Our Amazing Brains


I LOVE this time of year. There is nothing I find more inspiring than an early morning bike ride. The world is still asleep, everything is calm, the air is fresh, and the view amazing as the sun creeps over the horizon in a million shades of colour. I feel strong and healthy with the physical exertion.

And then suddenly – WHAM! My front bike tire kicked up a huge stone, which hit me directly in the eye! I didn’t even see it coming! End to that peaceful, picture-perfect scene.

After the initial shock and realizing I was fine, I started thinking about what an amazing thing the human brain is. Because even though I had no conscious awareness of this thing flying towards my face, somehow my body knew enough to blink. Imagine how ugly this could have been if that stone had hit me in the eyeball!

It’s so cool that our brains have developed this ability to protect ourselves. We don’t have to stop to process and think about what to do. Our reflexes just kick in and defend us from harm.

The thing is, sometimes this wonderfully adaptive feature backfires on us. I think about the many students I’ve worked with over the years who lived in situations of constant fear. Their brains were always on high alert. And their reflexes were firing like crazy to try to shield them from danger.

These kids were in constant “fight or flight” mode. They would either shut down completely or strike out. And often they were labelled with such terms as uncooperative, non-compliant, bully, or violent. The adult response to these labels? Frustration, anger, punishment.

While I am a huge believer that the one thing that we truly control is how we choose to behave in any given situation, I do believe that there are some behaviours that are not chosen. I didn’t choose to blink – my brain kicked into auto-pilot to protect me.

And sometimes I believe that students’ behaviours are no more chosen than my blinking. They are the body’s response to danger.

And instead of creating safety for that child so that they can begin to relax and get in conscious control of themselves again, the labels we attach to them often serve to make them feel even more threatened.

What can you do today to help create the safety that your most at-risk students so desperately need?


Growing Together


Every year since I first stumbled across Restitution, I’ve participated in the Restitution Summer Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  It’s a training session that is run at the end of August, and not only do I find that it helps gets me excited and motivated for the new school year, but the best part is connecting with a group of people who have similar ideas and beliefs.  I have met some of the most amazing people – some who have travelled from as far away as Iceland and India – and there is simply nothing like the energy that comes of sharing our stories and struggles and learning together.

Sound like something you might be interested in being a part of?

Truly – there is something for everyone!  There are many sessions being offered – from introductory sessions for those new to Restitution to advanced levels for those who have done training in the past.  There is even a facilitator training session for those who are interested in teaching these concepts to others.

Here’s how to get involved – simply click on the links below and you’ll find all the information you need:

Restitution Seminar Brochure 2016

Restitution Seminar Registration 2016

Facilitator Training Registration 2016

Hope to see you there!


What Motivates the Other People….

Last week, I asked the question “Why do you work?”  I’d like to send out a big “Thank You!” to those of you who participated in my little survey to find out your thoughts.  And now for the results….

For the majority of respondents, they found doing something important/making a difference in the world motivated them the most.  Financial reward and enjoyment/fun were tied for the least motivating factors.

I heard about a research study (I’m so sorry – I’ve searched for the reference and can’t find it!  If anyone knows about this study, please let me know!!)  where they interviewed people to find out what they would choose to do if they had a choice between a career that paid very well but was pointless work or a career that was very meaningful but didn’t pay as well.  Not surprisingly, the results were the same – meaning is very important to us.

The part I found most interesting, though, was when they asked people what they thought the majority of people would choose.  Most thought that others would choose the well paying job.

In spite of the fact that there is a mountain of evidence that tells us that people want to engage in activities that make a difference, we often think that we need to provide treats, stickers, bonuses, etc. to increase productivity.

So – the question this week:  Whether you are managing a staff, trying to engage a classroom of students, or get your family to help with the household chores – are you focused on providing external motivation, or have you found ways to help people connect with the purpose behind their work?

What ways have you found to tap into people’s desire to do something important?  Please share your ideas!  (Trust me – taking a minute to share your stories can make a big difference in the life of someone who may be struggling right now!  Yes, YOU can make a difference!)

A winking, smiling emoticon


Examining the Extremes: Punishment vs. Rehabilitation

Every once in a while I’m stumped with a decision to make that I could argue both ways.  And while this struggle can go on for quite some time while I sort it all though, often, it’s when I get back to examining my basic beliefs that everything becomes clear.

