Brain-based change, and using this for Restorative Justice change.

I often use the tag line:  Change of Behavior, by a Change of Heart.

Our brains are very much impacted in Restorative Justice.

The emotional processing of a story, frees up our amygdala, releasing PTSD, storytelling is offten called the Trauma Narrative.

The building of safety and trust, helps our brains be in thrive vs survive mode, allowing access to new ideas.

I’ve become facinated by the way our brains can change.  I recently hosted a volunteer in-service, demonstrating the brain-based change relationship to Restorative Justice.  A copy of that powerpoint:

Brain-based Change

I also found this Ted Talk – which shows how our brains respond to electronic impulses.

Beatbox Ted Talk

Attention schools: 3 reasons for “primary” Circles, before “secondary” or “tertiary”.

The PBIS or public health models work perfectly with Restorative Justice Circles.

I am not sure of another process that can be used at each of the Tiers.  Restorative Justice Circles work on each and every level with only slight modifications to the questions used.

Skills developed by participating in the primary levels, benefit on the secondary and tertiary levels.

Soon your school will bring issues to the Circle, and they can soooo simply and easily be resolved.

A student shared with his helper, feelings about younger students asking questions and touching him and his wheelchair.  Staff called on the schools “Circle”-teacher.  She interviewed the student, asking what would be okay for other students to do.  The kindergarten “finger wave” was determined as the behavior to replace.  The Circle-teacher, facilitated the session, even bringing in a wheelchair to the center for a check in on all students knowing what it was.  Each student acknowledged being willing and able to do the finger wave.  Situation resolved, students concerns addressed, respected.

This worked because this school climate, uses Circles.  I teach and probably over-preach – do the community building Circle BEFORE you do the other kinds of Circles.  Another post regarding, here.

I went ahead and did a conflict resolution circle, with a group fairly new to the process.  I only had one experienced member.  I learned a few things, and discovered some reasons why I teach & preach this.

3 reasons to practice circle, before resolving conflict.

1)Circle is for each and every person present.  The un-experienced behavior that presented itself was a speaker asking questions while holding the talking piece.  The questions were directed at the 3 present because they had caused harm.  SOLUTION:  when you have Circle experience, you learn that your wisdom from speaking from the heart, telling a story, a lesson, an experience can help everyone else.  Circle, is not the communication space for trying to get someone else to think differently by rhetorical questions.  This kind of behavior excludes those that caused harm from the Circle.  Circles are about inclusion and community.  Those harmed and the community need the Circle as much as those who caused the harm.

2)Learning to listen.  Circle experience in a community building setting, teaches listening without responding.  The un-experienced behavior was raising a hand to talk.  SOLUTION:  Community building Circles are non-threatening, no one person or harm is the focus.  Participants learn the ease of listening without preparing a response.  You learn to notice, bookmark your thought and wait for the talking piece.  This skill is learned effortlessly in community building circles, you leave going “wow, I really feel connected or like I know people”.  Listening without forming a response needs to be learned and the only way to learn it is to do it, in Circle.

3)Time savings.  When people know there are 4 stages to Circle, you save time, because everyone in the Circle can help manage the time.  When short on time, I asked for consensus to keep going for an extra 10 minutes.  We still went over 10 minutes, and barely did the last stage.  We didn’t have much reflection or take-away time.  SOLUTION:  These stages are so important.  The Circle members get to turn-around reflect back on the collective experience.  Collective experiences build community.  Strong communities have less harm.  Strong communities have healthier individuals.

To a person new to Circle, you might not have even seen these.  The Circle is so strong, it can carry itself.  Having done 100’s, I know the difference and behaviors present when people are familiar with this process.

You have to experience it.  You can read about riding a bike and swimming, but you’ve got to be on the bike or in the pool to really really “get it”.  It is so different from day-to-day interactions and teaching settings and school structures.  Circles work, and if you want them to REALLY, REALLY work, practice with community building – for the teachers skills, for the students comfort and for the school community.

