The Power Of With
As humans, we are hard-wired to want to connect and to belong. Restorative Practice believes we need to be explicit in how we build these connections. Explicitly, we need to create a sense of belonging and increase social and relational capital as well as repair harm and restore relationships when things go wrong.
The following model is the one we use as the cornerstone to underpin relational practice. It is based on a model originally created by Malcolm Glaser, but more recently promoted by Ted Wachtel and Paul McCold. It’s called the Social Discipline Window and it's the basis for a restorative practice model built on high challenge and high support. (Actually, the original version uses the word ‘control’, but I replace it with the word ‘challenge’ in the work I do for reasons that will become clear.)
High challenge, high support is one of the ‘four ways of being’ but it is the one that pays dividends when it comes to getting the best out of young people. In a nutshell, these fours ways are:
- Doing things to others
- Doing things for others
- Doing things with others and let’s not forget
- Sod ‘em
Working with young people in a high challenge, high support manner means you are definitely doing things with them. You are not doing things to them and, and this is where many genuinely caring teachers fall down, neither are you doing things for them.
But what does high challenge, high support look like? Well, let’s define terms:
When we say Challenge, we mean things like setting limits, outlining boundaries, defining expectations and explaining consequences.
Challenging behaviours aim to provide motivation, the energy to act, asking tough questions, accountability, having high expectations, sharing responsibility, giving honest feedback and agreeing shared goals.
When we say Support, we mean things like nurture, compassion, empathy and care.
Supportive behaviours aim to encourage, to build self-belief, self-value and confidence. They include showing an interest, making time to listen (genuine listening, not that half-hearted sort), suspending judgement, asking reflective questions, creating trust, recognising and expressing feelings.
The best way to see this - and share it with colleagues - is in a diagram such as this:
You can see clearly that the bottom left-hand box is the domain that is built not only low on challenge but also low on support. ‘This is Mr Davies, your supply teacher, and here is a worksheet to do’, ‘When you finish your work you can colour it in?’ ‘What do you expect from kids round here?’ We call this the ‘NOT’ box and the original version of this model has the word 'neglectful' as a way of summarising this way of doing things.
The top left-hand box is when you engage in high challenge, low support practices. It describes when you are doing things to young people. ‘Just do this and you’ll pass the exam.’ ‘Just get on with it as I showed you.’ ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ This is the ‘TO’ box and the original version uses the words ‘authoritarian’ and ‘punitive’ to describe behaviours typical of this style of practice.
In a primarily ‘TO’ environment, students are held to high standards, but without the support necessary to reach them. Such a response can be alienating and stigmatising. It can also fail to effect any real change in behaviour.
The bottom right hand box is the domain that is built on low challenge but high support. ‘Give it here, this is what it should look like.’ ‘You haven’t done your homework, again?! OK, well, let’s have a look at what you have done.’ We call this the ‘FOR’ box and the original version uses the term ‘permissive’ to describe the style of approach.
In a primarily ‘FOR’ environment, students may find the support they need but without being held to account for their actions. That’s asking for trouble.
The top right hand box is the domain that is built both on high challenge and also high support. ‘This is a tricky one but if you get stuck I can give you some pointers, but no more than that!.’ ‘The way you did that was great and to make it even better next time you could try this.’ We call this the ‘WITH’ box and the original version of this model uses the terms ‘restorative’ and ‘collaborative’ to describe this winning approach.
The ‘WITH’ box is where relationships are built. And they are built on trust and real connection. In my experience this box also creates independent learners - students who learn to self manage, to motivate themselves, to take responsibility for and, importantly, control of their own behaviours.
In a nutshell, it creates students who aren’t part of the audience, they are part of the cast. Or, as one school I work with puts it, not passengers but crew.
It is my aim to be practising in the top right box of the window - holding students and colleagues to high standards of behaviour while at the same time providing the support and encouragement necessary for them to meet these expectations.
In this way, a Restorative Approach is being authoritative, rather than authoritarian. An authoritative approach holds tenaciously to the school or organisation’s values and challenges members to demonstrate these values in all their interactions. And I mean all. Everything counts.
I would really like you to reflect on which box you spend most of your time in? And, when things aren’t going your way, which box do you default to? Be honest, After all, when we are reactive, our behaviour is often emotional and not thought through. When we take the time to think about our actions and are responsive we can be more effective, behaving in a way that is more purposeful, intentional and professional.
Sometimes we default to the ‘TO’ box when things go wrong. Rather than seeking to understand, we seek to blame. When we do, we look for who is at fault, what rule has been broken and what punishment fits that rule breaking. In my view – and this is a controversial one as anyone on Twitter will know - punishment just creates resentment rather than reflection.
Sometimes we default to the ‘FOR’ box. We make excuses and rescue people when things have gone wrong. When students come to us with problems and we sort them out for them. Then, who do they come to next time they have a problem? That’s right, us. And if we keep sorting things out for them, what are we creating? …Dependency. It might make us feel good, but it shouldn’t.
And as for the ‘NOT’ box? I think, the ‘NOT’ box speaks for itself.
I think we have four choices, four ways of being, and the ‘WITH’ box helps guide the way I act across school communities and in every other area of my life, be that in my leadership roles, with colleagues, with students, with families and also at home in my own relationships.
I like to think over the years I increasingly default to the ‘WITH’ box when things aren’t going well. If I do default to the ‘TO’ or ‘FOR’ box, I reflect on it and offer others an opportunity to come back to the ‘WITH’ box with me. The ‘WITH’ box is about getting alongside people, partnership, collaboration. It’s about flattening the hierarchy and sharing the power.
Ultimately it’s about being restorative. [ITL]
Mark Finnis is an Independent Thinking Associate and Restorative Practice coach and trainer working with schools, agencies and local authorities across the country.