Archive | January, 2012

The Circle Series: What I know and how I use restorative practices… Part 3 of 3

28 Jan

The Talking Piece

Recently, I have been in several conversations concerning problem solving or meeting formats or conflict resolutions and each time the first thought that came to mind was, ‘we need a restorative circle.’  People are complex and passionate.  We all have unique experiences and perspectives, which can cause disagreement and misunderstandings in any group setting.  Some people will feel open to voicing their thoughts and feelings while others may not feel so welcome so the conversation may not reflect everyone involved.  I think there is a greater issue though, and that is our ability to actually listen to one another.  In the pervious two circle series posts I discussed the importance of the circle in creating an equitable space and then the importance of asking the right questions.  The talking piece though, I feel is the most important element because it binds the previous two and makes the process not just equitable or effective, but forces us to follow through on the most important part of communicating which is listening.

The talking piece is the most difficult part to sell to new participants of a restorative circle.  I hear the same comments every time the talking piece is introduced, ‘why do we have to use the talking piece? We don’t need it, we can take our turn.’  The reality is that most people cannot wait their turn in a conversation.  We are quick to interrupt each other.  We are generating new thoughts before the other person has even finished their sentence and we want to speak what is on our mind.  Whether working with adults or youth, I have to teach how to be a god listener.  We have to discuss what it looks like and sounds like to be a good listener.  Then I will often provide strategies on how to participate in a circle as a good listener.  The idea of having to actually wait with your thoughts is excruciating to some, especially when the circle includes more then two people.  Often times I suggest participants bring a note pad and pen to write down what they want to say as reference for when it is their turn to speak.

So, now we have everyone sitting in a circle.  As mentioned previously I have facilitated circles as large as thirty people.  Now imagine sitting in a circle of thirty people with the task of discussing something such as how to improve moral among the group.  First step as the facilitator, lay out the rules of the circle such clarifying that the circle is a safe space meant to identify how people are feeling without belittling or shaming anyone.  The number one thing to always remember about restorative circles is that they are not punitive!  Once the group has agreed to keep the circle civil and fair, the next step is to explain the purpose of the talking stick.  In all of my trainings, it has been made very clear that the talking piece must be culturally sensitive to the experiences of those involved. The talking piece cannot be something that has cultural significance and might offend those participating by its use as a talking piece.

What is the purpose of talking piece?  It’s very simple; if the talking stick is not in your hands then it is not your turn to talk.  Again, I’d like to point out that you are participating in a circle of thirty people.  Does the idea of waiting for thirty other people to speak before you can voice your opinions seem impossible?  The process may seem painful, but there is something important to remember and that is, the process is about the group not just one person.  The talking piece ensures everyone is heard and given the time they need to express themselves.  If it takes a few minutes for someone to gather their thoughts, then we wait.  We wait and respect that the person with the talking piece deserves to be heard just like everyone else (including you).   This dynamic forces us to listen to one another and to sit on our thoughts instead of just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.  It gives us time to reflect on our own thoughts and hear the thoughts of others.  Incase anyone should forget the rules and speak out of turn, the facilitator can remind the person that since they do not have the talking piece in their hand that it is not their turn to speak.  Simple.  Except, people are not simple, people are complex and passionate.  To be able to participate fully in a restorative circle means developing a skill set that include being a good listener, being patient and functioning as a collaborative group member rather than an individual with self-interests.  Can you imagine the kind of world we would be living in if everyone had these skills and made the conscious choice to use them?   This is the magic of the restorative circle, it teaches people to respect the complexities and passions of all those participating by giving everyone the responsibility of listening and responding respectfully in turn on an equal playing field.

How have you seen people change during and after a restorative circle?

Click the photos below to learn more about circles…

Example of a Talking Piece

Grupo Nahual convenes community circles to address issues using a Mayan practice giving the right to speak in turn to circle participants by passing a stick. The circles include gang involved youth. Copyright © Donna DeCesare, 2009.

Debbie Little, restorative practices coordinator, South Lyon, Michigan, Community Schools, conducts a circle at Centennial Middle School.

