What was your school like before relational practice?

Before embarking on our relational practice journey, our positive behaviour for learning policy had started to feel less ‘positive.’ We had become a school with more and more ‘chance steps.’ Our school felt like we were focusing on consequences and loss of time, rather than unpicking/addressing behaviour and developing/building relationships. We had children who would never be able to earn back all the time they had lost!

During the academic year of 2018-19 we implemented our revised positive behaviour for learning policy. It was clear straight away the direct positive impact a restorative and emotion-coached approach had on our distressed behaviour incidents. The high expectations for adults’ and children’s behaviour/conduct were set, and we were all motivated by a relationship-driven policy.

What triggered the change?

  • School wasn’t feeling very positive and so we started to unpick the culture that we wanted within school and at the same time discovered the ‘When the adult changes book’ by Paul Dix
  • School was becoming ‘consequence’ driven and we had forgotten about the 95% of learners, who always do the right thing!

What were the expectations/hopes?

We wanted our school to be a ‘relationships driven’ school.

Our aim was for us to have a strong universal offer which extended beyond the academic. We wanted our offer within school to provide all children with a broader personal development.

Our aim, with the right support, was for all children to learn to articulate and manage their emotions safely, deal with conflict respectfully, and to solve problems in appropriate ways.

We knew that social and emotional skills were essential for our children’s development and learning, however, we also knew that social and emotional skills would need teaching if our aim for all of our children to have positive outcomes in later life was to come true!

What happened – what have you done, how did it pan out?

  • We have revitalised the culture within our school for both adults and children
  • We introduced 3 golden rules (rather than 15)
  • We started to unpick distressed behaviour as communication of an unmet need.
  • We researched the power of recognition over reward and started trialling the introduction of recognition boards in order to meet functional behaviours and learning objectives
  • We unpicked the 5 Pillars of Practice and ensured that they underpinned our teaching and learning We decided to become trained in ‘Emotion Coaching’ – an approach that uses moments of heightened emotion and resulting behaviour to guide and teach the child about more effective responses – step one: label and validate emotions, step two: set limits, and step three: problem solve.
  • We introduced Zones of Regulation across the school – ZOR is a curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control.
  • We received intensive training in Restorative Practice – a strengths-based model in working with children and families that focuses on removing barriers, and proactively promoting a sense of community, understanding, social responsibility and shared accountability.
  • We started to look at our behaviour recording and introduced antecedent, behaviour, consequence.
  • We also captured key environmental factors for analysis i.e., subject, location, time of day etc.
  • We started to utilise unstructured time for the few for restorative conversations.
  • We used unstructured times to teach play and social skills through adult-led activities
  • We received regular staff training sessions to support implementation of above, through Units on Culture, Change and Structure (Pivotal Education)
  • We received two days training from Hannah Hall at Pivotal Education
  • The Head Teacher and the Behaviour and Welfare Officer became Behaviour Instructors

We are now 5 years down our journey, and I would say that for the adults within school a relational approach has resulted in us developing a range of strategies to teach key social and emotional skills, both in dedicated time, and in everyday teaching.

We have improved relationships with adults and children through meet and greets, check-ins, check-outs and restorative conversations.

We have a shared school language and understanding of SEMH needs and a clear pathway of support for those needing above and beyond the school’s universal provision. The training we have received has given us practical strategies that have been woven into everyday teaching resulting in clear expectations for adults to apply consistently and fairly.

What was easy, what was hard?

It was easy to get staff ‘on the bus’, however, it was more difficult keeping all the staff ‘on the bus’ and we have had a few get off over the last 5 years!

The hardest part was accepting that this is a culture change and that this takes time! It is not an overnight fix or a cure! Using a script is not a magic wand, there is so much more to relational practice. It was hard to see behaviour incidents increase initially, however, it was also necessary as for the children who were struggling, it enabled us to work more holistically and to get them the support they needed, this included EHCPs and also specialist provision, where necessary.

Where are you now?

I would say that we are a restorative school and that relational practice is now embedded within our school – staff know that this ‘is how we do it here!’.

What’s next for us:

  • Continually reset and revisit the culture and ethos of our school with all adults, by going back to our beginnings – what to say, what to do, how to be
  • Refresher training on Restorative Practice, Emotion Coaching and Zones of Regulation
  • Continue to re-establish ways of working that we were unable to do during COVID i.e. proximity redirection, praise and reminders/script delivered privately by bending down next to a child and speaking softly, handshakes, high-fives etc.
  • Continue to shift focus and understanding on recognition vs reward i.e., recognising all for making ready, respectful, and safe choices and rewarding those going truly ‘over and above’ the expectations Embed our new positive and negative behaviour recording system that is visual and user friendly, to support our recognition focus
  • Update and continue to develop our pathway of support pyramid for SEMH needs and our positive behaviour for learning policy, reflecting up-to-date training within our universal provision Continue to support and train our adults with the application of universal provision through the appointment of an AHT for SEN and an AHT for Behaviour
  • Finally, we need to branch out more widely within our community and continue to respond to the SEMH needs and aftermath of COVID

What advice would they give to others?

  • Read the book ‘when the adult changes, everything changes’
  • Head Teacher and all members of SLT need to be ‘on the bus’ and to lead from the top and by example.
  • Be in it for the long game! In order to transform the culture of a school, it takes time – expect things to get worse before they get better! You will get pushback at 1st, as relational practice doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Be consistent and persistent, don’t give up!

Keep believing, keep evolving and keep learning! Relational practice DOES work!

Any other comments:

Ofsted January 2023 noted:

  • Pupils are safe and well cared for at this school.
  • There can be some challenging behaviour, but staff deal with it well. Staff also do all they can to stop it happening again.
  • Most parents and pupils agree that the school’s rules are consistent. They like the way that leaders and staff listen to them and attend to any worries they might have. They also value the different awards that recognise and reward pupils’ good work and positive attitudes.
  • Parents show strong loyalty to the school.
  • Staff teach pupils how to behave in different situations and support them to make responsible decisions. They make sure that pupils understand what safe and healthy relationships look like