Page 727 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 8 March 2005

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a safe environment and to address issues of bullying and harassment in a manner that supports both the victim and the bully. Restorative practice involves children and families in an understanding of the victim/bullying relationship. The strategies used to support students need to be proactive in resolving conflict within the school.

Restorative practice uses a range of strategies to enhance school safety. Informal conferencing is used to address minor issues of conflict. Circle time in classrooms develops and builds relationships, cooperation and trust and provides an opportunity to carry out group conflict resolution. Formal conferencing addresses more serious issues of bullying and harassment as they occur. Formal conferencing seeks to repair harm that may have been done and provide an opportunity for restitution. Peer mediation programs are also an essential element of restorative process programs. Research shows us that one-off anti-bullying programs are reactive and that we need more sustainable outcomes than they can actually achieve.

The restorative practices approach however has proved to have a long-lasting impact because it adopts a whole-of-school approach to achieve a long-term cultural change. Restorative practice is a more cooperative model where students, supported by mediators, share their experience with one another and reach a better understanding of the impact and consequences of actions on others. As a result, the victim is empowered and has a chance to be heard by the perpetrator and therefore is more confident that justice has been done. Schools currently operating restorative practice programs, such as North Ainslie primary school, which was mentioned before, and Charnwood, are already seeing the benefits of this approach in strengthening relationships within the school and facilitating problem solving around behavioural issues. Charnwood primary school presented a workshop at the international conference on restorative practices in Sydney last week.

Restorative practices have been used at the Charnwood primary school for the past two years and during that time the suspension rate has been significantly reduced. The need for time out has almost been eliminated from the school. Very few students now require time out, whereas once eight to nine children may have been referred. Another key element, which coincides with the introduction of restorative practice, has been the huge increase in the self-esteem and self-confidence of children who have been classified as bullied or harassed.

Human relations between teachers and pupils have shown huge improvement as restorative practices are applied in the school community. This year, Charnwood primary is focusing on sharing information with parents, with parents becoming more and more interested and connected with the whole school community.

The Australian expert on bullying in schools, Dr Ken Rigby, identifies several key elements in successful anti-bullying programs. A crucial factor is the commitment of the staff and the whole school community to become engaged in the program. Dr Rigby believes that this sense of ownership is at least as important as the content of the program itself. Similarly, children should be empowered to contribute towards helping others involved in bullying to develop skills to reduce conflict and participate in problem solving. These are exactly the sorts of active long-term approaches that ACT schools are successfully implementing through the restorative practices approach. In doing so, they

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