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.

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.

Restorative Justice Circles, meeting the social brain needs, developing humanity.

For an example outside of this blog and SCVRJP, check out this presentation:  on DMC, from OJJDP,   The slides and information on Circles start on PPT slide 44 (ppt here).

What is described in this program, is very much like the programming used at SCVRJP.  I have several blogs trying to describe it, today I want to recognized something I see as very much like the Circles I associate with being Restorative Justice Circle.  Each element contains certain responsibilities and when these responsibilities are honored and the work done, is by Circle, then great outcomes can happen.

Key Elements of a Circle

  • Circle keeper

  • Ground rules

  • Values

  • Decision by consensus

  • Talking piece

  • Centerpiece

  • Opening/closing

The Restorative Justice outcomes can happen in other styles and “expressions” of Restorative Justice.  From a simple conversation, to a formal Circle.  I really feel like SCVRJP has developed an effective, effective means for not only reaching outcomes, but touching humanity in our Circle participants that really changes for the long-term.  My area is not other types of Restorative Justice process, my area is a Restorative Justice Circle, as learned from many teachers

A power point from the National Association of Social Workers was recently forwarded to me.  A great presentation I didn’t hear directly, by Johnathan Jordan, mindfully change.  Some pieces immediately resonated and I can see how Restorative Justice Circle process promotes and leverages brain based change!

Our brains need social safety – this is established around students learning in schools and offenders making change.  So what do our social brains need most?  A SCARF, scarf stands for (From Slide 14, of the NASW power point):

Status – how we compare to others, competition, avoidance of being “wrong” or responsibility for being at fault
Certainty – clarity, opposite of confusion, risk free
Autonomy – ability to make decisions, sense of control
Relatedness – fitting in safely, belonging to a group
Fairness – how we are treated compared to others

How a Restorative Justice Circle promotes each of these:

Status – Power is equalized in Circle, the set up, the format, the allowing each person equal access to the talking piece and the manner that a true Keeper of Circle brings, promotes equal status.  The non-judgement you promote in Circle, also eliminates a fear of judgement.  I convey in Circle, each person is a student and each person is a teacher.  It feels good to be needed, and it feels validating to know your “lived experience” can be used as wisdom for others.
Certainty – Circles have a clear structure and process.  After explaining how the talking piece will work, I explain the great freedom this will allow us.  This structure and certainty of the process is reinforced when we use a consensus process at the very beginning and agree to use the values in the center, the paper plates as our guidelines.  (This practice is slightly different from the model Gwen/Alice/Kay teach).  You promote certainty by role modeling the process.  Don’t blurt, because as keeper of community rep, you just role modeled that you don’t have to follow the guidelines, and that means you have stepped out of your equality status.
Autonomy – There is complete autonomy for each and every person in Circle.  You decide how you will be in Circle, you have the option to pass.  You promote inclusion and invitation as the keeper.  This allows freedom for people.  The first few stages, where you are doing the “silly before the serious” allows people to express themselves.  They realize they are free to be themselves, and then magically they open up to a place of being someone who wants to learn and even change.
Relatedness – It is amazing and the power of Circle immediately shows us we are all connected, more alike than different.  Using the process lights up the brains and hearts of all participants.  The final stage of Circle, where you reflect on the experience ties this all together.
Fairness – Circles are so fair, because of the equality.  Circle promote the fairness because of the equal opportunity for the talking piece.  You can speak your voice and mind, and maybe you don’t feel it was “fair” that you got arrested, but once that is voiced, we can move on in Circle to the choices made, and what could be made in the future.
I really encourage you to learn Circle by being in Circle, to embrace all the key elements and to leverage your influence on humanity by providing your community with real Restorative Justice Circles.

Full pdf article on SCARF

The Neuroscience of Better Negotiations PPT from NASW (©2012 National Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved)

Caution and blessing, Restorative Justice Circles can quickly create a culture.

