Here is another story of School-based Restorative Justice. Catherine has been teaching for over 20 years and has found Restorative Justice Circles to be powerful and effective addition to her classroom and teaching! This story is another highlight of the wonderful outcomes.
After you read this, imagine for a moment, if the formal approach was used instead . . .
Imagine a group of second graders excited to find a grassy area of the playground filled with dandelions. Imagine one particularly excited little girl with a hand full of dandelions for her teacher. Now imagine this same little girl setting the flowers on the pavement for a few minutes while she joins a 4-square ball game. But now is when the trouble starts…..
Two third graders saw the dandelions, came over and stomped them all into the pavement. Many second graders were watching this happened but they felt powerless to stop it. By the time I picked them up from recess the little girl who picked the flowers was in tears with classmates crowded around her trying to console her. At this point I intervened and tried to find out what happened. The story was rather garbled and when I walked over and spoke to the third graders they denied involvement.
“Time for a problem solving circle”, the second graders all said in unison. So I asked the two third graders to come in with us and join us in my classroom for a circle. One of the students had been in one of my circles before so he just calmly walked in and sat down. However the other third grader was very apprehensive. She walked into my classroom very tentatively and slowly headed for the circle. My students had a chair all ready for her so he really didn’t have a chance to turn around and leave the room. Besides I was standing by the door and closing it.
We started the circle with a round restating the Circle Values (which are posted on the wall near the circle space). Each student stated a value from the list they were going to work hard on today while in circle. I also explained and restated all the values then everyone participated in a committment round. When using problem solving circles with just my own class I don’t have to spend this much time on the values, but with the third grades not being familiar with the circle I felt that was an intricate part of the process on this circle.
First round: Tell your name
Second round: Tell something fun that you did on the playground today.
Third round: Tell something you saw on the playground today that made you sad.
Then the second grade girl got to tell what happend and how it made it feel then and now.
Fourth round: Tell your story about the dandelion problem. (only if you were involved otherwise pass)
Offenders are now given the chance to tell what happened and how they felt then and now.
Then I say, “Now we all know what happened. We can”t do anything about that now. (The circle was not a fact finding mission, it was about repairing harm) We can do somethng about fixing it now. We can repair the harm done to (victim).” I looked at the offenders and said, “Now is the best part of the circle. All these second graders in the circle today are going to give you some really good ideas on how to fix the problem. They will have some ideas to help you repair the harm you did. Now listen carefully as they give you ideas. If you have an idea you can talk about it too, when you get the taking piece.”
At this point the students give me a thumbs up if they have a good idea to repair the harm. I give the talking to piece to that person to start the “fixing” round. Today the answers almost all had the theme of apologizing and then helping the victim pick new dandalions the next day during recess. Several students offered to help pick the new dandalions too. When the offenders took the talking piece they agreed and restated the idea of helping pick dandalions tomorrow.
The final round was committing to following through with picking the flowers and restating the solution.
The next day came….my class came out for recess and the two third graders were both involved in a 4-square ball game. The minute they saw me they came running over saying, “Where is (victim) we need to help her pick some new flowers today.” Within minutes I looked up and saw at least 10 children (including the two third grade offenders) in the grass collecting dandalions. Within a few minutes (victim) came walking over to me wearing a huge smile and carrying an arm full of dandalions. Now that’s repairing harm!