The School Psychologist’s role in using change models to develop restorative approaches in a high school.
I have spent a considerable amount of time working into high schools. The majority of this work has been individual casework, usually in regards to pupils who, for one reason or another, have not been able to settle into the high school. They have been referred to me by the LD Teacher for reasons usually regarding their behaviour, and concerns that they are at risk of exclusion (AROE) due to the disruption they present in class, and the high number of fixed term exclusions (FTE) they have already accumulated. A prevalent theme in these cases has been the pupil’s response to the punitive behaviour policies in place in the school, and the attempts to enforce punishments almost exclusively leads to an escalation verbal aggression, refusal to comply, and the pupil absconding from class, learning support units (LSU), or school altogether.
This presents itself to me as an issue that could be best approached from a systems level, and from looking at how relationships between pupils and staff are developed within the school. My own research into behaviour within my previous Portfolio, led me to conclude that for pupils who present with ongoing difficulties adhering to strict behavioural codes within school, alternative approaches are needed, and punitive approaches tend to exacerbate the situation. Within the school, I have thus far had very little success shifting the focus away from these individual pupils and a view of them as ‘badly behaved’. This extended piece will explore how I might support the school to engage with systems level change processes, such as a whole school adoption of restorative-based approaches. The terms ‘Restorative Approaches’, ‘Restorative Practices’ and ‘Restorative Justice’ have been used interchangeably throughout the literature, but within education are used to mean ‘restoring good relationships where there has been conflict or harm, and developing school ethos, policies and procedures that reduce the possibilities of such conflict and harm occurring’. (McCluskey et al., 2011, p. 105). Throughout this paper, unless directly quoting different terminology, I will refer to Restorative Approaches (RA).
I will begin by looking at conceptualisations of change, before discussing two different frameworks for approaching systems change, and exploring how they may be appropriate within the role of an SP.
Since School Psychology’s reconstruction movement in the 1970s, there have been concerns raised not only about the efficacy of single pupil case work, but also about the ethicality of locating problems within the child (Burden, 1978). To work effectively in schools and with young people, it is important to take into account wider contexts and systems of which that young person is a part, and seek change at those broader system levels (Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000).
Schein (2002) differentiates between natural evolutionary changes, which refers to the ongoing learning and gradual undirected changing that occurs over time, and planned and managed changes, which refers to a manager or consultant ‘controlling the direction of change and learning (Schein, 2002, p. 34). Taking a bioecological approach (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006) it could be argued that my individual interactions with the LD Teacher, teachers, pupils and their families can contribute in a positive way to the natural evolutionary changes. ‘Factors at each level of the system can influence and be influenced by other levels of the system’ (Odom et al., 2004, p. 18). However, it is the second type of change which I am concerned with here, in addressing behaviour policies that are unlikely to be changed via my interactions. Or to look at it differently, perhaps those interactions can impact on those who have a say in policy creation within a school, but systems change is more likely to occur with a planned approach to change. Research suggests that these ‘goal-orientated’ changes can bring about positive social and academic outcomes for pupils (Noell & Gansle, 2009). Facilitating systems-level change in school is complex, due to the needs to accommodate many different stakeholders, and to achieve change within a standards-driven context and often with minimal resources (Newell & Coffee, 2015). Below, I will consider the process of systems change within the context of RA.
Approaches to Generate Change
McCluskey et al. (2011, p. 109) suggest that schools tend to adopt restorative approaches in one of three ways:
- Used only by pastoral and support staff, and only as a response to wrongdoing or conflict
- A whole school strategy, primarily used as a response to wrongdoing or conflict
- Used for whole school ethos building, ‘encompassing preventative and educative aims at all levels’ and also used as response to wrongdoing or conflict.
The third option has shown itself to be the most successful overall (McCluskey et al., 2011). In my own experience, I have perhaps begun to see some of the first option, although only with one member of staff, and only with a handful of individual pupils. The conversations I have had (primarily with LD Teacher) about RA, have been met with pessimism. Not pessimism about the validity of the approaches, but more so about the possibility of such a change within the school. How might I begin to push for change that could lead to the third, most successful, option? I will next explore some of the frameworks for change that I may be able to apply to my context.