When Kay Pranis and Jennifer Ball came to visit SCVRJP, they met with a few of our volunteers and stayed for a Controlled Substance Intervention Circle.  I realized that SCVRJP has developed a culture of Circles.  As we spoke about our work, it was consistent from Underage Consumption Panels to Circles with alternative school students, SCVRJP has a consistent method and manner for our Circle work.

I stick closely to Restorative Justice values, I do all I can to make sure our volunteers, community representatives are aware of the Mission, Vision and Values of this work.  SCVRJP Circles have consistent Restorative Justice Circle elements, consistently.  I have 253 posts on this topic of Circle process.  Each year we keep the paper plates stacked in an area and we watch them grow.  I still have 2011 plates in my office and when you have a meeting with me, you sit right in front of that stack of values.

I recently helped in a North St. Paul elementary school, spent the day going class to class introducing Circle.  The school is implementing Olweus.  I don’t align with some of the methods, however I do support a great deal of it (anything that excludes, in my opinion is perpetuating violence).  This day in the Elementary school, was not my first, I did some training there a few years ago.  Circles are used consistently, classroom morning meeting, school wide Circles to address situations that could erupt in the school.  They even do Circles to support students during difficult times.  I heard a great story about preparing students for a school break, and how they loved hearing a perspective from the school police-liasion officer.

Students in 5th grade, had been in Circles since 3rd grade.  They had been in Circles for the beginning and end of the day, those students KNOW Circle.  They let me know, my Circle was not long enough!  They knew the basics for Circle in their community:  tell the truth, eyes on speaker, quiet hands and feet and listen.  These 4 were simply the theme of the Circles I helped conduct in the school that day.  I realized the school has developed its own culture for their Circles, an effective means for using the process, consistent patterns for communicating for community building and for problem solving.

SCVRJP also holds Victim Empathy Seminars.  We’ve had a few that ended without participants recognizing the harm to the greater community.  I heard feedback to the point I called someone into the office to talk about it.  I hadn’t been keeping those Circles and I had an opportunity to get back to it recently.  When we did the 3rd stage of the Circle, the Community Representatives all passed.  This was something different, I always prepare people and enourage them to role model, and not pass.   The next round the Community Representatives all passed the piece across and over the participants.  I was nearly having a panic attack!  This style didn’t demonstrate core Circle values.  I was feeling uncomfortable, I realized something had developed in our culture that was inconsistent with our vision.

What happened in that moment was a division between us and them.  NOT a quality of Circle.  It became clear to me, that a pattern of doing the VES emerged, a new aspect to the culture.  When I got the talking piece, I immediately changed it out and addressed this.  I pointed out I was confused by the community representative passing and then the round where the talking piece did not go person to person.  I explained the next round going to each person directly.  I reaffirmed that the Circle is about equality.  Then I specifically framed a question everyone in Circle could answer.

What is important in being a good citizen?  If you had a do-over about your citizenship what would it be?

This round had each and every person answering.  This round also had each and every person being teacher and student.  I saw people finish the Circle with accountability and realizations that they caused harm and can move on in a better way.  I even got a new volunteer out of the mix, demonstrating our inclusiveness was effective in growing our community.  Even with a strong committment to a culture, it is important to always make sure the culture is consistent with key values.

Circle keeping from the depths of your humanity.

Thank you Webster dictionary on-line.  Humanity:  The totality of human beings.  Human Beings are mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.  I believe that Circle keeping is most effective when the keeper is working towards a balance and wellness.  I say working towards – cause we grow and learn every single day.

Circle keeping is the manner and method of guiding the process of a Restorative Justice Circle.  Anyone can tell other people what to do.  Facilitation techniques separate you from the group.  The elements of power are important in Circle keeping.  Using the power of love rather than the power of authority.  It takes practice in this.  What you are doing is using a strength, often initially perceived as weakness.  Being vulnerable and creating space for others to do the same is really intentional behavior.

