Silly builds self-confidence, leaders need to learn how to get others to be a little silly.

Acting a little goofy, comes naturally to me.  I like to make people laugh.  I’m not afraid to tell really bad jokes.  The kinds that get a sarcastic or half-hearted courtesy laugh.  When I train a group or start a circle I sometimes throw out a one-liner or bad joke and it really breaks the ice.  There is both risk and vulnerability in this.  Leadership takes being both risky and vulnerable.

In the getting acquainted stage of a restorative justice circle, I will sometimes point out we are going to talk about the silly before the serious.  Last night I asked the Circle what “superhero” would you be, or what “superpower” would you most want.  Some chuckles and valid points:  “Batman, cause he’s right up there with everyone else and doesn’t actually have a super-power”.   People decades apart in age both picked “Spiderman” for the ability to swing between buildings.  This really does serve as an ice-breaker and practice talking piece skill-set.

I always end Circles allowing a reflection on the experience itself and making sure people know that they needed to “say anything they need to leave in peace”.  One reflection was about that “silly” round and how much it really breaks the ice.  I was given positive feedback for how I lead the Circle and how it really works to build trust quickly.

It was a particularly open session, participants shared honestly and I know this, because some of the sharing revealed painful backgrounds and experiences.  We tend to exagerrate the positive when we lie, or avoid hurting others.  What was revealed were items that might be shaming in any other context.  The average person doesn’t lie about things like that.

Other reflections at the end of circle included that participants expected to pass and did not.  I immediately thought of the value of the first two stages of the Circle – getting acquainted and building relationships.  A reminder again the importance of balancing the process when facilitating a Circle.

Being a leader is about others.  Being a leader is being yourself and being mindful of being a role model.  Holding yourself gracefully, while being a little silly, shows you are real.  You can trust real and genuine, even if it is a little silly it is still trustworthy.

Why did Cinderella get kicked off the basketball team?

She kept running away from the ball.

Coming together to share school-based Restorative Justice.

Colorado schools promote restorative justice with a school summit.

The full article highlights aspects of the youth-led restorative justice work happening in Colorado schools.  More evidence rolls in on using the philosophy and approach to build community and respond to harm in a way that does not exclude students or interupt academics.

The power of relationships is at the heart of restorative work.  I recently posted a Facebook update, mentioning I was in a bad mood.

A response was posted:  “Does it help to know that whenever I have a day like that at school, I run a circle in my classroom the next day.”  I was happy to hear that and then this was posted: “My relationships with my students are fabulous this year – and a lot of that comes from circles. Thank you Kris!”

That did improve my mood.  The response came from someone 1,000 miles and 5 states away.  We met 6 months ago when I was in her school providing training for the school and staff to implement Restorative Justice and Circles.

The brief comments on my Facebook wall, speak to the effectiveness and power of Circles.  The benefits for students are obvious when we retain them in school and help with their sense of belonging.  Research by the International Institute of Restorative Practices ( revealed how these approaches help staff.

I’m excited and cautious to see the youth-led initiative.  It is complex to hold the philosophical approach of restorative justice and merge that with process.  Our youth today, are faced with challenges and skills that I can’t understand at 42 years old.  My biggest fear is that the youth-“leaders” and “facilitators” will be set apart from the “participants”.  I am all about promoting equality and it’s not always easy.

I was looking at a Circle of college students, I saw some skeptical looks and confusion.  It was the first day of class and after a year off, the word about my teaching style hadn’t reached this group.  I asked the group to keep an open mind.  I reminded them that they grew up in an enviornment of getting stars for doing good and detentions for doing bad.   I explained that it would take sometime to understand how to hold people accountable without using exclusion or punitive responses.

Congratulations to the Colorado school community and the group from New Orleans, I am confident your efforts will change lives!

If you are interested in contracting with St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program to provide on-site school trainings, please contact me at the office 715-425-1100.  SCVRJP also offers on-site training.

3 messages of support for Restorative Justice Circlekeepers.

Respect the power of Circle. 

Here is a link, where you can listen to a family-services worker with Ojibwe ancestry, who uses the circle technique to encourage open sharing and real listening.  Mary reminds us that this process is very simple and very powerful.  The interview provides great insight into application process.

Keep your balance.

It is important to lead as an equal in Restorative Justice Circles.  Balanced with that is the importance to remember that you are a role model.  Your sharing and stories should reflect restorative justice values.  I myself have been tempted and even on occasion utilized the opprortunity of having the talking piece to speak from my “need”.  Most recently the sharing about the loss of a family pet.  Balance comes in when you share in a whole and healthy manner.

Study the art & science of Circles.

I recently found Brene Brown, her TED talk resonated with me.  I am reading her book:  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  So much of what she shares, I can relate to.  I love having another author to quote.  She values connections and I believe being in a Restorative Justice Circle bring out the “wholehearted” living that Brene also describes.

