The Echidna, The Mum and The Big Surprise

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
07/03/2022

This Echidna Story comes from a training I ran in Alice Springs some years ago. It is a powerful example of what matters ‘restorative speaking’ - Terry O'Connell


I recently attended the restorative practice training as part of my role as a manager involved with young offenders/youth at risk of offending and their families. My intention was to build skills and facilitate good outcomes in service delivery however the training touched my personal life in ways I was not prepared for.

I separated from my partner six years ago and we have two children (6) and (10). Over the six years I have tried to talk to my daughter in particular about how the separation and how the limited contact between her and her father has impacted on her. Every time I found the ‘right’ time to talk about her father and disappointment, rejection, sadness etc she would close up – just like the sphere (echidna) as used in Terry’s training. When I first saw this tool my immediate thought was ‘that is my daughter’! Withdrawn and avoidant and while I knew this was her coping strategy with pain my concern has been how holding onto this will impact on her in the years to come. I have over the years considered counselling for her, sandplay therapy and other forms of healing but just hoped that we would be able to talk about this issue somehow? It’s just the somehow answer for me couldn’t be found .... I was still on the search.

After Day 2 of the training I picked the kids up from school and the sphere was in the car with me. The kids saw it and asked if I had bought them a new toy? I told them I needed to tell them a story about the sphere and the echidna (which I did) and talked about how when the sphere is closed its like us protecting ourselves from painful emotions and when it is open it is when we are able to open up talk and feel better. To my surprise the kids grabbed the sphere and identified with it right away explaining visually how they feel when closed and open and what makes them feel that way. They also went on to ask questions of me like what makes you happy? What makes you sad? And ‘can we use this everyday when we get home from school to talk about our day’? I said ‘sure’ so that’s when it started and I was thinking:

  • Is this for real?
  • How did they get this so quickly????

My daughter (10) opened the sphere and explained her day saying how she had a happy day. My son (6) closed the sphere when talking about recess and lunch when he didn’t have anyone to play with and how he felt sad. There was a short conversation between daughter and son about other ways to make new friends which you could see made sense to my son eg; asking others to play with him even if they said ‘no’ that it isn’t such a big deal....(he tried this out the next day and guess what? It worked! He made some new friends)

The greatest surprise was when it was my turn I realised I needed to talk about my day and my feelings! That was a challenge in being vulnerable and honest... I held the sphere and talked about my day and then explained with the sphere closed that I was sad because when I first saw this tool I thought about my daughter. She asked why? And I said ‘because this is what happens to you when I try to talk to you about your dad’.....and ‘I feel sad that as a mummy that the sphere is closed and that I wanted a relationship between mother and daughter where the sphere is open’. The tears started flowing (from me) and I could see in both my children’s faces that they were shocked that I felt like this. I went on to say ‘I have tried poking and prodding to help you open up but it hasn’t worked and I don’t know how to help you’.....I could see the penny drop and my daughter seemed taken a bit aback with my honesty. This lead to a whole new conversation between us, I asked the past, present and future type of questions and for the first time in years my daughter (and my son who was in tears) began a conversation about what they remembered and the hurt.....

I tried to explain the separation between myself and their father and my son (6) grabbed the sphere in tears and said ‘you and dad could open up and everything would be good’ that too challenged me in trying to explain the difficulties of why adults separate. After about 15 minutes we stopped talking about this but agreed this was a just a start and feeling the pain of this was ok. My daughter said that she was now ‘half open’ on this issue and we agreed to keep using the sphere to talk more about this issue in the future.

Later that evening my daughter came and gave me hug (very unlike her prickly pear!) and said ‘I feel better now’ and I hugged her and thanked her for sharing with me.

I felt such a sense of relief that there was a better understanding between us and that a new conversation has started that we can build on. I am also very thankful to Terry who has proven to me without a doubt (and within a short time!) that these tools work not only in our work lives but can help heal and repair relationships in our personal lives.