I write about this because of a recent experience.  I was able to get feedback from Kay Pranis and Jennifer Ball.  Kay, author of Peacemaking Circles and the Little Book of Circle process.  Jennifer Ball, co-authored Doing Democracy with Circles (with Kay and Wayne Caldwell).  Links take you to Living Justice Press, where these are also available as E-books!

I was excited to meet Jennifer, and knew she would bring gifts to being part of the Circle.  I love Kay, she has been a teacher, guide, mentor, inspiration for years.  I managed to stay calm about conducting the Circle, by just remembering how I know Circle.  By remembering this is about the Circle, Kay will be a wonderful community participant.  There really is no control of a Circle or the outcomes.  You REALLY do need to trust the process.

It was a good Circle.  One young man, after hearing the story, got up and shook the storytellers hand.  That was so significant because a change of heart (which I always say leads to a change of behavior) happened right there in front of us.  I could go on about what I saw that went well, I will go on about Keeping Circle.

Humanity is the realization we are all the same.  Humanity is a gracious space of connectedness, and connectedness means inclusion.  I’ve been asked about the words I used that night.  The feedback has been that my keeping was smooth and flowed.  I’m thankful, relieved and proud of the work that SCVRJP has evolved into doing.  I’ve been intentional about keeping our Circles very close to core values and the core elements of the process.  I believe that we have created a community of practice – Circles that are invitational, non-judgemental and transformative.  The feedback on the keeping was reflective of this collective.

If you connect to the collective, the core values and elements of Circle, your keeping will come from the depths of your humanity.  Keeping from that place, produces the magic and mystery that is Circle.

Stronger the bond and relationship, deeper the truth told.

My Mom died when I was 20, she had a battle with cancer that began when I was 13.  That single circumstance has influenced my parenting in many, many ways.  Other circumstances have flowed into parenting, it’s a complex human experience to be part of a Mother-Daughter bond.

Now that my daughter is 20, and she lives on her own, our relationship is free from the conflict around house rules.  Our bond and connection has grown.  I recently ran into a few pieces of paper that we were able to look at much differently.

I found a detention note from 2008.  My daughter got 2 hours of detention and was required to write a letter of apology.  For “exposing her underwear, on purpose to another student”.  I found this and really laughed.  It flies in the face of everything I train schools in regarding restorative practices.  The forced letter of apology to someone we don’t even know if they feel harmed.  I am sure in 2008, I wasn’t laughing!  I was more connected to her actions as a reflection of me.  I was connected to what people at the school might be thinking about me!  I was shamed by her behavior, that all I got was a copy of the detention paper.  I didn’t speak my truth to the school staff, I probably wasn’t restorative with my kid!  We laughed about it now.  I’m really glad I saved that paper.

I found another note from her.  She was requesting I give her more space, in the letter she promised “I won’t have sex and do drugs until I am ready”.  I didn’t see if for that at the time, I saw she wouldn’t do drugs.  I don’t know if that was a Freudian slip, or what.  When we were talking about this recently found treasure, daughter disclosed how she did not have sex with a particular boyfriend I didn’t like.  She rushed out the info, a rushed honest disclosure.  I wasn’t ready for this kind of conversation, my reaction “eewww, I assumed NOT!”

Things change from 16-20 and for me 40-44, as my Mother-Daughter bond gets stronger, the truth becomes more and more.  I see this with Restorative Justice.  I recently did a fishbowl Circle, showing teachers the process with students from their campus.  The students responded openly and honestly, they related that creating a “path” to open up was helpful.  Building connections in Circle, with the values, the early rounds, the emotional safety builds bonds and relationships.

Bond and relationship changes the climate between people.  That bond allows for more truth to be told.  Truth has layers and layers.  In addition, my side, your side, the other side all have layers.  When placed with values and safety an open container IS the climate and has the space for more and more truth.

School-based Restorative Justice Circles – handouts and example demonstration.