UW Extension and Restorative Justice have SO much in common!

I recently attended a summit on the social-emotional well-being of children and families in Pierce & St. Croix Counties.  These are the same counties that SCVRJP has been serving since 2001.

I certainly appreciated hearing the term, the focus and intention of the summit.  I updated my Facebook that day:

Spent the day “social-emotional  well-being” of children.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times:  restorative justice addresses the social & emotional aspects of crime & conflict.  We use values!

The summit shared the definition of Social-Emotional Well-Being (from Zero to Three, National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families) refers to the developing capacity of a child to:

  • form close and secure adult and peer relationships
  • experience, regulate, and express emotions in social and culturally appropriate ways
  • explore their environment and learn

From the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families:

“To focus on social and emotional well-being is to attend th children’s behavioral, emotional and social functioning – those skills, capacities, and characteristics that enable young people to understand and navigate their world in healthy, positive ways.”

In Restorative Justice Circles, the process beings with gentle, intention explanation and invitation to the Circle.  The physical ways the Circle will work are explained.  This provided the structure and safety within the process.  It makes is so important for keepers to model Circle elements.  The values of relationship are used to set up the social and emotional safety and structure of the Circle.  Some students ‘test’ and I see that as their exploration of the environment (3rd bullet above), and you can offer a teaching them the power of how it works when we listen and take turns speaking.

Circles obviously provide for the first bullet, close and secure.  I believe a Restorative Justice Talking Circle (facilitated will all elements) is the safest group process available to mankind.  Safety and listening allow deep connection.  I’ve seen teens shed the boundaries from social groups and connect in Circle.

For bullet 2 above, Circle allows a free flow of expression when you have the talking piece.  The non-judgemental environment allows students to speak through the experience.  This helps them navigate, regulate and express themselves appropriately.  I am reminded of a student expressing her fears for her Father, he was to go to jail, and she was worried about his health and medication needs.  How more appropriate to express it to the Circle, by talking about it, than by stuffing it and acting out.

I remember another student explaining that when he shared in Circle he learned things about himself he didn’t even know.  Uncovering the layers of who we are finding connection to others is where we experience our humanity.

We owe it to our youth to give them modeling and group process of being socially and emotionally supported.  I agree with supporting the well-being of our children on these aspects.  I hope we do this by increasing the use of Restorative Justice Circles.

Restorative Justice Training and workshop information.

SCVRJP generates revenue and support by providing training to outside agencies, school districts, and conferences.  I’ve been traveling since 2006, doing contracted Circle Training.  Agencies can also set up specific training to their specific need.

Topics for training include:

Restorative Justice Approaches & Outcomes (1 or 2 days)

Victim-Offender Conferencing (2 days)

School-based Restorative Justice (evening or 1 day)

Restorative Justice Circle keeper Training (2 days)

Restorative Measures in Schools(1 day intro, 2 days for skills)

Circle mentoring and coaching(1 day- 2 days)

Workshops – for a specific conference

Phone consultation and Follow up trainings are also available.

This document provides additional details: SCVRJP Training Information

The next Circle Trainings is June 21 & 22 in River Falls, WI.

Arrangements are pending, SCVRJP will be providing Circle Training in Sioux Falls South Dakota September 18 & 19.  Contact Kris at for more information.

SCVRJP will also be providing Circle Training in River Falls on Oct 4 & 6.


Effective, even alone, co-keep a Restorative Justice Circle.

An element of an effective Restorative Justice Circle is engaging each and every person in the power of the Circle.  This can be a difficult group process management skill.  Lucky for Circlekeepers, the Circle itself brings that.  In essence you turn a Circle over to the individuals present.  A Restorative Justice Circle is most beneficial when each and every person feels a sense of change.

The keeper sets the tone.  The keeper prepares the space, guides the process to values, to the talking piece, to the form and efficiency of listening deeply.

