Success Story 1: From Foes to Friends
Peter was having trouble adapting to his new school. He felt ostracized and consistently complained that he was the target of his classmates who would systematically gang up to ostracize and tease him. Sometimes, an innocent joke would escalate to the point where lessons were disrupted because of unruly conduct. There were some instances the disruption came close to violence. Peter’s parents were affected as he was transferred to this school because of similar issues he faced in his previous school.
The school counsellor after several sessions with Peter decided to refer him to LCCS to facilitate a restorative circle. Restorative circle is a process where it brings everyone affected in a conflict for a conversation to help resolve the issues. This would include Peter, the group of classmates that consistently tease him, his other classmates, counsellor and form teachers who were frustrated because lessons were disrupted.
At the restorative circle, Peter and his classmates learned about how their actions were affecting each other. His classmates learned that their unrestrained teasing of Peter had affected him mentally and emotionally to the point that he was considering dropping out of school. Peter was surprised that his classmates were more than ready to apologize and to make things right with him. But a bigger surprise awaited him. Some close friends of Peter at the restorative circle meeting shared that they were frustrated about the lessons being disrupted. More importantly, they gave Peter a frank and honest feedback that Peter had to shoulder some responsibilities for being the target of their classmates’ teasing and taunting. The group shared that they felt that Peter was overreacting to jokes and took certain things too seriously. They mentioned that he needed to be less sensitive and more trusting and accepting of the classmates. The students proceeded to describe the kind of classroom environment that they wanted and discussed a purposeful action plan to ensure that the classroom would be conducive for teaching and learning.
It was heartening that after the circle, the students began to mingle together as an attempt to forge friendships. The counsellor reported several weeks later, that Peter had calmed down and the classroom environment has improved. Peter shared that he felt supported in the restorative circle process. With the help of his friends, he is learning to be more confident in interacting with other classmates and to be less sensitive in reacting to their jokes.
Peter’s experience of being bullied happens to many teenagers and causes mental anguish and depression for those targeted. Some developed fear and refusal to go to school. Besides counseling, they need to be further supported such that their anguished voice may be heard by the perpetrators and the perpetrators can hear of the harm that they have done to the victim. The restorative circle was found to have provided such as avenue. In Peter’s case, through the restorative circle, the perpetrators were made aware of the impact of their teasing and they came to the realization that their bullying was not helpful to the class.
Success Story 2: Emerging from the Shell
Life had been different for Annie since her parents got a divorce 2 years ago. Annie, 9, was having a rough time at home and in school. At home, she felt torn between her parents who lived in separate houses and had separate lives. She often wondered if she was loving one parent ‘too much’ and felt that she couldn’t be honest to either parent about how she felt. There were instances when she lied about her feelings towards her mother just to please her father. She felt alone and abandoned. Often, Annie was confused. She did not understand why her parents broke up and thought that the divorce was her fault. She could not understand her emotions and would get hysterical when she got too upset.
In school, Annie found it difficult to concentrate in class. She felt tired all the time and started interacting lesser with her friends. She grew self-conscious about having divorced parents; and often wondered if her friends would treat her different if they knew of her parents. She fell sick often and her results slipped significantly over the past 2 years as she kept missing school. Despite being in Primary 3, Annie was not able to understand basics like multiplication and times table. She was at-risk of repeating the year because of her poor academic performance. Teachers were puzzled at her lack of academic motivation and pre-occupied mind despite having a team of teachers coaching her.
The school counsellor referred Annie to LCCS. The caseworker assigned to the case carried out several individual and group sessions with Annie. She used various methods of helping Annie understand and verbalize her emotions; and set up a support system between herself and her classmates. In one such session, Annie had verbalized her desire to speak to both her parents. She wanted a safe platform where she could be honest about her feelings, and wanted to share about how the divorce had affected her. The caseworker thus arranged for a restorative circle. This would include Annie, her parents, and other family members who were also affected by the divorce.
At the restorative circle, both Annie and her parents learnt about how the divorce was affecting them. Annie’s parents learnt of the internal struggles that had overwhelmed Annie for the past 2 years. Annie shared her guilty feelings and her desire to spend time equally with both parents. The safe environment allowed Annie to be honest about her challenges in school – something she had never shared for fear of disappointing her parents. Annie was surprised to learn that was not the cause of the divorce – much to her relief. Annie’s parents were open in sharing how life was different for them and affirmed Annie for her perseverance and positive changes in school thus far.
The restorative circle gave Annie and her parents the opportunity to share their feelings and thoughts in a safe environment. Annie felt more relaxed after the circle process and her parents made changes to their lifestyle to spend more time with Annie. Subsequent restorative circles were held within the family whenever conflict arose and has become part of the family’s process of building relationship together.
Success Story 3: For the Better
The journey of class 2A from a Secondary School started with much apprehension from both the counsellors and teachers. The class has been noted for its disruptive behaviours and the internal bullying going on. It was certainly not an easy class for the teachers to manage, with classroom issues occurring on a frequent basis.
