into account the gravity and scope of what we have all been through.
"There is a push for schools to resume formal teaching and learning, making up for recent gaps and instilling a sense of normality. But this should be tempered with a recognition and acceptance of the pandemic and its effects on all of us," said Gail Waite, lecturer in Education at Brunel University London.
"Each of us, adults and children, will be processing all that has happened during the pandemic in different ways, and have varying difficulties and needs. Our RESTORE model provides schools with a lens through which staff, children and parents can look at the strategy and plans that are needed for everyone’s well-being in a fast-changing environment, and for a safe and healthy return to school."
Restorative practice puts relationships at the heart of all interactions. It is based on a way of being together in the world that involves mutual respect, inclusion, understanding and empathy. It is best known for offering ways to repair these relationships when things go wrong, and has been used in a variety of settings from criminal cases to neighbourhood disputes.
The guide is a collaboration between a group of experts who work with restorative approaches in education: researchers like Waite, together with head teachers, consultants, charities and other experts, who have formed Restore Our Schools. The pandemic makes restorative practice even more important and useful: “We need this way of being together even more now as we face these challenging times,” Waite said.
Their RESTORE model is a collection of themes reflecting on the recent past and our experiences of it, and also looking ahead to how we want to be as a result of this experience. It covers:
- R: RECOGNITION of what’s happened and that our experiences during lockdown have all been different, life-changing for many and significant for us all. How do we encourage everyone to share their story of the pandemic so far?
- E: EMPATHY for the mix of emotions that we have in response to events at home, in school, the community and in the wider world. How can we respond with empathy, compassion and self-care, whether we are staff, students or parents?
- S: SAFETY will be paramount, both emotional and physical. How do we re-establish a sense of safety for this new normal so that students are able to learn and all are able to thrive? How do we help those who may have felt unsafe whilst they’ve been away from school, feel safe again?
- T: TRAUMA is now a collective as well as an individual experience, how does the school community process this? How do we support people who have experienced very particular traumas during lockdown or who are facing an even more uncertain future?
- O: OPPORTUNITY to change what needs to be changed, to reflect on what matters to us and if we’d like to do anything differently. How do we learn from this experience, now that we know we can question even seemingly fixed aspects of our world?
- R: RELATIONSHIPS are key, as they always have been. How do we reconnect, and (re-)build inclusive, responsive relationship at all levels in school?
- E: ENGAGEMENT in our own health and well-being and with the issues that affect us: our teaching, learning and community. How do we foster a culture that enables staff and students to have ownership of and agency in their lives?
"These overlapping themes, expanded on in the guide, are for everyone to use either as a complete toolkit or to dip into," added Waite. "The methods that can be used to explore these themes includes ones some schools will be familiar with, but may also lead to discovering new approaches or activities that will make the biggest difference.
"Above all, we hope this model is a useful contribution to building the schools and communities we want to be part of and want our children to be part of."
The guide can be downloaded for free from the Restore Our Schools website.
Restore Our Schools is a collaboration between Conexus Conflict Consultancy, Leeds Learning Alliance, Transforming Conflict, RJ Working, Peacemakers, Iffley Academy, Andy Williams Consultancy, and Carr Manor Community School.
Find out more about research in Education at Brunel University London.
Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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