Archive | Practice RSS feed for this section

Resources for Teachers – Restorative Justice in the Classroom

23 Feb

I am always looking for new resources regarding the use of restorative practices in the classroom and it seems over the past year or so there have been some really great guides and readings developed for educators.

Happy Reading –

Restorative Justice Community/Classroom Conferencing: A guide for parents and teachers

Written By Nicole Pakan & The Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities (Edmonton)
This document is a specific guide for a more traditional use of restorative justice practices (conferences used to address behaviour issues) in a school setting.

Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles

Written by Amos Clifford and Center for Restorative Process (Developed for the San Francisco Unified School District)
This document is a guide for educators who ant to facilitate circles in their classroom as a way to develop trust, build community and address classroom issues.  The guide includes a circle tool kit and lesson plans.

Restorative Justice Module Classroom Activities, Links, and Resources

Developed by the John Howard Society of Alberta
This document provides handouts that can be used to teach about restorative justice, its purpose and how to facilitate a restorative mediation.  The document also includes a list of other useful resources on the topic.

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

The Circle Series: What I know and how I use restorative practices… Part 1 of 3

6 Jan

There are three components of restorative practices that are most important to my work…

1)    The Circle

2)    The Restorative Questions

3)    The Talking Piece

Today, The Circle…

Here is what I know and how I apply this practice with youth:

The Circle –

In every gathering, classroom or meeting space, I always have the people involved sit in a circle.  I have facilitated circles as small as five people and as large as sixty people.  I always find the reactions of the participants amusing when they learn we are sitting in a circle.  My students often respond with comments that they are not kindergarten kids, adults often are reluctant and make witty comments about camp fires and sharing feelings.  Regardless of age, everyone hesitates when finding a seat.  In any setting where people gather, I find they will place themselves in the room based on their willingness to participate and their perceived importance within the gathering itself.  For example, how many staff meetings have you been to where the majority of the people attending sit in the back of the room even though the front row of seats or the seats closest to the speaker are available to be sat in?  Why does that happen? Are people uninterested in participating? Are they afraid of being asked to participate? Do they feel unworthy of being so close to the action?

When I work with youth, I often find myself telling them to make a choice and own it.  Do something, don’t do something; it’s up to you because you have the power to make choices and own them.  To me, if you are going to attend a gathering, a class, a meeting, whatever, then you should be there not just physically but also mentally.  This is one reason why I sit everyone in a circle.  There is no hiding away from what it is we are there to accomplish as a group.   There is also no divide in power.  Traditional classrooms have the teacher at the front of the room and the students sitting in rows facing the teacher; office meetings and workshops or lectures often function the same way. When sitting in around a long boardroom table, there is still a clear distinction of roles even though people are sitting in-the-round.  This traditional setting does not allow for conversation or the inclusiveness that circles can provide.  In a circle, there is no distinction between “teacher” and “student” roles.  We are all equal and everyone placed the same distance from the center of the meeting as everyone else.  In a circle, we can see each other and others can see us.  In a circle there is no natural beginning or ending; it doesn’t matter where you sit in the circle.  I think this equality scares people, because there are responsibilities to being part of a circle that do not necessarily exist in a traditional “teacher” and “student” setting.  When you disappear into the density of people sitting in the back of the room, it is much easier to zone out, play on your cell phone or hold a separate conversation without facing the same social repercussions as you would if you engaged in those behaviours while sitting in a circle.  When everyone is sitting in a circle they are forced to not just make the choice to be there both physically and mentally, but to own their chosen behaviour and understand that there are consequences for choosing to not fully participate.  Jill Bolte speaks about her experiences with a stroke in a TED conference talk, where she explains the difference between how our right and left hemispheres of the brain function.  The traditional “teacher” and “student” setting is, in my opinion, a left brained practice because we are individuals, who choose to participate as it suits our needs.  The circle setting is, again in my opinion, a right brain practice because in the circle we are a community, accountable to each other and equal in relationships to one another.

As a drama teacher, I begin all of classes with a circle.  The class begins with a check in, a simple exercise that creates community and empathy among students.  I also conduct lessons in circles because they allow for open discussion and shared learning.

As a program facilitator, I have had to co-organize an orientation night with the purpose of introducing new students to the function and purpose of our program.  Sixty students, parents and facilitators sat in a large circle and participated in community building games which took place in the center of our large circle.

I have facilitated a staff meeting with fifty teachers sitting in a large circle.  We discussed the uses of restorative practices in the classroom and the conversation allowed for a variety of opinions and ideas on education and teacher/student relationships.

This is a picture of me teaching a drama class to thirty kindergarten students at an inner city school in Mississauga.  To some, the idea of engaging thirty 4-6 year olds in drama games would be hell on earth.

In the circle, the students were easy to manage and everyone was involved.  The teachers commented on how open and willing some of their more shy and quiet students were in the circle setting.  They also commented on how shy some of their more lively students became in the larger circle.  Interesting…

Have you participated in a circle? What was the outcome? How did you feel as a participant in the circle?

The Circle Series: Introduction

3 Jan

The circle; a closed plane curve consisting of all points at a given distance from a point within it called the center.


The definition is lacking and in no way encapsulates my own personal relationship with the simple shape or its significance to cultures around the world.  The circle is associated with inclusion, wholeness, unity, nurturing, cycles, perfection, everything, womb, centering, infinity and completeness.

As a drama student, it became an everyday norm to sit in a circle before beginning our warm ups.  I never once considered that by simply sitting in a circle I was participating an activity that would shape my perception of education and my abilities to be a positive communicator.  This realization was nothing special; it’s old news that talking circles are indicative of open learning and communication.  The First Nations people of North America understood the power of a communal circle and slowly but surely western society is coming around to the idea of one very important practice known as restorative justice.

The First Nations Pedagogy Online website does a much better job than I ever could of explaining the importance and function of the circle…

Talking Circles or Circle Talks are a foundational approach to First Nations pedagogy-in-action since they provide a model for an educational activity that encourages dialogue, respect, the co-creation of learning content, and social discourse. The nuance of subtle energy created from using this respectful approach to talking with others provides a sense of communion and interconnectedness that is not often present in the common methods of communicating in the classroom. When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction.

Talking Circles originated with First Nations leaders – the process was used to ensure that all leaders in the tribal council were heard, and that those who were speaking were not interrupted. Usually the Chief would initiate the conversation, with other members responding and sharing their perceptions and opinions of the topic under discussion. The process provides an excellent model for interaction within the learning environment as well. It is also very adaptive to any circle of people who need to discuss topics and make decisions together.  

…Several varied objects are used by different First Nations peoples to facilitate the talking circle. Some peoples use a talking stick, others a talking feather, while still others use a peace pipe, a sacred shell, a wampum belt, or other selected object. The main point of using the sacred object, is that whoever is holding the object in their hand has the right to speak. The circle itself is considered sacred. First Nations people observed that the circle is a dominant symbol in nature and has come to represent wholeness, completion, and the cycles of life (including the cycle of human communication). As well, many talking circles were traditionally “opened” through a prayer and smudging. A sacred space was facilitated by these reverent acts and observances.


As an educator, I believe in the power of the circle and the lesson it teaches about respect through its traditional processes.  This is the first post of many in which I plan to investigate the uses of talking circles and restorative circles in education.

Do you have experience with talking circles or restorative circles?  How did you feel before during and after the process?  What resources can you share?