In a school gym, we placed the Circle Center items in the basketball center court.  Four student volunteers each had a direction, and at each direction 3 months of the year were designated and students divided themselves based on date of birth.  This was a technique to mix them up and to have them take responsibility for creating the shape and form of the Circle.  The students were in clustered groups in the four directions.  I explained that each volunteer would read a value, and bring a talking piece for the Center.  Each group would come to the Center and be seated, making room for the others, making a round shape.  I explained that the Center was like a fire, and we would all need to be equally warmed by it.  This was to have the students take responsibility for the shape, it was an empowering action, so I could promote them being invested in working together.

I had 4 students that volunteered to do a brief reading on each of the 4 values.  That handout is 4 Circle Values.  Once we were seated minimal adjustment was needed.

We used a powerful opening, Restorative Justice Circle in Schools (2nd page).  The first page features information about using Restorative Justice Circles in Schools.

I spent time slowly and carefully explaining Restorative Justice and the creation of a strong Restorative Justice Circle.  I had the students re-read the elements of being in Circle (4 values).

I demonstrated connectedness using an energy ball  The energy ball shown is in one hand, you put a person on each side, and make a large connection.  People will test the connection and drop hands.  When all hands are connected, the energy ball lights up and hums, very cool, especially with a large group.

I also did a collective listening practice, simply rang my tingsha’s.

Our Getting Acquainted Questions included – what you had for breakfast, and what you would have liked to have.  This helped us know each other.  We also did a round where each person ended with “thank you for listening”, at the passing of the talking piece, everyone said “thank you for sharing”.

Our Building Relationship round, included questions about the use of Circles in School.

The Addressing Issues phase included more teaching about Circles.  We “rested” the talking piece and allowed the community members and students to share Circle experiences.  I always appreciate when people who I don’t expect to share, share.  A student at the school had been referred to a Circle, and offered how his experience was better than he expected.

I accepted questions about Circle process, I encouraged individuals to participate if invited, if impacted or if given the option to be in Circle.  This particular school uses Circles to address issues.

The Taking Action phase included some feedback about the experience.  With such a large group we did a one word reflection.

An introduction to Circle is all it needs to be for a demonstration.  I got to know the students, they got introduced to the process.  The staff and teachers got to sit with the students in a different context than usual.  Together these individuals got to experience a building of their community.

I hope this demonstration gives you some ideas or example for a Circle you might hold.

Different types of Restorative Justice Circles and a practitioner perspective.

Just as there are 12 major markings on the face of a clock, I could list 12 different kinds of Circles.  In four basic categories those Circles would be community building – peace building – repair building – and celebration.  This also creates a full circle!

A very brief explanation on these four categories, followed by a practitioner perspective.  All these Circles use the 4 stages and phases I have written about on this blog.  You use good Circlekeeping skills and techniques for each of these.

Community Building – Boyes-Watson, authored an article titled “Community is not a place but a relationship: lessons for organizational development”.  She explains community not being defined by a place but the perception of personal connectedness.  Boyes-Watson – also authored Peacemaking Circles for Urban Youth.  Community Building Circles connect us to our community.

The practitioner perspective (PP):  create a sense of connection, by using all 4 stages and introduce a deeper discussion on values to address issues.  You may even ask for stories about a time people felt connected, or what connection might look like.

Peace Building – Where might conflict rise?  Is a situation at risk to become a larger issues?  We know the #1 cause of death for people 16-24 is car crashes, so when teen drivers come in, we teach this.  Peace Building can be done when you sense an “at-risk” situation.  For schools – this would be Tier II of PBIS.

PP: Remember, no such thing as a victimless crime.  SCVRJP addresses things like underage consumption and controlled substance use – and we engage individuals from our community ad Circle members, keepers and storytellers.  When there is not a clear and present Victim, others take that voice, but also use what I have called Restorative Grace (extending kindess to the least deserving).

Repair Building – Circles around a specific crime or conflict.  Repairing relationships for victims and their relationship to the crime, the victim to the offender.  The offender to the crime, the offender to the community, the community to the offender and the victim.  A spiderweb of relationship connections are repaired in Repair Building Circles.

