Restorative Justice listening . . . to bare witness.

That is an intentional typo.  I’m going to try to explain the kind of listening that works best in Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles.  Not listening to respond, not active listening so you can reframe and respond.  The kind of listening that is free of judgement.  Listening that could be called ‘bearing witness’ to another person.  What does to bear witness mean?

I got to explore this with a small group of volunteers we were working on their skills to become Cirlcekeepers at SCVRJP.  I used a volunteer behavior to make my point.  A great listener, yet and responder in a verbal Mmmm, when he hears something he really understands.  Great in any other setting.  In the context of listening in Circle, we ask that all judgement be removed from Circle.  Judgements that are positive and also those that are negative.  Even when we toss in an affirmation of Mmmm, we aren’t honoring the talking piece.

The role of the person without the talking piece is to understand the other talking.  That includes refrain from judgement.  That includes hearing the whole share of a person.  I believe (informed by many, many experiences) that when we listen without those judgements, the speaker finds a way to their deep, inner truth, and beings to speak to their solutions.  I was doing a presentation and a few in the audience had been in Circle.  A young man stood up and offered that when you share in Circle, you learn about yourself, you find out who you are in what you say.

Our training group really explored this topic.  Someone realized that a head nod, means “I heard you, now move on”.  Someone else shared frustration when speaking to someone who is agreeing with you, but knowing that they don’t really understand what they say they are agreeing to.

In my head, I’, running what ‘nay-sayers’ might think of this post.  That is not judgement free.  What I need to share, is that we do more in Circle, once people are listened to in this very deep, personal way, an openness to understanding, new ideas, deeper empathy and compassion can emerge.  To get to a deep place, a deep connection, this type of listening is necessary.

In training sessions, I work hard to give the deep connected experience of Circle.  If you are going to be Keeping effective and powerful Circles, it is important to really understand the fundamental things, like the power of the talking piece, and the role of it being much, much deeper than to simply dictate who is speaking.

The bare over bear.  Metaphorically bare of your own need to comment, bare of your own judgement, bare of anything to fully receive and understand another human being.  I do think we see the actions of others through the lens of our own experiences.  We need to understand others (different that see others).  The empathy we create in Circle by being bare listeners, creates a new level and energy of empathy that others can receive.  I hope you will give this kind of energy a try.

Click to Tweet!

 

Memory tool for explaining Restorative Justice Circles.

Anytime we can think of an image we are familiar with, (an existing neuro pathway) we are more able to remember things we associate to that image.

For teaching storytellers Restorative Justice Storytelling process, I ask people to associate the stages of storytelling to a baseball diamond.

For people learning Circles a Railroad Crossing sign.  I just typed up a handout (Memory Tool for explaining Circle) for tomorrows Keeper Meeting.

RR-25s

I have a few changes, the L on the left changes, but this Memory Tool can be a quick and easy way to learn how to ‘Circle-speak’ . . . Circle-speak is developing the language that opens hearts.

Circle-speak is . . .

. . . inviting over authoritative

. . . suggestive over directive

. . . about opportunities over rules

. . . supportive over assumptive

. . . from the heart, open, honest and genuine

You say things not always heard in everyday conversations . . .

. . . listening with the ears of your heart

. . . speaking your wisest words

To bring people to a deeper space of connection . . . connect with the deepest parts of yourself.  Be congruent about your most positive beliefs in people.  Be open to your own heart being changed by Circle.

Tweet this post!

 

 

Circle with diverse members, harmed, harmer and community role models.

What a fortunate place I have, having kept 1,000’s of Circles in a range of contexts.  I’ve also been fortunate to train a few hundred in the process, allowing me to hear stories back on what worked well, and what was a lesson.

It is soo important that Circles have a diverse mix of perspectives.  This takes time, in training youth or community volunteers about the dynamics of participating in Circle.  However, by training others, you yourself will be learning more about the fundamental belief systems that make Circles work.

I believe that Circles are more effective that a victim-offender conference.  For one they include others, this allows for additional perspectives to the harm, and for more perspectives on how to repair it.  Circles that include victim, offender and community are more aligned with core restorative philosophies.

The diversity in a Circle makes is rich in perspectives.  Once we hear other perspectives are minds stretched and a stretched mind never fully returns to the original.  I could also insert heart here.

