Co-production: Does it have a place in a restorative city?

By Megan Pound, MRes in Education, University of Portsmouth

Portsmouth considers itself a ‘restorative city’ so I recently attended training regarding its use of the restorative framework and its suggested benefits (Portsmouth Safeguarding Children Partnership, 2020) available to relevant professionals such as teachers, refuge workers and social workers. My specialism is the use of co-production in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable children and families, therefore I approached this training hoping to learn how the two strategies could simultaneously achieve better outcomes.

Co-production captures the voice of the participant whilst also involving them in the wider research process; usually promoting equality between contributors and often with regards to improving service provision. When working with vulnerable individuals, it is likely that ‘difficult conversations’ will arise, due to the sensitive nature of the discussion points, potentially preventing successful interactions. Although, an approach such as restorative practice which focuses on engagement, respectful language and conflict resolution may be a solution to this heightened risk of conflict. Furthermore, restorative practices are proactive as opposed to reactive, allowing individuals to use reflection to learn from and build upon previous, less successful interactions.

Restorative Practice

The International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) explain that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them” (Wachtel & McCold, 2004). Suggesting that to best access unheard voices, we must work alongside minority groups rather than imposing pre-existing ideas on them. The IIRP also produced the ‘Social Discipline Window’ (See Fig. 1) which says that the most effective discursive approach relies on an equal balance of support and control; though this might be better described as ‘challenge’ for the individual. Through this, they suggest that mutual learning and change can take place, thus highlighting a correlation between restorative practices and co-production.

Although, particularly when safety is in question, higher elements of support may be essential, with room to develop the balance of independence over time. The ‘challenge’ element remains vital in order to promote a sense of autonomy and empowerment, through inclusive yet empathetic guidance. If an individual becomes reliant on higher levels of support, not only can this remove independence but also cause feelings of disempowerment and lack of motivation to help themselves in the future. Perhaps through co-production though, where participants are equally responsible, they can gain confidence, self-esteem and a better sense of inclusion; especially when their voice is not only considered but evidently acted upon.

The voice of the individual

Capturing the voice of the individual is being deemed increasingly essential for better service provision, due to the deeper insights that lived experiences can provide to multi-agency practitioners. Whilst there are a range of approaches to co-production, it is generally accepted that not only does it allow for narratives to be heard, but also includes participants in the wider research process; striving for more informed and sustainable outcomes. It could therefore be concluded, that an approach such as Restorative Practice aligns with these desired outcomes, achieving solutions which are agreeable for all involved; service users and providers alike.

Listening to an individual perception may be important to maintain worthwhile, progressive conversations but it is essential that this does not become a tokenistic activity without evidence of evolution. Restorative practice takes this idea a step further than listening to a single voice, instead encouraging those involved to consider how events may also impact others, promoting empathy at the heart of this process. Whilst having your story heard can be highly empowering, it is suggested that through hearing multiple perceptions, not only can a bigger picture be drawn but also a pathway to more informed change in the future. Moreover, the consideration of others alone could enable more encompassing changes to be made and allow for familiar, yet potentially outdated, procedures to be respectfully challenged and adapted for the better.

Equal collaboration
A further element of restorative practice is ‘fair process’, which highlights that if individuals are treated fairly, they are more likely to co-operate with the process, regardless of the extent that they may benefit from the outcome. This too relates to co-production where the power balance struggle can become problematic, if mutually respectful collaboration is not implemented by all involved; for example, practitioners may deem their qualifications in a higher standing than narratives of lived experience and vice versa for participants.

Nonetheless, a sense of ‘fairness’ will likely foster improved mental health and wellbeing for all, if they feel included and valued for their personal inputs. This emphasis on equally respectful interactions, regardless of factors such as academic success, cultural background or economic standing, could also allow for higher-quality learning to take place. By removing hierarchical authority figures in favour of a more relational approach, more fruitful outcomes could be achieved, across a range of settings, with participants feeling more able to share honestly and confidently within a physically and emotionally safe environment.

Conclusion

To conclude, there are clear links between co-production and restorative practice which suggest that they could positively impact on the success of one another. They are both approaches which must be implemented conscientiously and empathetically, especially when working with vulnerable individuals. Likewise, in a city such as Portsmouth, where hearing the voice of the individual is often noted as being of high importance, it is fitting that respectful, supportive communication would facilitate this more effectively.

Through implementing the reflective approach of restorative practice alongside the inclusive collaboration of co-production, it seems that more meaningful connections could be fostered, allowing for crucial interventions and support systems to be quality assured and enhanced. Though the question still remains, if hearing the individual’s voice continues to be highly promoted as a worthwhile concept, why is this seldom seen in practice?

Educational leaders’ wellbeing: “Putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others”

5 principles that support the wellbeing of educational leaders. By Lucy Lindley

The wellbeing of those in education has become a popular topic over the past few years. You only need to look at recent headlines to understand why – for example, it is reported that 1 in 20 teachers have mental health problems that have lasted more than a year (Nuffield Foundation, 2020), and more than half of all education professionals have considered leaving the sector over the past 2 years due to pressures on their health and wellbeing (Education Support Partnership, 2019).

