What was your school like before relational practice?

New-Bridge is an Integrated and all ability College in Loughbrickland, Co Down Northern Ireland. We have 654 pupils of all backgrounds and faiths educated in an inclusive school community.

Our school recognises the value for community led education and operates like an Ecosystem, with many layers of support and intervention being accessed to support the needs of our school community and foster strong relationships As an Integrated 11-18 school, we are proud of the work we do in Northern Ireland in Peace Education as we bring together Catholics, protestants and others to work and learn beside each other and in turn we feel our work is having a significant impact in promoting harmony within our communities and building a better future in NI .

In keeping with that well known African Proverb- we know that it takes a village to raise a child. An entire community of people must provide for and interact positively with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment particularly in post conflict Northern Ireland where historic family traumas can transfer the school population- Central to all this work is relationships and relational learning and this is at the core of our school development Plan.

What triggered the change?

We began our journey as a restorative school back in 2012 and since then have continued to hone and develop a whole school culture where relational practice is at the centre of all that we do. We hold the strong belief in people’s ability to resolve their own problems given time and support to do this. Restorative Practice informs our “relationship keeping” We use restorative practice not to excuse poor behavioural choices but to learn from personal accountability and responsibility for our own actions and teach our students to make better decisions to repair relationships when conflict arises.

Our Pivotal(WTAC) journey began in 2017 and we delivered whole school training in 2018 and now continue this work with WTAC through Paul’s online course which has been a focus of the Behaviour for Learning Strategy Group of teachers in our school. In August 2022- we were delighted to join Paul’s Push and Pull factors whole school training in which served as a wonderful refresh of our core values and the importance of keeping them at the forefront of all that we do. Since then, our strategy group has engaged in Paul’s Online course and key takeaways have been shared at regular intervals with our full teaching and non-teaching staff.

What were the expectations/hopes?

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

We continue to grow and have updated our Positive behaviour Policy in line with our relational approach to teaching and learning. Most recently adding our Restorative Practice Scripts- which script difficult conversations using restorative approaches.

We routinely send Praise Postcards home and positive phone calls home are made on Fridays by form tutors and year coordinators. This has been powerful and much more meaningful to our pupils than monetary rewards of the past.

Wider Opportunities for Pupils foster positive relationships outside the classroom and projects which actively seek to teach empathy and compassion have been powerful and successful in furthering embedding a culture of relational learning. The following groups are excellent of our most effective work in developing our students emotional intelligence and social responsibility.

  1. Our Sixth Form Intergenerational Strategy Group
  2. Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Group links with primary schools – Pupil-led education with younger pupils 3. ‘The Right Key’ Programme
  3. Teacher Tools developed to foster The New-Bridge Way

What was easy, what was hard?

The challenges of embedding a relational culture in our school for us have been avoiding that rush into “grand gestures” all of a sudden. Gains are incremental and the small “hacks” which happen in every classroom every day, build towards the whole school buy in. It’s hard not to want to change everything at once!

Challenges arise when some more experienced members of staff expect punitive measures , we work on the CPD of staff and their understanding that restorative intervention sessions and conversations challenge students in more meaningful ways- we use these are learning experiences.

What’s easy for our school is that our ethos and culture of an inclusive and Integrated College made the WTAC core values sit within our existing culture. Our focus on Restorative Practice also enhanced the training with Paul which became an natural extension of our RP work.

Where are you now?

We are delighted to hold the title of partner school now and want to continue to develop this partnership every day in our daily interactions with our pupils and staff.

Our Restorative work will continue to grow in specific lessons which focus on the literacy and language our pupils use towards each other and members of staff. Our monthly RP focus will extend now to pupils who understand what restorative approaches and language mean in developing strong relationships

What advice would they give to others?

Start with the small gains or wins and bigger developments will follow.

Relational Learning is the basis of every good teacher’s day and daily work- without connection or relationships even the most carefully planned lessons are difficult to deliver effectively.

Relational cultures in school can never happen because teachers have been told to be “relational” The cultural shift in any school happens with an understanding that relational approaches are not used to excuse behaviours but rather to teach explicitly what our “New-Bridge “Way means.

Use your core values to shape all that you do with pupils, parents, staff and then a whole school literacy and language around the core values emerges and reflects all that you do and everyone gets it!

Any other comments:

We are truly delighted to hold the title of Partner School as this recognition of our work really does reinvigorate the entire school community to remember and refocus on what we are about- our students and their learning.