As noted above, my imperative to seek systems-level change is driven by a research-based understanding that relationship-based approaches are more likely to lead to positive outcomes that punitive approaches. ‘The efforts of researchers will fail to yield benefits for individuals and society unless the interventions resulting from their efforts are used in practice and service settings’, note Forman et al. (2013, p. 78), who refer to the process of putting programs and practices in place in schools as ‘implementation’. They specify a difference between implementation processes and intervention processes. Intervention processes refer to specific actors (SPs, LD Teachers, teachers) using the evidence-based approaches in their practice. For my high school, an example of this could be the LD Teacher having a restorative conversation with a pupil following an incident, or a member of support staff meeting a target pupil as he arrives in school, to provide a friendly welcome. Implementation processes refer to actions that build support for certain approaches throughout school, and could consist of presentations at staff meetings, providing training for staff, or ensuring that essential protocols and resources are provided for staff. ‘School psychology research and practice has typically focused on intervention…than implementation…Both are essential’ (Forman et al., 2013, p. 79).
Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, Friedman, and Wallace (2005) have identified six stages of implementation, which I will list below, alongside an exploration of what role the SP could play at each stage, if any. They warn that ‘implementation is a process, not an event. Implementation will not happen all at once or proceed smoothly, at least not at first’ (Fixsen et al., 2005, p. 15).
|Stage of Implementation||Proposed Role of SP|
|Exploration and Adoption – ‘to assess the potential match between community needs, evidence-based practice and program needs, and community resources and to make a decision to proceed (or not)’ (Fixsen et al., 2005, p. 15).||Central to the role of the SP is one of consultation, a process involving exploration, assessment and review (Wagner, 2008). As in my context discussed above, this can involve identifying similarities across individual cases, and communicating to key members of staff that there may be larger, systemic needs to be met. This can be an ideal time for suggesting research-based ideas for change, noting that ‘although collaborative-directive consultants might be highly prescriptive with consultees whenever they deemed that to be appropriate, they would simultaneously be receptive to consultee input throughout the entire consultation process’ (Gutkin, 1999, p. 182).|
|Program Installation – ‘Structural supports for the innovation such as funding, staff development, new staff, new staff responsibilities, space, equipment, supplies, new policies, new procedures are put in place’ (Forman & Selman, 2011, p. 634)||SPs can play a key role here, particularly in staff development through training workshops and supporting the development of new policies and procedures. Sheridan and Gutkin (2000, p. 487) suggest that without a policy-centred approach, school psychologists ‘are powerless to create the changes that our field has been struggling to achieve for so many decades’.|
|Initial Implementation – ‘Implementers deal with fear of change, inertia, investment in the status quo, and the difficulty of doing something new’ (Forman & Selman, 2011, p. 634)||At this stage, it is likely that the SP can play a consultative role in supporting school staff and senior management with issues relating to the implementation of the program. Fixsen et al. (2005) notes that availability of consultation leads to significantly greater implementation. For a deeper involvement that is potentially more useful to the school, the SP could collaborate with staff using an action research approach. Kane et al. (2009) employed such an approach to evaluate the process through which a number of Scottish schools were implementing restorative practices as part of a three year pilot project. The approach was chosen as a means to ‘provide ongoing evaluative feedback to schools…to have a formative impact’ (Kane et al., 2009, p. 236). Their data collection methods involved nothing that an SP would not be qualified and well-positioned to perform: interviews with school staff and pupils, use of surveys, documentary analysis, and participation in meetings.|
|Full Operation – ‘At this point, the implemented program becomes fully operational with full staffing complements, full client loads, and all of the realities of “doing business” impinging on the newly implemented evidence-based program’ (Fixsen et al., 2005, p. 16).||For the rest of the stages, an SP could continue to provide consultation and ongoing support with evaluation, as well as training for new staff. Ongoing consultation and training are factors thought to improve teacher self-efficacy (Gotshall & Stefanou, 2011; Leyser, Zeiger, & Romi, 2011) which is likely to be key for teachers developing and maintaining confidence and fidelity to new approaches. ‘Formal staff development was treated as a high priority and had the effect of providing high levels of motivation and enthusiasm’ (Kane et al., 2009, p. 246)|
|Innovation – Once the new approaches are in place, staff may change elements of the approach to suit their unique contexts. These can be a drift away from core elements, or can be seen as innovation to improve the approaches.|
|Sustainability – ‘The goal during this stage is the long-term survival and continued effectiveness of the implementation site in the context of a changing world’ (Fixsen et al., 2005, p. 17)|
Although a stage model such as this provides an appropriate template in which to approach a large scale project such as implementing restorative approaches, I think it is necessary at this point to zoom in a little and pay closer attention to the initial stage. ‘By far the most difficult and important stage is…the creation of a motivation to change’ (Schein, 2002, p. 36). Much of the literature of implementation is concerned with approaches and interventions such as mental health programs. What tends to be mentioned less is the context in which the change involves removing policies and practices currently in place, and replacing them with something else. The stage model above seems to underplay the importance culture and emotion in approaching change. Schools are complex systems which will have well established cultures and patterns of behaviour. Even if from my perspective a part of the system is not working, the system overall is likely to have achieved a sense of equilibrium which will make the school ‘highly resistant to outside intervention’ (Noell & Gansle, 2009, p. 80). I will explore the concept of resistance to change in the next section.