Thank you Terry for the three days of fabulous and personally insightful training. The tools you provided from the sphere, compass of shame tool (which my daughter also has since identified with and worked out in 2 minutes where she sits on this when she is an echidna), the types of questions and our role as facilitators involved in a process not an outcome will be invaluable to me in my everyday practice and in the years to come with my relationships.

An update on my activities

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
10/04/2021

After many decades of working as a school psychologist in schools across Western Australia, I have said goodbye, or “Enough is enough!” It was time to pass the baton on to the younger and perhaps more enthusiastic psychologists.

This leaves me time for my restorative work and for other interests. My restorative work includes visiting schools that have contacted me to do training with their staff.  This year I have been to 6 different schools, government and non-government, and also run a day’s workshop for the State Schools Teachers Union. I have had the pleasure of travelling all the way to Halls Creek in the Kimberley to spend 2 days at the school, working with staff, students, and community members.

This year I have also just run my own workshop. I promote the day through contacts from my data base, and other youth organisations that I feel would benefit from the training. I had 23 people at my workshop in March, which I call “Restorative Practice—The Essential Skills”.
It is largely a skills based workshop, covering —self reflection, building relationships, using affective statements, having restorative conversations, and running restorative conferences. I also talk about the historical context, and shame theory. If there is time, there is discussion about whole school culture. I run these introductory workshops about 3 times each year. My plan this year is to develop a Train the Trainer module, as well as more training in Changing Whole School/Organisation Culture from punitive to positive.

I also plan to reach out to other organisations that work with young people, including youth justice. My work has been largely school based, and I have been working in isolation. I am keen to collaborate with others in the field. In this light, I have the opportunity to meet with Margaret Thorsborne in June, when she is visiting W.A. We will be meeting with other interested colleagues, to discuss setting up a branch of R.P.I. in W.A.

Thank you

Gabrielle Lawlor
www.restorativewa.com

Better outcomes in dealing with Workplace Conflict

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
25/03/2021

I first was introduced to the concept of conferencing in workplaces in 1999 but it was in 2001 when I was invited to participate in one. Eighteen months after a workplace restructure, we were still living with conflict amongst a senior group of executives and tension existed with their staff. A series of intake interviews with all direct and subordinate staff was crucial in preparing us for the group conference. It was essential to get the right people in the room, not just those impacted directly by the conflict but those who made the decision about the restructure to understand their role in the situation.

I recall a few of us participating in several conferences as some of the issues existed in both the workplace and community settings. I saw the powerful AHA moments in these, where participants in the room, seemingly bystanders to those in the conflict were able to contribute and allowed for a better understanding of the impact the conflict was having on the team and interpersonal relationships and how the strategic decisions made remotely, played a significant role. Ultimately those decisions set the group up to fail.

It was refreshing to see decision makers take responsibility. The process validated people’s feelings and allowed the group to inform what needed to be changed resulting in less tension, a progressive plan and more consultation moving forward.

The reality is It can be difficult to confront conflict and the process may make you feel emotionally vulnerable to begin with, however, I have been using workplace conferencing as part of my practice for over a decade now and the feedback I receive is extremely positive. Best practice in this space is to create no further harm.

Restorative justice in peacemaking, business regulation, and crime

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
26/09/2020

John Braithwaite works on restorative justice in peacemaking.

This includes practical work on peace negotiations and reconciliation after armed conflict. And it includes research: http://johnbraithwaite.com/peacebuilding/

John also works on restorative justice in business regulation (for example, currently with Miranda Forsyth and others on restorative environmental justice at EPA Victoria) and on crime. You can read free downloads  of this work at http://johnbraithwaite.com/restorative-justice-3/ .

Incorporation of restorative practice into aged care delivery

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
26/09/2020

In 2009 I commenced working for a community owned aged care facility. Residents had no choice as to how they lived their daily lives and were required to fit into strict routines dictated by staff practices and timetabled duty lists.

I quickly observed and envisioned a home that placed value on the emotional and spiritual well-being of residents. Some examples of pre restorative facility included, set schedules for personal care, specific mealtimes and the absence of ageing in place.