What often illuminates the belief I’m seeking is when I consider the extremes.  When there’s so much more at stake, I can feel in my gut what is right and what is wrong.  Which has led me to spend some time looking at the criminal justice system.  After all, when it comes to figuring out how to change behaviour, there’s no more high stakes than that.

I certainly understand the desire to inflict pain on someone who has done wrong.  Many of the people in our jails have caused irreparable damage to the lives of innocent people.  The idea that someone can destroy another life and then go on to live a happy and fulfilled life of their own seems pretty unfair.

But if that’s the belief that is behind our criminal justice system, then we should never release anyone from prison.  We should either be locking criminals up for life, or be investing heavily in the idea of capital punishment.

But that’s not what we say we want.  We say we want people to learn from their mistakes.  We want them to be released after their sentence as law-abiding citizens ready to rejoin society.

So what would the ideal person look like upon release from jail?

In my mind, they would need to believe in the value of all people.  They would need to respect others, but also see that they, too, are worthwhile.  They would need to have connections with people and know that their life makes a difference to others.  They would need to know that they have something to important that they can contribute:  that their life matters.

So how does the system help create this reality?

Here’s been my experience…

Ever tried visiting someone in jail?  It’s a mountain of paperwork and a long process so that you can be approved to come only at very specific times.  I tried to send family pictures to an inmate one Christmas, only to have them returned because they weren’t allowed.  Phone calls can only be made by calling collect.  Part of their punishment is being separated from the people they love.

I’m not going to pretend to understand what it’s like to live in a jail, but what I’ve seen when visiting them is not the “cushy free ride” that people like to complain that our prisoners get.  Sure, there are some opportunties.  People can sometimes access education or treatment programs.  But it seems to me that there is a pretty clear message given:  you are a loser who cannot be trusted.  You don’t deserve anything good because you are not a good person.

And when you are released, you are on your own:  a few dollars and the clothes on your back.  Job prospects are minimal.  Finding someone who will rent you a place to live is challenging, and even if you could find that, where would you get first and last months rent?

Does this sound like a recipe for returning to society ready to turn over a new leaf?  Is it any wonder that many people find themselves back in jail again?

Then I came across this article about a different kind of prison.  Inmates can call their loved ones whenever they want.  In fact, connections are encouraged.  Bridges are built with the community so that upon release, people have jobs to go to.  Prisoners earn money so that when they are released they have some financial resources to get them started.

If you can overcome those feelings of wanting revenge upon someone who has caused harm to another person, there seems to be some logic that this is perhaps a better way to truly rehabilitate someone – to help them to become contributing members of society, as we claim we want them to do.

And if this kind of support helps change behaviour in the most hardened of criminals – why do we still hang on to the belief that inflicting pain, fear, and isolation will help change the behaviour of a child?

Here are the articles I came across about this new kind of prison:



What do you think?

Shout Out To The Bus Drivers!


Bus drivers are a hardy breed.  I don’t even like driving my husband’s truck because it’s so big – I can’t imagine maneuvering a vehicle the size of a bus.  Not to mention that fact that you are maneuvering it around small and unpredictable children.  And to top it off, while you accomplish this feat, you are also responsible for managing the behaviour of all the children already on the bus – with your back turned to them!

I had the pleasure of working with a great group of bus drivers from Evergreen School Division this month.  We had some amazing conversations, and wrangled with some difficult questions – and ran out of time!  So – this post is to fulfill my promise to them to continue our conversation, and hopefully to engage some other folks out there who can relate to the pressures faced by these dedicated professionals.

So often when we talk about using Restitution, it conjures up images for people of intense counselling-like sessions that help children understand the needs that drive their behaviour, and provide them the opportunity to think about how they could meet their needs in better ways.  I often hear classroom teachers lament that they don’t have time to work through problems with their students – so how on earth can you do this as a bus driver?!

I can tell you from talking with the bus drivers in Evergreen and elsewhere – there are people out there who are dedicated to using Restitution.  They have figured out that Restitution isn’t a formula that you must use to work through a problem.  All the tools and strategies that we teach are not the heart of Restitution – they just provide guidance that can help us navigate challenging situations.  At it’s core, Restitution is really about how you think about behaviour.