Resistance to Change
In informal conversations with school staff, most have been amenable to the idea of promoting relationships with pupils, but appear much less positive about a move away from punitive approaches currently in place, usually citing concerns that “we can’t just let badly-behaved pupils get away with it”. As my own experiences can attest to, school staff can find it difficult to adopt restorative approaches if it means moving away from traditional disciplinary methods (McCluskey et al., 2011; McCluskey et al., 2008). Similar observations are made in restorative approaches literature, with even schools that have successfully implemented RA still retaining the option to punish and exclude pupils, and staff believing ‘People who cause harm should be punished’ (McCluskey et al., 2011, p. 112). Forman and Selman (2011) suggest culture and climate are two dimensions of a school context which impact on how a school functions. Embedded beliefs about controlling pupil behaviour through punitive responses may be part of a school’s culture, which is defined as ‘shared norms, patterns of behaviour, behavioural expectations, and basic assumptions and beliefs that are held by the organisation’s members’ (Forman & Selman, 2011, p. 631). McCluskey et al. (2011, p. 112) conclude that ‘the ‘default setting’ in school…is still pervasive and powerful, and that punishment is still an essential symbol of power and teacher ‘strength’’. Harber and Sakade (2009, p. 173) suggest that, historically, mass education has been dominated by an approach which aims to produce conformist, docile citizens and workers and as such ‘the original purpose of control and compliance is deeply embedded in schooling and is highly resistant to change as a result’. In this context, a move to restorative approaches is not just the adoption of a new program or intervention, as implementation literature contends itself with, but rather it may be perceived as threatening to the status quo, ‘as it relies on a relationship-based, dialogic framework that contrasts with the more common hierarchical, power-based structure’ (Vaandering, 2014, p. 64). It is apparent that adopting an RA approach is likely to face great resistance. However, working outside and throughout the different systems within and around a school can place SPs at a unique position when it comes to bringing about change (Newell & Coffee, 2015). When considering the resistance to such changes, it is important that I consider careful the ethics of promoting change with a system that may resist it, and whether or not I have the right to do so.
The Ethical Case for Promoting Change
As noted by Burnes (2009, p. 361), ‘for behaviour change to be successful, those concerned have to be able to adopt the changes of their own volition’. I notice as I write and reflect that there is a sense of frustration that I am unable to get the school to adopt changes that I want them to. Is there an inherent contradiction in my adoption of controlling language and wish for compliance, even as I want schools to move away from systems based on control and compliance? Rather than displaying authoritarianism, a more comfortable role for an SP could be to provide leadership. Vroom and Jago (2007, p. 18) define leadership as ‘a process of motivating people to work together collaboratively to accomplish great things’, a definition seen as relevant to the role of a school psychologist (Forman & Selman, 2011). Whilst a collaborative process is indeed a worthy goal, it does not take away from the fact that there is an over-arching change that I wish to implant into the school. Ethical concerns remain over who chooses the change, and why, and who will benefit: ‘systems change also requires choosing behaviour change for others that may not be desirable to them and/or may not be in their best interest’ (Noell & Gansle, 2009, p. 79).
On the other hand, to not advocate for change could be understood as accepting and endorsing the status quo (Prilleltensky, 1989), which, as noted above, has historical investments in education as a system of control and compliance. Harber and Sakade (2009, p. 172) suggest that schools continue to reproduce ‘oppressive and unequal socio-economic and political relationships’. In this context, and with the knowledge that the pupils with whom I have been asked to work with are AROE, the traditional behaviour policies in place within the school could be seen as discriminatory, particularly given that the pupils are also experiencing difficulties with the academic workload in class. ‘It is our ethical responsibility to become involved in programs aimed at problems that are broader than assessing and diagnosing what is wrong with a child’ (Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000, p. 488). Coupled with the research evidence that RA can lead to improved relationships within school, with a reduction in playground incidents, discipline referrals and exclusionary practices (McCluskey et al., 2008), provides me with enough justification that it is in keeping with my role as an SP and my personal values to promote such changes within a school. Indeed, large-scale systemic changes in education often have a foundation in assertions regarding equity (Noell & Gansle, 2009). I will next explore how to proceed with change creation in a way that is compatible with my values of collaboration and ethical awareness.