The mutual exchange of transformational energy, is service.  Anyone can serve another by having compassion for that person.  By sharing how I have learned, grown and become a better person – you might be able to find some insight, some deeper perspective you had before.

Even if you are the only one assigned to be ‘keeping’ the Circle, know that your Circle will be more effective, if you view every person in the Circle as your co-keeper.  I say things like “everyone is both teacher and student”.  We honor the equal worth of every person, by having that respect and showing it to each person.  That plays out into Circles where each person feels and experiences personal growth.

Another element of an effective Restorative Justice Circle is the feeling after.  Did you as the keeper feel inspired?  Do you have a warm feeling of serving others?  It is not about fixing them, because that would mean you thought they were broken.  It doesn’t mean feeling you helped them, that would imply a debt.

More perspective on fix, help, serve here and here.  So much communication is non-verbal.  That is why spending time in Circle Training – really know and understand the concepts and philosophy about Restorative Justice and Circle is so important.

Circle is based on Native American traditions.  Restorative Justice Circles are an extension from that cultural world-view.  These two sentances are very broad and general.  Not all, but most Restorative Justice Circle practitioners that I know, did not grow up from a deep or intate connection to a Indigenous world-view.  It takes practice to work from this framework, it takes dedication and constant self-evaluation.

Those I most trust with the process, those I am most connected to have worked very hard on an inclusive world-view.  The best keepers I know, have examined their life, wounds, and strengths.  From that they have developed a pretty good sense of humor!  Please bring your whole self to relationships and you will serve others.

Facilitating Restorative Justice loss of life, embraces the essence of the loved one.

Please note, this blog topic, facilitating Restorative Justice in a situation of a fatality, is not intended to promote practitioners stepping beyond their own skill set and training.  Mark Umbriet’s week-long course, a masters in counseling and additional trainings in grief, trauma and restorative justice contributed.  Serious crime and violence cases should be done in pairs, with support and in-depth training.

“I wish he would have been my Dad”

This statement was so powerful because it was spoken by the young man who was driving the car that caused the death of the “Dad”  he mentions.

“She would have done this for any one of us”

The speaker referring to “she” is talking about a relative killed in a traffic crash.  What she would have done, meet with the driver of the car and offer her forgiveness.

There is grief after loss.  When that loss is sudden, preventable and outside of the natural life cycle, that loss has trauma.  People respond individually to loss and trauma.  Crime victims in fatalities also have “crime trauma” – having to internalize that another human being intentionally or not, caused the death.  There are those who have to deal with various levels of intention by the offending party.

Some decide that Restorative Justice should be part of their journey. It is both humbling and an honor to serve on these cases and in these situations.  I say serve because a helper or fixer is a different relationships.  (article by Remen)

The relationship of a Restorative Justice practitioner is delicate in a loss of life case.  You become familiar with the essence of the loved one lost.  I believe our essence is what lingers in others.  If we are loved by another, that means we live forever in their hearts.  (I saw that on Facebook, so it MUST be true).  The circumstances around someone’s death should not be the final definition of who that person was and how they should be remembered.

Two very important things are necessary for healing.  Those are hope and courage.  Courage to face another day and hope it will and can get better.  Those same two values, hope and courage are so alive in a Restorative Justice conference around a fatality and loss of life.  What is amazing to bear witness to is the transformation for each party after the session.

I literally see people shed pounds of emotional weight.  The careful, careful preparation, and the space to let others do their work is a balancing act.  It is not mine to do.  My place is to guide the process, set up safety, find road blocks, share my map, discover the most pressing needs so those can be addressed respectfully.

If you are called to do the work of a serious crime and conflict case, start with good conferencing experience.  I also recommend Circle Training as a way to understand the essence of Restorative Justice.  This is not easy work, and it would require that you feel that call and connect to values for a healing experience.  See this blog post: The will to live is the will to heal for more on that.