I was observing a young person across from me.  It was a “disorderly conduct” referral.  She was listening to a story about a domestic violence.  The storyteller remembered a moment in a hospital bed, her brothers wanted to go beat the abuser, and she just wanted it all to stop.  A life changing moment was being shared.  The storyteller spoke of the dedication to not raising her daughters around violence.  I observed a very, very engaged listener across from me.  As she rubbed her very pregnant stomach, I had hope for the unborn child.

Circles without trained participants to hold the values, to role model the process, aren’t spaces for strong personal growth.  As a plant grows strong against a breeze, the community stories lean into the reality of the listener.  If your Circle only contains those that broke rules and an authority, you haven’t moved your paradigm quite far enough.  That model might be a start, however, it is repeating the framework that only addressing the wrongdoing will help.  It might, but if you really want to get to change beyond the incident, and get to change connected to values, use diversity in your Circles.

If you are local or near River Falls, Wisconsin, please come volunteer to learn more.  Monthly volunteer orientation sessions are held and Circle Keeper Training is free to volunteers.

Resources for Circle keepers, helping promote the process.

At St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Progam (www.scvrjp.org) we hold our sessions in Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle process.  We depend on volunteers to help us as community members and as Circle Keepers.  We recently developed a few resources for our organization and will share these here.  Let me know what you think!

Elements & Stages

SCVRJP Circle Keeper Guidebook

The next two-day Circle Keeper training at SCVRJP is on October 3rd and 4th from 9-3 both days.  Those volunteering with SCVRJP willl be not be required to pay the $200 registration fee.  Limited scholorships are available.  SCVRJP also provides consultation and workshops, you can contact us and bring a training to your conference or agency.

I’ll be presenting 4 workshops at the Idaho Juvenile Justice Conference August 27, http://www.ijja.us/conference.php

How key elements of a Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle create more than conversation.

Circles are so simple, yet so complex.  I’ve been told I make it look easy, that ease comes from a deep committment to honor the process and the key elements of Restorative Justice Circles.  Here are a few of the elements and how utilizing them impacts the process, creating a deeper container a richer experience, and has people quickly moving to a place of emotional safety.

The opening/closing.  I have a 3 inch 3 ring binder bursting with poems, readings and even an obituary.  When you introduce this element you are sharing how Circle is different from our every day conversation, that sets a tone.  The reading also provides one voice.  The one reading, is the one speaking, at that time.  People know that when someone is reading to a group, the thing to do is to listen.  The reading creates an opportunity for the group (without knowing it) to do one of the things that makes Circle so successful (speak one at a time).  When you get to a place of “one voice”, it is actually creating a collective energy of ‘one-ness’.  Sound corny, but in that space you are having more than a conversation.  This is a monitoring of the emotional climate (key Keeper skill) and when you have that spot reached, you have a deeper well.

Commitment to the Values.  Crucial.  Absolutely crucial.  This sets the agenda and the tone for how we are going to relate to each other.  Doing the values round as the first round, sets a tone, and the commitment to those values, sets and ground that the Center of the Circle, has a capital C.  It is an easy place to find consensus, to talk about consensus.  The other thing it does is give chance for a one-word or short sentence response.  Quickly moving the Talking Piece around the Circle.  Once every voice is heard, people have a sense of belonging, of value.  They have given a vote on how they are willing to proceed.  If I have a delicate topic or important conversation, I always ask “can I talk to you” or “do you have time right now”.  This is a small but very influential relationship building technique.

Passing the Talking Piece Around the Circle.  I think the Keeper was trying to point out use of the talking piece, when someone was blurting she asked if they needed it, the person said yes.  It started a “popcorn” style, going across the Circle, bouncing around.  Many of us were not in that particular stream of conversation.  From my seat, it felt as if the individuals doing the talking had taken a bit of control of the process.  When the Keeper started to engage the piece going all the way around, it felt more equal.  Equality, sitting equal distance from the Center, equal opportunity with the talking piece.  These physical actions influence our emotions, Spirit and thoughts.

Keeper as model to responses.  I often go first, to show or demonstrate and to set the tone.  Just offering “who wants to start” creates the extroverts going first.  You have lost the chance to influence the emotional content, level or sharing and duration of explanation you are seeking.  Sometimes going last to summarize is important.  By going first you can also restate the question at the end of your sharing.  Helpful for the person to your left or right.  (I go both ways, another blog post).