Burnes (2009) argues that a participative and ethical approach to change can be found in the work of Kurt Lewin. In an interesting parallel with my own context for seeking change, Lewin’s views on the efficacy of democratic participation in decision-making was emboldened by his research findings that ‘children operating under a democratic atmosphere, one where they could make their own decisions, were more productive, quarrelled less, and were friendlier to each other than those operating under an autocratic one’ (Burnes, 2009, p. 366).
Lewin’s 3 Step Model
Lewin’s (1947) model for change consists of 3 stages. Meyers, Meyers, Graybill, Proctor, and Huddleston (2012) note that in reality organisational changes are recursive and complex, and perhaps not best suited to a linear, staged model, although they acknowledge that an hierarchical framework can be a helpful organisational tool. This is the context I would approach the 3 Step Model, as a planning tool (Schein, 2002), noting that in practice it is likely to be a more recursive process.
Above, I reflected on the resistance to change as being partly due to equilibrium currently in place with a system. Lewin argues that the first step for change is to purposefully challenge that equilibrium, ‘unfreezing’ it, which he recognised as likely to be a difficult and emotive procedure: ‘To break open the shell of complacency and self-righteousness it is sometimes necessary to bring about deliberately an emotional stir-up’ (Lewin, 1947, p. 35). Although from my perspective, I am concerned with one change project for my school, I should be mindful that this might be one of many reforms that they have been presented with in recent years, during which teachers have increasingly been placed under external constraints and suffered a loss of autonomy and identity (Ball, 2003; Day, 2002). Staff may be prone to ‘change fatigue’ and be sceptical towards large-scale reforms (Lingard, Mills, & Hayes, 2000). Starting from a focus on the current approaches in place, and a reflection of what is working and what isn’t could start to elicit awareness of current issues, such as high levels of exclusion. This is also the starting point for making this a process in which staff are involved to discuss things from their own perspectives. ‘If interventions are to be implemented successfully and on a sustained basis, educators must learn to see the problem for themselves and think through intervention options’ (Meyers et al., 2012, p. 111). Blood and Thorsborne (2006) note that ‘early adopters’ can be particularly useful in encouraging schools to adopt RA. These are those members of staff who are keen to try new approaches, presuming that the approach makes sense to them, and they can be seen as role models in their school and help to bring others on board.
Schein (2002) argues that disconfirming the status quo during unfreezing could induce guilt in regards to a recognition of shortcomings of current practice, and anxiety about being able to meet standards (Burnes, 2004). He endorses the importance of providing ‘psychological safety’ to avoid individuals or groups feeling a need to defend themselves through denial, repression, or projection. This safety is provided by change agents taking an open, inquiring role, and giving participants freedom in determining how they wish to learn new approaches (Schein, 2002). SPs are well positioned to provide emotional support for teachers, as well as promoting self-efficacy and hopefulness (Athanasiou, Geil, Hazel, & Copeland, 2002; Gibbs & Miller, 2014; Salter-Jones, 2012).
Once the system has been unfrozen, the next stage is to move it to somewhere different (figuratively speaking), and involves the learning of new approaches, understandings, and ways of practicing. The view here is that changing involves learning something new that cannot be unlearned. Lewin’s use of the term ‘equilibrium’ fits with Piaget’s (1961) use of the term. When a person is placed into a state of disequilibrium when their understanding does not fit with the new information they have acquired, and as such, their understanding will need to be altered (Piaget, 1961; Scaife, 2009). Prioritising staff development has been shown to have a positive impact on motivation and enthusiasm when adopting RA (Kane et al., 2009).
This is likely to be both an emotive and an academic process for staff, and one in which the important element of participation will be key (Meyers et al., 2012). It was for this stage of the change process that Lewin developed Action Research (Burnes, 2004), an approach which empowers school staff to study their own environments and methods ‘in order to better understand them and to improve their quality or effectiveness’ (Mertler, 2016, p. 4). Simpson (2004, p. 74), a Learning Support Coordinator working in a high school in the North of England, reflected on her experience of her school staff body’s use of Action Research to focus on response to pupil behaviour that challenges:
‘As a result of the research, we have as a team developed new approaches, systems, practices and an evaluation framework that we would argue provide a more co-ordinated, collaborative approach but which we see as the beginning of and only a part of an evolving process’.
As mentioned above, Action Research has been used in the context of implementing RA, and is a process an SP could support. With participation and involvement, school staff can have autonomy, which is likely to promote their motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). However, this is there may be a tension between my own hopes for a change towards a prescribed approach to practice, and the self-directed, participatory elements of Action Research.
‘[Action Research] is potentially powerful both as a technical instrument for introducing, monitoring and evaluating change involving small or large institutions and groups of people, and as a vehicle for social and cultural transformation in which principles, practices and values are examined, and discussion, negotiation and reflection go on all the time’ (Armstrong & Moore, 2004, p. 4).