We first started doing intervention work on the class in August 2012 and warmed up slowly to the class. We gave our best in engaging the class, coming up with experiential activities that would get the class involved and to bring across values for learning. It was met with mixed success. There were days when the class was on-board with us and we had an enjoyable time together. There were days when the class was totally out of control and we struggled to work with them. However, something that we were more concerned about was when the teachers feedbacked to us that they had been misbehaving in the other classes and were getting out of hand. Teachers were openly challenged in class and they were upset by the class’ behaviour.
Therefore, we decided that the students should get to hear from the teachers on the impact of their actions. We were hopeful that through the restorative class circle, they would be able to see things from the teachers’ point of view and relationships between the teachers and students could be rebuilt. We prepared the teachers beforehand on what we were going to do and obtained their agreement.
We prepared a photo of a class which displays their happiest moment together as a class with their teachers and used it as talking piece. It was hoped that it would evoke pleasant memories that would help the students to open up during circle process
During the restorative circle, the class shared on how they think their class situation has been and whether they feel united as a class. Some students were honest and shared that they felt the class has been really disruptive and not conducive. Some students did not want to be accountable for their actions and thought that things were fine. During the teachers’ turn, they shared about how they were so exhausted after conducting every lesson in class and even went into how it affected their private lives. The class was silent as the teachers shared openly and appeared to be ashamed of their behaviour.
Subsequently, the teachers feedbacked that the class had improved in their classroom behaviour and were no longer as disruptive as before. One of the teachers later revealed to us that she might have left the teaching profession if not for the class circle where the classroom issues were addressed. ALthough our engagement with the class ended, we do hope that the class would continue to thrive on the good teacher-student relationship.
Success Story 4: Restorative Circle- Turning Point for Relationships
We worked with a group of teenage boys to engage them during the school holidays. These youths displayed behavioural issues and required time and effort to engage and connect with. The first half of the programme allowed the youths to learn a new sport (Tchoukball), while the second half of the programme allowed the youths to learn values through experiential activities. During sports, the boys were generally well-behaved because they truly enjoyed playing sports with each other. However, during the second half of the programme, the youths became restless and it was not easy to manage them.
The situation became worse for one of the facilitators on a personal level. Some of the boys her by saying obscene things aloud and ignored her instructions during the session. They openly made fun of her because of her accent, being a foreigner, and were rude and defiant towards her. The disastrous climax was reached when, during an activity, the boys suddenly ran out of the classroom screaming. One student swung a wooden broomstick and knocked down a chair right next to her. Startled and disturbed, she ran away from him.
For the next session, all of the boys sat in a circle and another facilitator told the boys that they needed to talk about what happened during the last session. The affected facilitator shared that she was aware that the boys did not like her and had laughed at the way she spoke. She continued to recount to them what had happened during the last session and how she continued to feel nervous and disturbed when she went back to the office. She also shared that she had other job responsibilities, and did not have the energy to do other things.
The boys were asked to share their thoughts and responses. When it was their turn to speak, they shared that they meant no harm and didn’t realise it had affected her so badly; one student said that she looked too serious and had never joked with them. At the closing of the circle, many boys came forward and shook her hand and apologised. It was hard to tell what they made of the circle process then.
By the next session, there were positive changes seen in the youths’ behaviour. Some of the boys helped to set up the logistics for the group work, and volunteered to help put things together at the end. A few boys took the initiative to sit with the affected facilitator during meal time and showed interest in her overseas experience as a foreigner. It seemed as though they had become a different person overnight.
Success Story 5: Hearing Everyone’s Voices
John was a secondary 3 normal technical student who was diagnosed with mild autism when he was in primary school. One day, before his PE lesson, John went to change into his PE attire. A few of his classmates were in the toilet with him. Ahmad the class chief-indian, tripped and pushed John into one of the cubicles. He pulled down his pants and turned on the showers on him. All his classmates laughed at him. John reported the incident to his form teacher, Mr Tan. Mr Tan called John’s parents and informed his parents of the incident. After the incident, John was afraid to attend school on his own. His sister and brother had to pick him up to and from school. John’s parents were disappointed and angered by the incident. They wanted to make a police report. The school counsellor sought for our help.
A Restorative Practice Conference Circle, adopting the ‘no-blame approach’ was conducted in John’s school, involving John’s parents, sister, teachers, Ahmad and his mother. Three of John’s classmates were also invited to be supporting participants for both Ahmad and John.
The circle was facilitated by two counsellors from LCCS. Participants were prepared and consent was received prior to the conference. Restorative practice questions were used during the session. As John had special needs, the co-facilitator simplified and rephrased questions to help him understand them better. More time and patience was needed to garner responses for all the questions. John successfully expressed his thoughts and responded to all of the questions.
During the circle, Ahmad took responsibility for his actions and apologized to John and his family. He shared that he gained insight into how his actions has affected various people especially John, during the circle conference. John’s parents gained greater awareness of what transpired in the incident and were glad that they were given the opportunity to voice out their concerns. At the end of the circle, John shared that he felt safer to attend school after hearing Ahmad’s apology. Ahmad promised John’s father that he would take care of John in school henceforth and ensure he is not bullied again.