Relationship Building.  You can’t NOT be in relationship, and relationships are bi-lateral.  Kindness builds a relationship.  I often mention to the person on my left, “you have a big job, you’ll be going first” or I engage in talk that connects.  Asking people safe questions to start and small talk shows you care.  We specifically place volunteers in the Circle as people are starting with the task to do relationship-building.  It means treating people with the utmost non-judgement.  If someone hands you a pen, they are trying to be helpful, take it.  Hand it back later when it is needed.  People can be anxious or nervous, do what you can to be kind, helpful, non-judgemental, supportive.  Be as safe as a Circle, engage values in every way you can. (click to Tweet).

Restorative Justice Circles, structuring the human element.

Be human.  Be a good relative, establish solid relationships by being relatable.

Restorative Justice Circles process is MORE than just a talking piece.  It is a way of holding a Circle, inviting each and every person to be both student and teacher.  Using values, consensus and 4 stages to guide people through the experience of self-discovery, vulnerability and connection.

The Circle process at SCVRJP, has been tested and executed 1,000’s of times.  I am not overstating this!  This week alone . . . two Circles at drivers education class, a controlled substance intervention (CSI) Circle, an Underage Consumption Panel-Circle and a  Circle to repair harm of vandalism/racial harassment.  That’s 5 Circles for an agency that is open 4 days a week!

Each Circle includes community members, paper plates, with values written.  Each Circle included a mat for the talking pieces, a commitment to show the Center of the Circle, and the center of ourselves is a source of power, change, perspective, and the home to our space of connecting to one another.  The 4 stages are crucial to really making Circle magic happen.  Guiding the process so people enter and exit safely and with new awareness enhances the depth of the experience.

Working with Restorative Justice Circles, with the deep appreciation for executing these in the best manner possible produces results.

 

Restorative Justice Circles promotes one voice, as speakers share one at a time.

A recent comment mentioned a struggle when someone in a Circle consistently declines or is not moving at the same pace.  I work really hard at keeping the Circle equally engaged.  Here are some thoughts regarding equal engagement in Circle.

I teach and train keepers of Restorative Justice Circles, to promote equality in dignity and worth.  This means in language and speech about describing the Circle.  Saying phrases that might seem cheesy, yet promote this sense of community and connection.  For example “lets sit equal distance from the Center” , “next to each other, knees and shoulders”, “if we were a tire we would go down the road smooth and round”.  If you request it kindly, gently and from a good heart, people hear it that way.  There are other ways to promote within the space, making sure if you are in the room you are in the Circle.  Not having a different chair, or some people using bean bags.  I co-create with the space I have, moving furniture if needed.

When explaining the talking piece I talk about equal opportunity, because it will be going around the entire Circle.  I speak to sharing, explaining I am looking for a word or phrase.  I also move deeper and explain the second stage, looking for a paragraph or two.  A skilled Circle teacher I know will even address it kindly and inclusively outside of Circle.  She’ll approach the student, state her observation (without judgement) “I noticed we didn’t get to hear any of your stories, maybe next time”  or state that she hopes to hear these.

The next thing I teach and train, is to monitor the emotional climate, making it safe for everyone to share.   I am a firm believer in role modeling and honoring the talking piece as the keeper.  If not, you are not promoting that equality and equity that a Circle provides.  The Circle does the work, not the facilitator, and facilitator is specifically a word I do not use.  If people pass or elect not to share.  In a respectful way, I reframe a bit, “here’s a question we can all answer”.  Don’t move on without engagement of the entire Circle.  Create safe space.  Always create safe space.

I recommend that schools do community building circles first.  This means holding Circles to model and teach the process.  This means taking time to get people close and connected.  Follow the PBIS triangle, and get the skills before addressing a potentially or harmful event.

Treat and encourage each and every person to be the strongest edge of the Circle, teach and know that each person is contributing to the Center of the Circle in their very unique and individual way.  When the Circle works, like spokes to the Center, and the distance between each person and the Center is equal, amazing things happen.

This model held and practices, teaches an individual responsibility.  It strengthens each students relationship with themselves by the bolstering the skills of speaking and listening.  In turn each student engages, every voice is heard.  When there is equality in participation, there is equality in engagement and community is built.

It seems like a lot of effort, or these Circle take a long time.  It can be done quickly and effective when this (equality/connection) is the context of who you are and what you represent.  Circlekeeping is a more than just a skill-set you turn off and on, Circlekeeping is how you relate to others.

Restorative Justice work as art and being. Three experiences one blog post.

An artist in the show, invited me to the reception.  Twice, so I knew it was important, and relationships are built by going out of our way.  Since I like art, it wasn’t THAT out of the way, so I attended.  Since I know the artist in a totally different context, I didn’t really connect “drawing from life” or the postcard, to what I was going to see.