Classroom Circle UWRF


Cool Classroom Technology

22 Jan

Check out this cool download that turns a regular powerpoint presentation into an interactive lesson, but giving students the opportunity to participate by controlling a wireless mouse linked to the program.  They can answer quiz questions or draw on the power point itself.

Check it out…

Technology in the Classroom

21 Jan

I love to use technology in my classroom!  I like to show images and videos, send students on digital scavenger hunts or give them access to video cameras to present information and thinking.

In February, my co-worker and I at Pathways to Education in Regent Park will be facilitating a math program using resources from the JUMP Math program and using the Wii Mote smartboard from Johnny Lee.  I was introduced to this technology in teachers college, and it’s pretty cool.

When the program begins I will upload pictures of set up and the use of the equipment!  Try it at home, a smart board with the already needed bluetooth capable laptop, a projector plus a wii mote and a small IR light pen.  With the technology we are going to be able to engage our students in hands on learning through games and digital manipulatives!

Have you ever used this wii mote technology in your classroom???

Funding Faith-based Schools in Ontario is being Challenged

15 Jan

I am a passionate advocate for social equity.  As an educator, I am constantly finding myself discussing social inequity with peers and students in a wide variety of circumstances.  One of my greatest frustrations as a teacher is the topic of our catholic school system.

I strongly disagree with the public funding of a school board that does not support or accept those who do not follow the catholic faith.  I am tired of the ignorant arguments that Canada is a Christian nation and that the church championed social justice in Canada.  This is 2012, and the accepted processes of colonialism of Canada’s past would never be allowed in the twenty-first century.  There is a reason we recognize our aboriginal community as ‘First Nations’.  They were not catholic and frankly, neither were all of the immigrants who came to Canada.  Even within our current catholic system we are ignoring the beliefs of other Christian based faiths.  I also strongly disagree with the idea that the catholic churches in Canada are dedicated to social justice for one simple reason; if you cannot provide a pastoral letter you are not welcome to teach with the catholic school boards.  My other concern is the lack of support for LGBTQ youth in our catholic schools.  Recently, Halton showed their true colours by choosing to deny support to Gay/Straight Alliance clubs.  In one article I read that a HCDSB representative stated, “We don’t have Nazi groups either,”… are you kidding me? It would seem to me that social justice (as defined below) really only applies to those who uphold the catholic faith.

Social justice: A concept based upon the belief that each individual and group within a

given society has a right to civil liberties, equal opportunity, fairness, and participation in

the educational, economic, institutional, social and moral freedoms and responsibilities

valued by the community.

“Cultural Competency Handbook,” R. Degan and Dr. M. Disman, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto

How can the catholic school boards (a publicly funded institution) be allowed to openly deny employment to anyone who is not “committed to the teachings of the catholic church…”?  Can you imagine applying to any other job opening and being asked to provide a pastoral letter?  Of the 55 English-speaking school boards in Ontario, 24 of them are catholic.  How many resources are being denied to the students in the larger urban areas like  Toronto and Peel, where a large percentage of the student populations are no catholic.  I live and pay taxes in Peel and I don’t want my hard earn money funding a school board that will deny me employment because I am not “committed to the teachings of the catholic church”.

This morning while stumbling, I came across an article in the National Post titled, “Woman files suit over Ontario school funding.” I could not agree with her argument more.  She points out the catholic school boards are receiving far more than their constitutional rights originally allowed and that the schools should only receive funding according to the rights originally afforded.  History is an interesting thing.   just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean its right and doesn’t mean it should be continued.   Ontario is the only province to fully fund the catholic school boards, even in Quebec catholic school boards don’t get full funding!  Historically, the roman catholic school boards were built to appease French Canadians while the remaining school boards were protestant as dictated by English-speaking Canadians.  Eventually the protestant schools became secular but the catholic boards in Ontario have remained the same, exclusive. Why? Learn more about in this CBC article… Faith-based schools by Jennifer Wilson

What are your thoughts?

Woman Files suit over Ontario school funding

Andrew Duffy, Postmedia News · Jan. 14, 2012 | Last Updated: Jan. 14, 2012 6:27 AM ET

OTTAWA – A Toronto woman has filed suit against the Ontario government in a bid to turn back the clock on funding for Catholic schools to 1867 when the right to a separate system was enshrined in law.