Can it be both? Or can it be a compromise between the two uses? It is with tensions such as this that the importance of collaborative work is underlined. Often a practitioner-researcher will have vested interests, such as I do in this context, which have come from my own placement and research experiences. In negotiating the tension, an SP can position themselves to hold that these beliefs are contingent, provisional and formed outside of the lived experiences of the school staff with whom they hope to collaborate, and their input should ‘place emphasis on consultation with insiders to inform and check the elaboration of…theoretical discourses’ (Armstrong & Moore, 2004, p. 9). Supporting a school in this context, while keeping their role in mind as someone who may be seen as having expertise and perceived as having a role in giving advice (Ashton & Roberts, 2006), an SP might have to move between positions of being directive and non-directive, although being careful not to be coercive (Gutkin, 1999). This might entail offering advice and suggestions from my own knowledge and experiences, but remaining flexible and respectful of other participants right to reject such suggestions. This change process involves exploration, and trial-and-error learning (Schein, 2002), so my faith in relationship-focused practices allows me to be hopeful that by trialling such approaches would show success, thereby working to reduce the potential tension between myself and school staff (or school staff and other school staff). In his review of the distinctive contribution of the SP, Cameron (2006, p. 298) discusses the ‘importance of giving parents, teachers, care staff and other direct contact personnel, not only the skills but also conferring on them the status/beliefs to be able to intervene positively on behalf of their children’.
As Burnes (2004, p. 986) notes, ‘’refreezing often requires changes to organisational culture, norms, policies and practice’. A key part of this is likely to be enthusiastic buy-in from leadership figures (Gregory, Henry, & Schoeny, 2007) Having structures in place whereby the majority of staff development is delivered by other members of staff has been shown as ‘effective in signalling clear leadership for the Restorative Practices initiative from inside the school’ (Kane et al., 2009, p. 246). Changes are also more likely to be sustained if the change process has involved the whole system, and ongoing on-site training and input (Schein, 2002). It is at this stage where there is an advantage of an SP being attached to a school, in that they can have an ongoing presence of consultation and evaluation, as well as support in writing policies. Noell and Gansle (2009) highlight four factors relevant to maintaining long term systemic change:
- Assessment of implementation by external person.
- Discussing data with implementer (i.e. teacher).
- Engaging in problem-solving actions with implementation is poor.
- Deciding on consequences or rewards for implementation standards.
The first three are clearly roles that could be fulfilled by the school’s SP. The fourth appears to be written from a behaviourist perspective. I suggest that the experiences of Action Research would provide reward and motivation enough for staff. Sorsby (2004, p. 61) notes experience of Action Research was one that enabled ‘new relationships and alliances’, which are likely to improve chances of successful long term reform (Gregory et al., 2007).
Consideration should also be given to exactly what we want to ‘refreeze’, and whether there is a tension there with the understanding of Action Research as an ongoing process (Charles, 2004; Simpson, 2004). RA may be better defined by underlying principles and philosophy, rather than specific practices (Harold, 2017; McCluskey et al., 2011). I believe that there is a shared value system of inquiry, respect and reflection that run throughout RA and Action Research, and if it is these qualities that are frozen then that may be just as important as the policies and guidelines. As noted before this exploration of Lewin’ s (1947) 3 Step Model, the process is likely to be recursive, and Schein (2002) describes real life change as a perceptual process.
In this extended piece, I have explored my wish to explore systems change within a high school, in the hope of facilitating a move towards restorative approaches. I looked at the shift from individual to system-level work in the field of School Psychology, before exploring two frameworks for overseeing change. Exploring Fixsen et al.’s (2005) staged approach to implementing change provided a broad overlook to different stages to change, much of which seemed relevant for an SP. Exploring Lewin’s (1947) 3 Step Model allowed me to pay closer attention to the experiences and emotions of school staff involved. On reflection, there were many similarities to the two approaches, and I believe they could be complementary to each other.
Following this exploration, it is clear that system change processes are complex, and there may be no clear demarcation between different stages, or a clear moment when change is complete, despite the ideas of refreezing. Rather than seeing change as a before/after phenomena, according to the changes I wish to see from my position, it may be helpful to view it as an ongoing journey for a school, in which I will be aiming to inspire and educate as to why I believe RA is an appropriate direction for change. Kane et al. (2009) have characterized restorative principles as being on a continuum and this may be a more useful approach when I have considering change, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Nonetheless, I believe the models I have explored here have proven to be relevant to the role and abilities of an SP, and I believe they can be useful to my practice in supporting change.