Voila_Capture1018The gallery was set up with the center space showing the chair the model might sit in.  It became clear from the drawings, the models were nude.  Wow.  I took in the art, appreciated reading the artist statements.  I had just been to a deep meeting and discussion with someone preparing to meet with a surviving family member, in a multiple death traffic fatality incident.  The nakedness of the art, the beauty, reminded me of how we have to get emotionally bare when it comes to Restorative Justice dialogue.  As a facilitator when emotions are high, and grief over the death of a loved is present, you also become bare.  Your own heart is present and you (facilitator) are in it alongside those requesting and agreeing to dialogue.

Later I posted on Facebook, the echoes of this earlier conversation.  It really stayed with me, mostly the bravery of the young person, dealing with very adult issues.  The pre-session preparation was more intense, as we are getting closer to the actual face to face meeting.  The compliment shared was really great to hear as well.  The voiced confidence in SCVRJP and me, confirmed and supported the energy I was feeling about readiness for the dialogue to happen.

photo    This morning a comment on the Facebook post, struck a strong note with me.  Cameron Communicationz, “everything worth doing is an art”.  YES!  I always taught my daughter to know that art was never finished, if you “messed up” just keep coloring or drawing to work that in.  She might not remember that.  I was trying to counter my perfectionism rubbing off on her, but that’s another blog post.  In facilitating a severe crime case, such tender care is needed in exploring the needs of the victims.  Preparing parties to sit face to face after damage and harm, especially when a loved one has died, requires zero attention to your own perfectionism.  All ego of the facilitator needs to be removed, and working towards emotional safety and preparation is the art.

Restorative Justice as art.  That means co-creating with those around you.  That fits well, I teach that a Circle keepers job is to engage everyone as keepers in the Circle.  As I viewed the art in the gallery, there was no way the drawings could have emerged without the live figure (nude model).  Imagine the vulnerability to disrobe and be drawn . . . to me that feels incredibly powerful, a risk taken and completed.  As I looked at the art gallery drawings, I could see myself in some of the drawings.  We connect to art, and I believe we connect to each other in Restorative Justice.  Reflections of ourselves in others.

The link between art and Restorative Justice got me thinking about the similarities.  Using different methods, improving over time, finding yourself in the art you create.  Learning what others interpret or see in your creations.

I got emotionally overwhelmed at the art gallery.  I felt like crying.  I was moved by the courage I felt in the drawings and the honesty expressed.  I enjoyed visiting with the person that invited me.  It was a real lesson, on people being more that you might know.  The restorative justice meeting, the gallery reception, the Facebook comment. Three randomly disconnected things, all now connected in this blog post.  And isn’t that what life and Restorative Justice is all about . . . connections.

Creating learning “containers” with Restorative Justice Circles, two techniques.

I don’t teach spontaneous Circle Keeping.  I teach getting grounded, connected and comfortable with the core values and principles in Circles.  After working to have these with me, I have developed a few activities that lend to utilizing the container, the center of the Circle, to enhance the process.  These also provide participants a chance to experience what Circle is like.  Here are two techniques I might add to a Circle, an old favorite and new one.

Technique 1:  Passing the talking piece, holding it until you feel your silence is heard.  In your non-directive, supportive Keeper role, ask participants to pass the talking piece, staying silent, and only passing it when they feel their silence has been “heard”.  Sometimes I frame this as a group listening exercise, promoting “collective-ness”.  At other times, I might not offer much except the instructions, it depends on the desired outcome of the activity.  I will use it to calm or slow down the emotional climate.   It can be used to promote an awareness of silence.  It also teaches a pathway to feeling “heard”.  You can reinforce that a bit more, by asking a follow up question: how did you know you were heard, or how did you know you were ready to pass the talking piece?  This technique can be used to teach the power of listening.  The focus is on the person holding the talking piece (as when we speak) however, people are learning to focus/listen non-verbally, and we know non-verbal communication is important.  This is a good one to start, to go first and model actually holding the piece and tune in to the feeling of being heard.  This also builds trust in the group, this round gives the keeper opportunity to reinforce a key aspect of Circle, to listen.  It is a good one to do a reflection on the experience, having people share, many times they relate the uncomfortable feeling of it.  The keeper can then remind people, we don’t usually stretch or grow in our comfort zones, so feeling uncomfortable is ok.  It’s even a time for curiosity.