In response to this, recent government initiatives have placed greater emphasis on the wellbeing of education professionals. For example, staff wellbeing is now appraised as part of Ofsted’s inspection framework, and the Department for Education (DfE) has launched a new expert advisory group. This builds upon previous guidance published by the DfE, which recommends developing a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Although educational leaders have been recognised to play a key role in this, they are rarely asked about their own wellbeing. To address this gap, I invited educational leaders to take part in a research interview.

So, what did I learn from asking educational leaders to talk about their own experiences of wellbeing?

1. Make time for self-reflection

Despite its popularity, there is no universally agreed definition of wellbeing. Instead, people make sense of what wellbeing means to them by reflecting on their own experiences and understanding of the concept.

In this study, the educational leaders were prompted to explore the topic of wellbeing with a researcher. Outside a research setting, one common method for encouraging self-reflection is writing in a journal, but this is by no means the only way. What is important is taking the time to introspectively ask yourself some key questions, such as:

  • How do I feel today?
  • Do I consider my current level of wellbeing to be low or high?
  • What aspects of the self (e.g. thoughts, feelings, behaviours) have contributed to this?
  • What external factors (e.g. the environment, interactions with others) have played a role?

You can answer these questions by writing; by talking to a partner, colleague or professional coach; or by thinking while sitting, walking or even running. The practice of self-reflection is said to help you learn and develop a better understanding of yourself. In this instance, it could help identify what wellbeing means to you, as well as the ways in which you can support it (see Dr Lucy Kelly’s work on ‘reclaiming teacher wellbeing through reflective diary-writing’). Notably, this current study demonstrated that it is not necessary to have experienced both low and high levels of wellbeing to hold beliefs about what that may look or feel like.

2. Be flexible

What wellbeing means and feels like for one person may be very different to another person’s experience. It is therefore important that flexibility is exercised when it comes to promoting your own or other people’s levels of wellbeing:

  • Individuals should avoid striving for a specific manifestation of wellbeing and instead, work out what works best for them.
  • Educational leaders need to implement wellbeing initiatives that offer individuals the flexibility to participate in a way that supports them.
  • Educational policies need to be positioned in a way that gives educational leaders the autonomy and flexibility to implement processes that work both for themselves and those they lead.

This flexibility emphasises the multi-faceted nature of wellbeing. One common model of wellbeing – Seligman’s ‘PERMA’ model – suggests that wellbeing comprises of five different dimensions (Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment). A flexible approach will allow individuals to choose to focus on the dimensions of wellbeing that are most important to them, whether that is building a support network or working towards a goal of their choice.

3. Strive for balance

Although people experience wellbeing in different ways, high levels of wellbeing are often described as feeling balanced. Crucially, this balance does not simply refer to a reduced workload. Instead, ‘balance’ may mean:

  • Balancing time between work and non-work (a phrase suggested by one participant, who refuted that it was a work-life balance as work is part of her life too).
  • Taking part in leisure activities outside of work, such as swimming or choir.
  • Celebrating that educational leaders are also people with full lives outside the school gates.
  • Choosing to spend time in school during the holidays to help promote a sense of control.
  • Working from home one day a term to take space to focus.
  • Having the time to experience the ‘nice’ parts of the job, such as spending time with pupils.
  • Feeling the demands of their job role is balanced with their ability to do it.

Ultimately, a balanced life allows people to distribute their attention, energy, time and resources as they desire. To help sustain this balance and higher levels of wellbeing, it is recommended that individuals find ways to aid themselves in achieving balance in their everyday life.

4. Take action

In this study, the educational leaders perceived wellbeing as their own responsibility and something they should actively promote. Although the approaches varied, each leader demonstrated that they were adopting strategies in line with the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’, summarised below.

  • Connect…The educational leaders were connecting to those around them through the use of Twitter, group activities, and role modelling positivity and other behaviours that help promote their wellbeing.
  • Be active… Examples of physical activities included cycling, running and swimming.
  • Take notice… This action was expressed as being mindful. For example, one participant described pausing to take notice of the beautiful scenery he passes through on his commute. He noted that this awareness extends to those around him, as he notices and comments on colleagues’ small changes (such as a haircut or new shirt).   
  • Keep learning… The educational leaders were continuing to learn through various forms of CPD, both formal (e.g. conferences) and informal (e.g. reflecting on their practice with colleagues). One participant noted that you keep learning throughout life and offers the example of learning to become a better runner.
  • Give… This action was depicted as volunteering time and support, for example, coaching other leaders through challenging circumstances and volunteering for a local hockey club.

On Twitter, the#teacher5adaycampaign encourages educators to utilise these five actions to promote their own wellbeing.  Using the hashtag, educators share examples from their own lives, which helps raise awareness of the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ and the ways in which educator wellbeing can be supported.

