Relational Approaches in Education: A Dive into Mel Whitby’s Collaborative Research

In the realm of educational psychology, professionals continuously seek methods to revolutionize and optimize learning environments. Mel Whitby, an esteemed Educational Psychologist from West Yorkshire, England, delivered an insightful presentation delving into her research on shifting school environments from zero-tolerance behavior policies to more relational, inclusive frameworks.

Emerging from her doctoral training at Newcastle University, Whitby developed a keen inclination towards the integration of restorative practices in school behavior policies. The focus of her presentation was a reflection of this: a collaborative action research project she spearheaded with a group of primary school staff.

The core ethos of this research revolved around an intriguing proposition. Instead of merely introducing restorative techniques as actions or steps to be taken—a “practice-led” approach—Whitby and her team delved into a more profound understanding of the underlying values and thought processes behind these techniques. Their objective was clear: to make the shift not just about “doing” restorative practices but about embedding the values and philosophy of restorativeness in the very fabric of the school’s culture.

One of the standout features of Whitby’s approach was the utilization of an ‘appreciative inquiry’. This meant that instead of simply imposing new ideas, the research involved staff defining what ‘restorativeness’ meant to them. It was about recognizing and understanding how restorative values might already be subtly woven into the current fabric of the school’s environment. This sense of ownership and personal involvement provided the groundwork for a more receptive and sustainable change.

Whitby’s findings were nothing short of illuminating. Her presentation elucidated the nuances of what ‘restorativeness’ looked and felt like in the context of that particular educational setting. But the implications of her research stretched far beyond just one school. The broader message echoed the potential of these collaborative action research projects in fostering lasting relational changes in schools.

A significant takeaway from her discourse was the importance of schools being places of understanding, connection, and empathy. By engaging in collaborative efforts, educators can redefine disciplinary measures, ensuring that students feel valued and understood, rather than merely corrected.

Additionally, Whitby’s fervent interest in child voice and participation, social justice in education, and inclusive schooling was evident throughout her presentation. Her vision emphasized the pivotal role of schools not just as institutions of learning but as nurturing environments where every student feels included and valued.

To sum it up, Mel Whitby’s research and presentation were a testament to the potential of relational approaches in reshaping educational environments. Through collaborative efforts and a deep understanding of restorative values, schools can transition from rigid, punitive systems to places of understanding, growth, and holistic development. For educators and psychologists alike, her findings serve as a beacon, highlighting the road to a more empathetic and inclusive educational future.