5 Steps to Use Restorative Justice Circles for Bully Behavior.

The stories of bully incidents continue to be of concern.  I have talked with frustrated parents, confused professionals and educators dedicated to prevent and put right the wrong of behavior that is negative, unwanted, repeated, and involves a power imbalance.  These items in italics are the very definition of bully behavior*.

This post is going to offer 5 clear steps to utilize in addressing bully behavior using Restorative Justice Circles.  Other related posts, here, here and here.

Step 1) Use Circles as a process to build community – before – using to repair harm.  You cannot be accountable to someone you don’t have a relationship with.  The simple practice of Circle, for the sake of Circle (or building community) – has several benefits.  Circlekeeping is a skill, it takes practice, each Circle gives learning.  Practice the process, so youth are aware of the benefits to listening each other speak.  You will get to know the youth better, so you will have information to move towards repairing harm.  You will see Circle ‘naturals’ evolve, you will spot who would be good community representatives in a Circle to repair harm.  Using Circles to build community paves the way to effective Circles to repair harm or right a wrong.  Circles promote  pro-social skills and Social Emotional Learning!

2) Use Circles with a capital C. You can place students in a circle form, you can hold a meeting without tables.  Circle keeping is an art and science, learning to read the emotional climate of the Circle and how to navigate between the stages and phases takes practice.  Preparing your lesson plan for a Circle is important, practicing the facilitation of this type of process increases positive outcomes.  To address something as crucial as bully behavior, use the power of the process that is based in values, empowers all and focuses a change of behavior by a change of heart.

3) Use Restorative Justice philosophy (link).  Especially equal concern Victims/Offenders/Community – – view the behavior as harm to relationships and people.  The process is designed to repair harm.  Restorative Justice is grounded in respect and inclusion.  The most typical intervention – ban interaction between students.  In my experience I have seen that make things worse.  There is always a story, behind the story, I believe individuals behave poorly, when they have a (perceived) justification for the behavior.  When you set up safe space and prepare people to come together – excellent outcomes prevail!  You can make Restorative Justice, School-based Restorative Justice, simply know that victim/offender/community – is student/student/community or teacher/student/staff – – Restorative Justice is so effective because of the direct path to healing for the community representatives, victims and offenders.

4) Comprehensive, whole school approach – One restorative home on a block, does not a restorative community make.  Do all you can to promote the use of a philosophy and approach from mission to discipline.  Consistent attention to promote cultures of peace and belonging is needed.  Use engagement, (a core pillar of RJ) involve parents, support staff in efforts to build community and repair harm.  I am available and happy to offer training sessions.  I will be speaking at the MN PBIS Conference Dec 8.

5) Circle again and again.  Someone recently told me a Circle, blew up, made things worse.  What a perfect time for another Circle.  Have another Circle to show accountability to the community, show a place where behavior has consequences of social and emotional proportions.  If the behavior of bullying has paid off, it is likely a person would ramp up the behavior to get those outcomes.  It may also show that the person who continues the harm, has a real skill issue, and needs more support in developing the skill.  I don’t know all the details around the Circle that blew-up, I wasn’t part of that.  However, I view conflict as opportunity, and Circle takes and makes the best of opportunities for growth and healing.  If you find yourself in a Circle, after an earlier Circle to address, ask people how they should respond or what the plan will be if the issue continues.  Then challenge yourself to help create plans that are not punitive.  It can be very difficult.  In Circle, you have all the parties in attendance and you will be using consensus as the decision-making tool, which should take care of everyone’s needs.

*This: Violence Prevention is a ppt, I presented recently to our local Rotary Club.  Featuring our local initiative to address concerns around Bully behavior.