After recognising the future benefits of rethinking and redesigning the delivery of care, with a personal and individual focus, in 2014 I was introduced to Terry O’Connell and restorative practise. It soon became apparent there was now a way to make sense of what I was trying to achieve. The incorporation of restorative practice into the day to day way care was delivered to residents and saw more and more conversations being enjoyed. The right conversations being initiated with intent promoted a greater understanding of each other and enhanced relationships.

Terry O’Connell continued to educate staff in restorative practice and offered direction and motivation. Staff were left with the question “What Matters”. This question enabled the construction of a framework of documents that were used by all departments to ensure and assist with all areas of care delivery collectively to demonstrate the benefits of restorative practice.

What attracted me to Restorative Practice?

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
09/10/2020

Terry O’Connell first introduced me to Restorative Justice in 1989.  It immediately resonated with me because it reaffirmed everything I knew was effective in my role as a Detective working with victims, witnesses and offenders.

It reaffirmed the importance of people being able to tell their story, more than just what happened but how it impacted on them.  I had learned from some wonderful mentors the importance of being able to relate to people and treating everyone, including offenders with respect and fairness.

Later I worked with Terry again looking at how we could use Restorative Justice as part of a major reform program in the NSW Police.

We then worked with colleagues at the Family Support Service applying it in our work with vulnerable families and in working with victims and perpetrators of domestic and family violence. There we explored the theoretical underpinnings that explain why it works and how it can be made explicit.  It became more than a process used when something goes wrong, it is now what we do all the time so that we can better manage the inevitable tensions and conflict of life.

Restorative Practice is about the centrality of relationships in our lives, it’s about how we work everyday to maintain, strengthen and repair the important relationships that scaffold our wellbeing and enable us to thrive.

Over the last twenty years Restorative Practice has underpinned my work with victims of clerical sexual abuse, sexual assault, families, couples, communities, workplaces, schools, police and other law enforcement agencies.

Transformative community owned and directed actions

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
15/10/2020

Sarah arrived at restorative practices through her own experiences of interpersonal violence and wanting a way of responding that attends to the healing of multiple dimensions of harm and hurt within and between individuals and in the social fabric that connects us.

Sarah has worked as a counsellor with people who have experienced interpersonal violence and delivers training in responding to complex trauma in ways that restore an individual's safety and agency.

Sarah currently works as a Men’s Behaviour Change practitioner with men who use domestic and family violence. In doing this work she is directed by the voices of affected family members and brings restorative principles to collaborations with families to achieve safety and healing.

Sarah has a particular interest in transformative community owned and directed actions that respond conjointly to interpersonal harm and underpinning contexts of institutional, structural and systemic violence, injustice and harm. Sarah aspires to embody restorative principles in her ways of being with self and with others.

My journey in the restorative justice world

Story Owner: 
Publication Date: 
15/10/2020

Greetings from the Sunshine Coast in sunny Queensland.

When I think about my journey in the restorative justice world, I’m always reminded that when I stumbled into the landscape, everything I had done professionally before seemed like preparation for the Big One! My work in the education, first as a biology teacher, then a school counsellor had taken me into conflict resolution territory, to Critical Incident Response systems and into whole of school systems – particularly in response to bullying.

When I look back now on those early days, it makes complete sense to me that this was readying me for RJ, and now better understood as Restorative Practice. I had been exploring the notion of harm – to people and relationships - without knowing it in an explicit way. It wasn’t a big leap!

In the intervening decades, aside from developing and expanding my own practice and training and writing capacity, my interests have developed to include the vital business of culture change - a most important aspect for schools and other workplaces wanting to implement this approach. The issue of readiness is an aspect that few organisations consider, along an understanding of the long haul that the change process actually involves.

I also joke that in the early days, I was so excited about the possibilities of RP that I couldn’t sleep. After all these years, the excitement hasn’t waned one bit, but at least it doesn’t keep me awake any longer!