This is just one example of encorporating what you study into who you are as a person.  Who you are as a person ties into who you are and how you keep a Circle.  It is important to keep yourself together to keep Circles well.  We are human beings and we ebb and flow.  We grow and change, so bring your skills as a keep along.

Legislation to promote funding for school-based restorative justice.

A recent email:

I hope you had a great holiday!  Congressman Cohen is working to reintroduce the Restorative Justice in Schools Act for the 112th Congress.  Please let me know if you would like your organization to be listed as one that supports this legislation.  Below is the draft text we will use to send to members and I have attached the text of the bill to this email.
We are also in need of a Republican member who may want to join with Congressman Cohen in introducing the bill.  Please let me know if you have worked with a Republican member on this issue who might be interested.
I look forward to working with all of you this Congress!
Kind regards,
Reisha Phills

Legislative DirectorCongressman Steve Cohen (TN-09)

(202) 225-3265

(202) 225-5663 fax

Support Programs to End the “School-to-Prison” Pipeline
Become an Original Cosponsor the Restorative Justice in Schools Act
Dear Colleague,
We encourage you to cosponsor legislation that promotes providing school personnel (teachers and counselors) with essential training that has the potential to reduce youth incarceration.
Restorative justice is an innovative approach to conflict resolution which shows promising results throughout the country and abroad.  It focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime and conflict rather than simply punishing the offender.  Too often, we rely on harsh punishments, like incarceration, which prove to be expensive and counter-productive in many cases, especially when applied to youth offenders.  Many school systems involve the police for non-violent incidents and feed the “school-to-prison” pipeline.  More importantly, it is a victim centered process that gives the person harmed an opportunity to have a voice in the process and subsequent healing.  There are many studies which show the cycle of victims becoming the aggressors when a process is not available that allows healing.
Restorative justice processes and practices can serve as a cost-effective and useful alternative.  It holds juvenile offenders accountable to their victims and their community, and helps them understand the impact of their actions. It establishes a non-adversarial process that brings together offenders, their victims, and other interested parties to ask three major questions:
·         What is the nature of the harm resulting from the crime?
·         How should this harm be repaired?
·         And who is responsible for the repair?
Our bill allows local education agencies to use ESEA funding for key school personnel such as teachers and counselors to receive training in restorative justice and conflict resolution.  This training will provide them with the essential tools to address minor student conflicts.

Help from a neighbor, small relationship support can make a big difference.

I often explain that the culture in a community can be changed.  Restorative Justice works on culture by improving the relationships between people.  Even strangers can help you feel better about your community.  I usually give the example of someone holding the door for you at the post office.  However, I bumped into someone recently and all though I stopped, turned and said “excuse me”, she kept on walking.  I was miffed, I went back to the office and had to tell my coworker all about it (not very “zen” of me, I know).

I experienced the opposite yesterday. 

I was at the gas station, I noticed two people, a man and a woman I know talking near his parked vehicle.  As she was walking back to her car, which was at the pump near my car, I called out to say hello.  She came over and we started to chat.  I shared how I serve on the board of her late husbands former employer.  I mentioned that I think of her, I know he dedicated a number of years and sweat equity to that organization.  She asked how things were going and as I related a few brief example, it occured to me how she had been involved via her spouse for decades.  I made a comment to that regard.  She laughed as well, and we both knew what role she had.

I’ve know this person in our community.  She’s volunteered and taken training at my agency.  She mentioned wanting to help more in the future.  She shared how she experienced Christmas time, how she missed her late husband.  It was a nice exchange of a few intersections of our life.  I put my hands in my pockets, and no car keys.  I expressed my concern.  Sure enough, I locked them in my car.

I was offered help, the use of her phone.  She gave me a ride to work.

Relationships are strengthened by going out of your way for someone.  This community member, really made feel supported, cared for and relevant.  We chatted all the way to the office, it’s not that far.  She even extended herself further, explaining she was free all morning if I needed more help.

That was a gift of relationship support.  Her kindness reinforced the importance of relationships with all kinds of people in your community.  If you have a chance to help someone, take the opportunity, you’ll be building community.

Orignally written for my areavoices blog Neighbor2neighbor.

Restorative Justice Circles help people practice being their best.

I was a little worried about how the Underage Consumption Panel was going to go.  One of our community members in the Circle was a local Judge.  A supporter of Restorative Justice, but this was going to be his first bonafide Circle experience.  Of course I wanted it to go very well.  Each Circle is unique to the participants, to the topic and to the level of intimacy of which things are expressed.

For me to feel like I have done a good job keeping a circle, I look for people to be opening up, deeper than they expected.  I hope the stories exchanged help people address their own behaviors.  When we decide for ourselves to make a change, it tends to stay around.  We are all motivated by different factors.  However, I think our own level of self-determination sets the stage for sustained change.