This has proved itself time and time again, I’d say 99% of the time it goes really well.  The 1%, I had a very challenging student group, they didn’t like it.  So I used my chimes and gave them a moment to make all the noises they wanted.  Then we tried the exercise again.  Silence wasn’t safe for this group, we made a step however.

Silence is a good tool to use when keeping Restorative Justice Circles.  Silence is a good prep tool for a keeper and if you are going to use a tool, it is good to get very comfortable with it.

Technique 2: stand up and mime your favorite outdoor activity.  This was invented with the 1% listed above.  I use 4 stages (link to 74 other posts), and when going a bit deeper (into the building relationship stage) if people disengage, I back up to safer questions.  I could see the group getting restless, someone passed.  I know if the brain and the bottom are connected, when the bottom falls asleep so does the brain.  I needed an ‘energizer’ and I needed to build connection.  A bit of “safe-vulnerability” was needed.  Safe-vulnerability in Circle, means a chance to reveal something about your self, yet it is collectively connected and connecting.  The stand up and mime question, allowed us to show we aren’t professional mimes, we got to laugh a bit at ourselves and each other.  Laughter builds connection.  Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

The technique worked with the challenging group of students.  No one passed, I felt the energy and saw the student eyes appreciate the aides and teachers doing the activity.  It was a “safe-vulnerability” because staff and students got to know each other without an overly personal disclosure by the adults.  Building connections that are safe is important to strengthen the Circle.  Vulnerability in a Circle, in an organic and natural way also builds meaningful connections.  Sometimes a deep question or storytelling round brings that out.  Sometimes being vulnerable is just a small risk, and ‘outside the box’ way of being.  Vulnerability is best told by Brene Brown, her site, and TED talk, titled the The Power of Vulnerability.

Do you have “go-to” techniques you use?  If you try one of these let me know how it goes!

Doing restorative justice delicately, deliberately and with dedication.

I have the very good fortune of having a champion of Restorative Justice as a friend and mentor.  Kay Pranis was the Minnesota Restorative Justice Planner.  She’s seen so much in the field, she’s traveled the world teaching and training.  She’s Kay_Pranis2published books, journal articles, and well, she’s a voice of authority to me regardless.  It is her quality of a person, her calm nature, her wisdom to guide my reflections, thoughts, questions.  This quote, reminds me of Kay:

When you meet a being who is centered – you know it – you always feel a kind of calm emanation, it always touches you in that place where you feel calm.

The things we explore bring us back to key concepts, best practice, ethical efforts.  As practitioners of Restorative Justice, I think being delicate, deliberate and dedicated as I have experienced Kay, and tried to be myself, is helpful.

Being delicate.  Holding offenders accountable, while holding and creating a strong relationships.  Relationships, respect, responsiblity the key pillars of Restorative Justice, can’t me created with force.  Check out this link, at 2:30, the segment is promoting OWN Chalkboard Wars.  I love how Gayle King puts it “if kids don’t think you care, they don’t care what you think”.  Circles are the most powerful and effective ways to show kids you care, and to teach kids a way to care about each other.

One of the most important things to teach, when teaching people about Restorative Justice Circles, is structured silence.  AND doing this has to be both delicate and deliberate.  When you role model vs direct, inform, tell people how to behave, you have them learn for themselves.  This takes a deliberate and dedicated embrace of equality.  There are skills, activities, techniques, to bring youth in Circle to the respect of listening one at a time.  This is where empathy develops, an equal exchange and balance of voices in the room.

Being dedicated to Restorative Justice, means avoiding shortcuts, or developing routines, it means continuous exploration of the meaning and purpose of Restorative Justice values.  Each case is unique and should be treated as such. For example, victims should be given the choice of being seated in the room, or walking in the room where the person who caused harm is seated. All sorts of responses from this evolve, however the CHOICE is empowering.  Question yourself, discuss with a mentor.

Being delicate, deliberate and dedicated doesn’t mean without strength.  One teacher, who uses Circle soooo effectively, kept a Circle for students (she’s a pro, doing at least 2 a day in her classroom).  A co-worker, new to the process, experienced a Circle with her, and when it was done, the new coworker said “WOW, I didn’t know you were so powerful”, the teacher: “it’s not me, it is the Circle”.

Where are you most delicate?  Where could you be more so?  What are you very deliberate about, what could you do more intentionally?  Thinking of these questions, will show your dedication to effective Restorative Justice practice.