Do you feel that behaviour is either good or bad, or do you see it as a person’s best attempt to meet a need?

Do you see inappropriate behaviour as a bad thing, or an opportunity to teach?

Do you believe your role as the adult is to punish, or to help?

When you truly embrace the principles of Restitution, it’s not something that you “do”, it’s just who you are.  It’s not about needing a half-hour counselling session to work things out, it’s about connecting with kids.  It’s about letting them know that you care, and that you understand.  It’s about working together to figure out how we can make things work for everyone.

That doesn’t change the reality that our time and opportunities are limited.  It takes some creativity.  The little things count – greeting kids every morning by name, commenting on the score of the hockey game to the kid who is a big fan, giving a smile and a “see you tomorrow” as kids leave.  When issues arise, instead of yelling or punishing,  a quick 30 second intervention might serve to get things back on track.  These are some of my favorites:

Is what you are doing right now helping or hurting?

Is what you are doing ok?

What can I do to help you so you can….?

What’s you job right now?

What are you supposed to be doing?

Of course, there will be times when these quick questions aren’t enough to help kids reflect and adjust their behaviour.  I know some bus drivers who have called home in the evening to have a bigger conversation.  Or who have taken a few minutes before school starts to problem-solve with the child.  Or schools who have come up with collaborative ways to have principal, teacher, parent and drivers work together to support each other.

There’s no one right way to do it.  But at the end of the day, if our kids know that we care, and they are stronger for the intervention we have chosen, we can rest assured that we are on the right track!

Who Do You Think You Are?


I spend a lot of my time in a car, and one of the ways I pass the time is to listen to the Freakonomics Podcast.  The tagline for the show is that they “explore the hidden side of everything”.  It’s funny and entertaining, but what I love the most is that it often presents research that challenges commonly held beliefs.

One episode, entitled “I Don’t Know What You’ve Done to My Husband But He’s A Changed Man” tackled the topic of crime.  They looked at programs that are addressing domestic violence in Britain, the rehabilitation of child soldiers from Liberia and the criminal activity of high risk youth from Chicago.  What they found won’t be a surprise to those of us who already practice Restitution.

They found that the way you think about yourself has a immense impact on behaviour.

If you see yourself as a criminal, you will behave as a criminal.  It’s not that people don’t know that what they are doing is wrong, it’s just that they see themselves negatively, and don’t believe that any other way of being is truly available to them.

And yet, we continue to label people negatively, thinking that doing so will motivate people to do better.  Instead of sharing your own story with a child about your own challenges with overcoming temptation, we call them a thief.  Instead of exploring the complicated social pressures of middle school, we point our finger and call the child a bully.

The podcast wraps up with the musings of a police officer who questions why, when the stated primary purpose of the police force is to prevent crime, was not ONE minute of his training about prevention?   Our society has become so focused on catching and punishing offenders, that we have ignored the fact that these efforts actually aren’t that effective in making our world safer.

But if you can help a child who has done wrong to see that they are strong and capable and that there is a positive future ahead of them, maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the world.

Click here if you’d like to check out this podcast for yourself!

First Things First

basic needs

There’s a reason why survival needs are placed in the centre of the needs circle in Restitution.  It seems obvious that if you can’t survive, nothing else much matters.  But it’s amazing how often this simple fact is overlooked.

I know I’m in a privileged position as a counsellor.  I often have information that classroom teachers don’t have.  I hear the stories about how the family got evicted and are currently homeless.  I know all about the fact that the cupboards are bare and everyone went to bed hungry last night.  I see the fear in the eyes of the person who was assaulted over the weekend who is scared that it’s going to happen again.

What the classroom teacher sees is that homework wasn’t done.  That the student fell asleep in class.  That they grunt two word answers to direct questions.

It’s not hard to understand how quickly such a situation can escalate.  For many of us, we don’t ever have to think about where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to sleep.  We have the luxury of being able to focus on getting our other needs met, because survival comes easy for us.  So we forget that this is not the reality for everyone, and we try to get those students motivated with the things that motivate us.

We talk to them about keeping focused on graduation.  We talk to them about being kind to other people.  We talk to them about doing the things we love and having fun.

But when you are fighting to survive, those other things seem pretty unimportant.

So next time you see someone who seems not to care, consider that the truth may actually be that they do care very much – it just may not be about the same things you care about.