Reva Landau, a retired business systems analyst, concedes in her application that the Constitution protects Catholic school funding in Ontario.

But Ms. Landau argues that giving Catholic schools more money than is strictly required by law offends the Charter’s equality provisions.

“In an ideal world, I’d like to see one public school system,” said Ms. Landau, who holds a law degree from the University of Toronto.

“But we do have the constitution. So I’m saying OK, if you insist we have to have Catholic schools, they should not get one penny more than they were entitled to in 1867.”

Canadian courts, she argued, have consistently said that legal decisions that limit Charter rights must be interpreted narrowly.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that Sect. 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which guarantees Catholic school funding in Ontario, is immune from Charter challenges. (The Charter specifically exempts from review all rights guaranteed in the constitution.)

But Ms. Landau contends that the obvious inequality that results must, by law, be narrowly defined.

To that end, she contends that Catholic school funding should be based today on the 1867 model, one that strictly limited government support.

In her application, filed in the Superior Court of Justice, Ms. Landau asks for an order that eliminates all government aid for Catholic schools from Grades 9 to 12.

She also seeks an order that limits the funding of Grades 1 to 8 to “only that aid available in 1867, that is, only property taxes from Catholics who declare themselves to be separate school supporters and who live within three miles of a separate school, and property taxes from wholly Catholicowned businesses.”

She argues the current funding system unjustly forces her, through the tax system, to support Catholic schools.

“It means I’m being forced to fund a system that has sectarian views of which I do not approve,” she said.

“I’m therefore being discriminated against because a Catholic is not being forced to fund a system of which they do not approve.”

Ms. Landau’s legal gambit, which could renew the emotional separate school debate, faces an uphill battle.

The Supreme Court has twice ruled on issues related to Catholic school funding in Ontario. It upheld premier Bill Davis’ decision to extend full funding in 1984 as a valid exercise of the province’s constitutional power. And it later dismissed an argument, made on behalf of parents from other faith-based schools, that the system discriminates against them.

In its rulings, the high court has noted that the Catholic school funding guarantee was an important compromise on the road to Confederation.

Ms. Landau, however, contends that the court should reconsider its reasoning in light of the 1997 constitutional amendment that allowed Quebec to reorganize its schools along linguistic rather than religious lines.

“The other party to the historic compromise, Quebec, has already opted out,” she said. “That argument is now much weaker and it has to be reconsidered.”

Ms. Landau decided to file her lawsuit after researching the history of the province’s education system.

“It’s one of those things,” Ms. Landau said, “that the more you think about it, the more it just seems so blatantly unfair.”

The last time the Catholic school funding issue made headlines in Ontario was in 2007 when Progressive Conservative leader John Tory made the politically disastrous promise to extend full funding to all faith-based schools.

If I Was A Poor Black Kid… Reactions

14 Jan

Back in December an article titled, “If I were a Poor Black Kid” was published in Forbes by writer Gene Marks.

Have you read it?

Its interesting…

Very interesting…

Here are some reactions that I have come across randomly while stumbling and such!

Christopher Emdin wrote this article…

Five Lessons From the “If I were a Poor Black Kid” Debate

Awesome Resource: How the Global Food Market Starves the Poor

14 Jan

Watch this awesome video and have your say!

What a great resource for any humanities or social science class!

Restorative Justice Event

13 Jan

Restorative Justice Section Meeting – Aboriginal Persons Court (“Gladue” Court) – Event Details

Date: January 30, 2012
Hosted by: Sections

Restorative Justice (RJ) Family Section Meeting, Monday, January 30, 2012, 5:45 pm to 7:30 pm, ADR Institute Office, 234 Eglinton Ave. E., Suite 405, Toronto.

Also available by teleconference and webinar.
IMPORTANT NOTE:  Due to popular request, the ADR Institute Office is now a fragrance-free environment. Please refrain from wearing any fragranced products when attending an event at or by the ADR Institute.

RSVP: Please contact Mena at if you wish to attend in person or participate by teleconference or webinar.
The phone feature/webinar are benefits of membership. We welcome non-members to attend in person. Non-Members are welcome to attend up to 3 Section Meetings after which we recommend that they join the ADR Institute of Ontario.

Advance registration required – No charge.