PP: Prepare people to come together.  Prepare people to come together.  Prepare people to come together.  Prepare yourself.  You can address and repair harm – no matter how big or small.  Lost pencils in a classroom to lost life.  The more serious the more prep work.  Ask for support for the more serious, use mentoring and take small movements to the deeper issues.

Celebration Circles – Back to where we started, the last segment of the Circle – setting apart Community from Celebration Circles – is that we are already in Community.  Women’s Circles, Serenity Circles, Healing Circles.  If we are grounding our work in the teachings of Native people, and drawing from the wisdom they provide, because their world view and practices of Circle resonate with Restorative Justice – then we cannot over look that Circles are present and part of spiritual practice.  The attention to who we are mind, body, heart and soul is complete with Celebration Circles.

PP: I don’t do enough of these.  This is the follow-up Circle, meeting 90 days later, or meeting to support change.  When I have done these, the impact is really powerful.  I once learned that a Circle, helped resolve Trichotilomania (I would link to that post, can’t find it at the moment).  Schools have lots of opporunity for this and I really encourage the re-enforcing of prosocial behavior and values related to behaving the same, when you are in and out of Circle.  Celebration Circles help us remember to do this.

By mastering the skills and techniques in each of the different categories of Circle, it will enhance you as an individual keeper, your agency or  school-based program will be stronger.  People are unique, our responses to incidents are unique, however deep down we are all the same, connected to humanity and yearning for those connections and the experience of a sense of belonging.

Restorative Jusitce provides a context to increase empathy.

Empathy.  A crucial emotional response to those around us.  We are hard-wired to connect with others.  From the book Born for Love which is about the:

empathy that allows us to make social connections, and the power of human relationships to both heal and harm.

I had a nice conversation with a man who serves youth.  He was once “at-risk”, and we had a good conversation about Restorative Justice approaches.  This man explained the importance of context for empathy.  This man grew up in poverty, he never knew about home ownership, it was not part of his growing up.  As a man, he now owns a home.  He explained how he understands “foreclosure” now, but as a teen he had no context for that.  I agreed about the context for empathy, but I continued to think about it.

In Restorative Justice Circles, we start with values.  Values are principles, standards of behavior.  According to Kunreuther 2009, “they are deeply felt and difficult to articulate”.  The author goes on to explain, “values articulate aspirations; they sustain us through disagreements, misunderstandings, and differences”.  I appreciate that take on values and I believe using then in Circle lays the foundation to connect with others, to bond.

Once bonded with those around us, even in a short-term setting, that bond increases our empathy.  Feeling that bond is important.  We are born for and designed to be in relationships with others.  One of my training slides, “In Relationships we are broken, in Relationships we are healed”.  The first few stages of Circle set that up.  The Getting Acquainted and uilding Relationship stages prepare people for the heavier discussions ahead in the last two Circle stages (Addressing Issues, Taking Action).

I get to do all different kinds of Circles, some focus on a common topic (underage drinking), others focus on a specific incident, others are community building circles.  The form of all Circles is essentially the same.  The outcomes are often different that people expect going in.  I am no longer shy about letting those who have never been in a Circle know this:  people will behave differently that you would expect.

When people open up and share in a deep and meaningful manner, it opens up others to do the same.  To bear witness to someone being genuine, open, respectful and honest just brings out the same.  When we create space for this or role model this in Circle, we are creating a deeper context for empathy.

My friend recognized he didn’t have empathy for foreclosure, but he also wasn’t out causing foreclosure harms.  In a Circle about the harm you caused, you can have empathy, because you were on the other end of that stick.  Harm, that thing others refer to a crime or conflict, in Restorative Justice, we look at it from our perspectives and increase the context of empathy by understanding how the harm, harms everyone.


Kunreuther, F., Kim, H., & Rodriguez, R. (2009). Working across generations: Defining the future of nonprofit leadership.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.