Truro Elementary Seeing Benefits of Relational, Restorative Approach

CCRCE News: 
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

When you walk through the doors of Truro Elementary, you can feel the sense of community. 

Right away you see the smiles of the children, as well as the adults, and it feels warm and inviting. From the TRES Family tree in the cafeteria to the ‘Welcome’ mural represented in three languages, students, teachers, staff and visitors feel at home at Truro Elementary.

A lot of people across the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board have heard about the changes made to behavior support at Truro Elementary. Staff and students have invested in a relational, restorative approach to student behaviors. An approach that prioritizes time and space for students to de-escalate when they are upset, and when calm, discuss what happened. 

It is an approach that supports students in learning how to handle complex situations proactively.

“It’s about relationship building, winning the trust of kids, parents and staff,” said Jeff Lynds, the principal at Truro Elementary. “Some people will tell us what a wonderful program we have, but it’s not a program. It’s a way of being -- a philosophy of how to deal with people.”

Mr. Lynds began changing the philosophical approach at Truro Elementary in the fall of 2014, when he and Vice-principal Krista Hayden first came to the school. Jacqui MacIntosh eventually joined them as another vice-principal at the school and the trio have spent every day since establishing and maintaining connections with everyone at the school.

Ms. MacIntosh manages what has become known simply as ‘the room.’  It has everything a student needs to re-focus: a quiet area, exercise bike, reading centre, even a punching bag. However, the room is just one component of the approach taken in creating a relational, restorative approach at Truro Elementary.

“A restorative approach looks for cause and effect, instead of being reactionary. It’s an opportunity to take a negative incident and turn it into a learning opportunity for a student. Basically, we have to help each other, whether we are students, teachers or staff, to see the other person’s perspective – their story,” said Ms. Hayden. 

Standing in the hallway of Truro Elementary, you can see the impact this approach has made. Not only are students, teachers and staff exchanging friendly greetings, but suspensions at the school are almost non-existent, leaving staff with more time to focus on lessons. 

“Students know what the expectation is because they are given strategies to know how to react to a situation. The result is a classroom with strong learning taking place. It leads to better academics because we aren’t spending energy putting out fires,” said Ms. MacIntosh. “We have 580 different students, and that’s 580 unique personalities. So a one-stop approach is simply not going to work well. It’s about treating each student individually, and taking everyone’s background and experiences into account.”

While Truro Elementary’s approach is definitely not just about ‘the room,’ Mr. Lynds, Ms. Hayden and Ms. MacIntosh do agree the ‘the room’ is a unique place. Students coming in can identify what area, or zone, of the room they need to be in based on how they are feeling. 

The zones are organized by colour – blue for sad, tired or moving slowly; green for happy, calm and focused; yellow for frustrated, worried, or loss of some control; and red for angry, yelling or acting out of control. 

“It’s about offering compassion and support. It all goes back to our foundation of valuing relationships, that’s what a relational, restorative approach is all about,” said Mr. Lynds. “The room, the different zones, and the other physical aspects are just the tools we use. In order to truly understand the approach we’ve taken and its benefits, you have to live it every day. That’s when you really get it.”