Restorative Practice in New Zealand Schools: Navigating Peaks and Pitfalls with Leane Carlson

When Leane Carlson took the stage to discuss the intricacies of Restorative Practice in New Zealand schools, the audience knew they were in for a deep dive. Drawing from an illustrious 37-year career in education, with experiences that span across countries like England, Kuwait, the UAE, and primarily New Zealand, Carlson brought a unique blend of wisdom and international perspective to the discussion.

Carlson’s belief system, deeply rooted in the Maori proverb – “What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people” – provided a powerful backdrop to her discourse. For her, this proverb encapsulated the essence of relational practice in its purest form. And it is this unwavering belief in the power of human relationships that has guided her approach to education throughout her career.

The core of Carlson’s presentation revolved around the relational approach of Restorative Practice in New Zealand schools. This approach posits that positive interpersonal relationships significantly influence both learning and behavior. Instead of a top-down, authoritative methodology, New Zealand’s restorative approach centers around working ‘with’ others, emphasizing the cultivation of positive, respectful relationships. This creates a nurturing environment, fostering a culture of care across the school community. For Carlson, it’s not just a teaching methodology but a profound shift in perspective that places relationships at the heart of educational ecosystems.

However, as with any transformative approach, challenges are inevitable. Drawing from her vast experience as a Restorative Practice facilitator, Carlson dove into the core segment of her talk, highlighting the peaks and pitfalls she’s observed in her journey with 55 schools over the past five years. Each school, in its quest to nurture a relational culture, encountered its set of obstacles.

In her 30-minute session, Carlson deftly touched upon these pitfalls, ensuring that her insights would serve as guiding posts for educators and administrators. She stressed the importance of genuine engagement, warning against superficial implementations that might tick boxes but don’t foster genuine relationships. She spoke of the challenge of maintaining consistency, the need for continued training, and the importance of understanding and respecting the cultural nuances that come into play, especially in a diverse nation like New Zealand.

Carlson’s qualifications – including a Masters in Educational Leadership and a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning – aren’t just academic achievements; they are testaments to her dedication to the field of education. But beyond her qualifications, it’s her lived experiences, challenges faced, and lessons learned that made her session invaluable.

As she concluded her presentation, one thing was evident: For schools looking to transition to a relational restorative culture, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The journey is filled with trials and errors, successes, and setbacks. But with guides like Leane Carlson shining a light on potential pitfalls and offering insights from their journeys, the path becomes a bit clearer and the goal more achievable.

In the world of education, where trends come and go, the unwavering focus on human relationships, as championed by educators like Carlson, promises a brighter future for students and educators alike.