To promote higher levels of wellbeing, it is recommended that individuals ask themselves what they have control over, and which of the five actions they want to explore to support their wellbeing.

5. Lead by example

The educational leaders were leading by example in relation to promoting and maintaining higher levels of wellbeing. It should be noted that leading by example (or ‘idealised influence’) is one of Bass’ four key transformational leadership behaviours, a type of leadership commonly associated with high follower wellbeing (see Bowers (2019) for a review). 

This leadership behaviour can be demonstrated in various ways, including:

  • Modelling behaviours that support wellbeing, such as maintaining balance and engaging in leisure activities. This is grounded in Bandura’s social learning theory, which posits that individuals learn from observing those around them.
  • Making use of the ‘emotional contagion’, which is the phenomenon where observing one person’s emotions and related behaviours can lead to exhibiting a congruent emotional state. In this study, educational leaders strived to be positive and calm around those they lead (often described as their work persona or ‘mask’).
  • Communicating that wellbeing is a priority from the top-down. In this study, one educational leader used the oxygen mask analogy (‘put your oxygen mask on first’) to encourage his staff to support their own wellbeing, before helping others.

The educational leaders who participated in this study noted that leading by example helped support their own wellbeing too.

Conclusion

In summary, it is essential that educational leaders are encouraged to ‘put their own oxygen mask on first’. After all, a leader who promotes their own wellbeing can have a positive influence both on themselves and those they lead. In the field of education, this can reflect increased teacher motivation, commitment and job satisfaction, which in turn, is associated with improved pupil outcomes. As such, investing in the wellbeing of educational leaders can have a significant impact on a multitude of levels: from the individual, to the classroom and school system as a whole.

Technical note

This blog is based on research carried out by Lucy Lindley for the Master’s in Research qualification at the University of Portsmouth. Five semi-structured interviews were carried out with educational leaders who expressed that they had personally experienced high levels of wellbeing. Their narratives were analysed in-line with the theoretical underpinnings of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), a qualitative methodology that encourages close engagement with each participant’s lived experience.

Too Black or not Black Enough.

The story below is written by Hollie Green ©, and was created after a series of talks with a Youth Group in Surrey and people in the local community who, like Hollie, are multi-racial. Hollie talked to a number of people, from teenagers to people aged from 20 – 40+, and found that across many generations, hair pulling, name calling, physical beatings were all common for multi-racial children and yound people attending school in England.

This is a story of Olivier, a multiracial teenage girl aged 15, living in a agricultural county, in a small town in the UK.  Olivier was raised by her Caucasian family, who lived in poverty. They did not acknowledge Olivier’s background and ethnicity, instead Olivier was raised in a white British environment, with no acknowledgement of her black heritage. Olivier did not know how to look after her hair and any product Olivier desired for her hair was too expensive. Olivier begged her family for her hair to be braided to which her older half brother would respond “You are such a chav! Only chavy people have their hair  braided and listen to R&B”

An average day for Olivier was straightening her luscious large loose curls every morning. She despised them. All her life Olivier wanted to ‘look like everyone else’. Olivier once attended school with her natural hair… “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an extreme hair style Olivier!?”, her tutor raised his voice above the hustle and bustle of what was a Thursday morning start in school. “This is my natural hair”, Olivier responded looking dead into the bulbous middle-aged man’s wrinkled eyes. Everyone was staring at her, he made sure of that. The day before this Olivier was teased for her ‘dead hair’ in class where she had straightened it every day. Olivier could never win. Olivier was never accepted.

There was one other multi-racial person in Olivier’s class. This was one of the first people Olivier had ever met that resembled anything of her brown skin, full lips and curly hair, except his braided or cut short. His name was Jason. What Olivier didn’t know is that Jason too had been a victim of white washing. For Olivier to even turn up to school with natural hair was an embarrassment. The teacher had placed Jason and Olivier together. Olivier felt a sense of excitement. An opportunity to meet someone like her. Maybe she could eventually find out where to get her hair braided. Jason had no interest of telling her who did his hair. “It was a family-friend, you’d have to know her. She only does black people hair any way” Olivier ‘ was not black enough’. Jason asked to be moved to sit else where. Olivier felt humiliated and belittled. For the rest of the term Jason and his Caucasian friends would throw rubbers in her hair and other stationery to get it stuck. It was a game, she was but an object for their entertainment.

Olivier left school that week. What self-esteem Olivier had left, no longer existed. Humiliated daily and outcast from all parts of society. On that last day of school Olivier walked out of the school gates and was approached by a young man…

Would it be different for Olivier’s if her family reached out to her black family?

What if Jason gave contact details to Olivier of his cousin?

What do you think happened as a result of Olivier leaving school? Did she obtain her GCSEs?

Is Jason as confused as Oliver about where he belongs in the community?

What could’ve happened differently?

How many opportunities were there to help Olivier?

How could you have helped Olivier?