I look for expressions in my Circles, that people are being insightful, honest, open.  Because the Circles wade you into relationships with others, (the four stages: getting acquainted, building relationships, addressing issues, taking action) you can test being your best.  Listening teaches empathy.  When you are listened to and cared for it brings out your compassion.  When we are in a place of empathy and compassion, it helps you be your best.  You can hardly hold two emotions at the same time (those darned emotions are complicated).  Defenses are down when empathy and compassion are up.  Judgement is down, when you are feeling empathy and compassion.  You learn more about others in a way that lends to perspective about yourself, when . . . empathy and compassion are present, you can just be a better person than you were 20 seconds ago.  I love that sense in Circle, that we are relating to each other in this manner.  Circle makes it so easy to be a better person, because we talk one at a time.

I remind people when I set up my Circles, when you don’t have the talking piece is as equally as important as when you do.  I ask for listening for understanding.

Like every Circle, we focused on values.  Relationship values identified by the participants including the Judge (who to the Circle was a community member).  The college age students who had recieved drinking tickets or sanctions to attend were the primary focus of the Circle.  Our discussion was guided by restorative justice principles,  restorative justice stories and a booklet called CHOICES, from the Change Companies (

Before the session started, I had prepared the Judge like any community member.  We provide a powerpoint outline, that explains the philosophy or Restorative Justice and Circles.  I sent him the Mission, Vision and Values sheet we use.  He arrived early so I could brief him on other elements of volunteering and participating in Circle.  He was the volunteer who helped register people.  He followed my lead, by making quick introductions, being welcoming, collecting the session fee and guiding participants to the next area of making a name tag and getting seated in Circle.

The Judge commented to me how organized the process was.  I explained that it was for him.  Volunteers, feel more relaxed knowing what to expect.  Our agency model is to help everyone be their best.  He smiled and I could tell felt confident that at SCVRJP we know what we are doing.

The Circle was great.  The stories emerged from the participants, they all indicated the class was much better than expected, before the round about a ‘public committment’ they were expressing statements about changing future behavior.  I was happy that it went well, and that the Judge saw a good process.  He commented to me that experiencing it really is the only way to understand it.  I smiled.

However, I found another great indicator from that class.  I think each participant felt good about themselves and the process.  The evaluation form has a open question, “what did you like least?”  we typically hear about the cost in this section.  After this class, not one single mention about how much the class cost.  That really made me feel good.  Of course having a Judge appreciate your service, that’s a priceless sigh relief as well!

My brain thinks in restorative justice circles and so can yours!

I was having a dream that I was losing control of a team of people.  I was in an old house and half of the group left, concerned because I brought up addressing how things were going in the house.  An old well-respected supervisor of mine, was in the dream.  I told him I was going to address the situation with the skill-set I had.  Circle!  He agreed, I moved furniture, found talking pieces and prepared for a Circle.  I went to the front of the house, looked outside and he was pulling in the drive-way.  Driving an old station wagon, filled with the people who had left the house earlier.  I woke up.

In my half-asleep dream state, I started to think of Circle questions and how I might answer.

Being a good Circle keeper is about thinking of the questions, being aware of what stage of Circle you are in, and preparing a question to role model the intention your question has.  This is the tip for getting your brain to think in Circle.  Role modeling your intention, while answering a question in a genuine and authentic place.   It’s a balancing act between being spontaneous and being rehearsed, sort of.  There is a skill in remembering the bigger picture of the Circle, the greater aspect and also aligning your sharing with this.

My half-sleep/half-dream and a few questions that came up . . .

What is something you feel the opposite gender “gets” that you don’t?  (My sleepy-dreamy response) I don’t think women get to be macho or direct like men.  We just get labeled as bitchy.  Men get to be pushier about agendas, I think it is a bit more accepted.  And drinking beer, men can like beer more than women.  I started to wake up and realize that only a certain Circle could hold that question.  It would have to be a group connecting about exploring gender roles or one that had established trust and openness.  I also woke up and started wondering about my answer.  The other night I only had one beer in my house, and I finished it hoping I had more.  So maybe that is where it came from in my dream.  Who knows!

I drifted back to sleep with more questions coming into my brain . . . what’s one thing about yourself you would change . . . what little thing would make a big difference in this conflict . . . how do you help others . . .what superhero are you most like.  I woke up, critisized myself for being such a work-orientated person.  Then I remember my 2011 resolution to work more at accepting myself.  So I decided to blog about a sleepy-brain that wakes up dreaming about a process at work that could be used anywhere.

The tip for practitioners is to use your heart and your brain with planning Circle questions.  Put careful thought into the structure and intention of your responses, you never know when you might wake-up with new ideas!