Restorative Justice Circles talking or transformation, using key elements for change.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program ( has been doing 100’s of Circles a year, since 2006.  In that time we have successfully placed topics in the center of the Circle.  We have consistently used a structure, based on the work of Kay Pranis (more posts referencing Kay).  The key elements of a Restorative Justice Circles, have been featured in two books by Kay, the Little Book of Circle Process and Peacemaking Circles from Crime to Community.

These Circle experience spans school settings, severe crime and significant loss, to staff meetings structured with Circle and our many Circles held to address public health issues in our community.  Highlighted in this post, are the rationale and reasons for using the key elements.  Talking Circles provide connection and potential to repair harm.  To transform the way people see themselves and others in connection to community and to transform behavior instantly, try the Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle Elements, as described here.

A few of the commonly skipped or overlooked Key Elements:  Consensus to Values, 4 Stages.  A Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle is more than just using a talking piece.

Consensus to Values This aspect of Circle is more than just having people write on a paper plate.  This aspect is also designed to pull people together in a community that has decided how they will relate to each other.  The first steps of “community” if not geography, would be common interests.  A specific pass of the talking piece asking people to reflect on the values in the center, as part of the way of being together, deepens the connection before exploring topics, facing challenges or repairing harm.

4 Stages  (I am assuming you know these, there are many posts here highlighting) When we take time to do some questions, before the deeper conversation, or intention of the Circle, we are reminding people that we can make important connections by caring and learning about each other.  The simple content provides a context for common likes, it builds connection.  Some of my favorites lately have been to ask people about the next big accomplishment.  Fun results when I asked another training group to share 3 things about their shoes.

The final part when using the 4 stages, is to give opportunity for people in the Circle to identify their “take aways” or reflections on the experience.  This serves for people to identify quickly and immediately the benefit of the experience.  Like speaking to the Center in Circle promotes self – agency, so does speaking to your experience at the end of the Circle.  The use of the last phase helps us know we did good work together, it is another opportunity to allow people to share from the wise-centered part of who they are.  When doing Circles around trauma or emotionally heavy topics, it allows people to  prepare for returning to the un-structured everyday communication styles.

When you do more in Circle, than just employe a talking piece, you are creating space for safety.  Safety promotes vulnerability, vulnerability becomes a responsibility (tweet me) and a responsible keeper uses that for the greater good of  all in Circle.  Using the stages show respect and places the power, in each person and the Center of the Circle.

Key Elements Restorative Justice Circle

From “teacher” to “keeper”, for successful restorative justice circles.

There has been an amazing increase in school-based Restorative Justice Circles.  All across the United States, schools, districts, teachers and trainers have emerged.  There is an excellent blog at Edutopia, for schools implementing (by Dr Fania Davis).

Years of teaching teachers has provided experiences that if I want to leave skills where I train, I need to make the material relevant, useful, accessible to the students, and especially if I am training teachers.  In a recent webinar by the Zehr Institute, (you can view the webinar on the link), what I have learned was reinforced by those implementing school wide Restorative Practices.  The comments by Dr. Davis shares, about school culture, especially resonated.

One foundational key concept, is the relationship to Circle participants by the Circle Keeper. (click to tweet)

I use this image as a reminder.


The square represents when people are on different sides.  Assumptions are made about the other “side”.  There is a win-lose, right wrong, above-below based on judgements of those on the opposite or different side.  The triangle represents power, at the very top, 1 person.  At the bottom, many people.  This is the typical structure in a classroom, or in a business or hierarchy.  The Circle, is where people connect to the center.  Spokes to the center, connected to the center, equal dignity and worth of each and every person.  The role of the keeper is to bring the best out, the ‘keeper’ in each person in the Circle.

Training provides tips and techniques for moving into the relationship dynamic of Circle.  Some teachers, will explain the move to students.  Those with deeper connections to relationships and stronger social-emotional skills are naturally able to move to this dynamic.  It takes practice, trust and open-ness to the concepts of Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles.

Mid-november Circle Forward should be released, and it is my understanding this is part of the book.  I am looking forward to another resource for school-based/community building circles!  Pre-order at Living Justice Press.