SCVRJP – Programs that use Circles

SCVRJP uses Circles! I’ll explain our Circle programs:

We facilitate Underage Consumption Panels, in Circle. A recent volunteer shared that at first explanation, he thought “what, this is for little kids?”. As it turns out he said “the process is amazing and can really get to the heart of issues”. We use a workbook to support the process and spend two hours in Circle with young people ticketed for underage drinking.

We use Circles in Victim-Offender Conferencing, when it applies. SCVRJP has used this to address harm in vandalism cases. When topics are emotionally charged and have a number of individuals I use Circles.

SCVRJP has a program called Victim Empathy Seminars – for surrogate victims to meet with a group of offenders, focusing on Victim Empathy. These are held in Circle.

SCVRJP addressed the number one cause of death for young people 16-24, car crashes. By developing Circles.

The program committee met today and we are partnering with local agencies and will start a domestic violence Circle program soon.

Tip of the Week – emotional climate

When you start to “keep” Circles, there are many skills to develop.  In trainings I often tell learners “nobody gets to be a blackbelt overnight”.  I am trying to convey that like all new skills, you’ll need practice!  I also try to convey that we should always keep learning.

So once you’ve have an understanding about the basic philosophy and premise of a Circle, and you’re aware of the the four phases, you can start to practice.  You can practice your circlekeeper skills without even being in a Circle!  For example, “imaginary talking piece” – next time you are in a conversation, imagine the other person has a talking piece.  Center your mind and body to be fully aware and present.  Just thinking this will help, it only takes a second.  Focus on just being there to listen to other person.  Hold any questions, comments or thoughts, wait for the other person to finish completely.  I’ve given this assignment out and heard the next day, very positive and surprised responses.

Here’s another skill important to Circlekeeping – monitoring the emotional climate.  You can practice this skill at the same time as imaginary talking piece.  It simply means developing an internal meter.  Making sure that people are feeling the appropriate level for the Circle stage you are in.  There is no right or wrong, monitoring the climate helps you know when to move in between stages.  Keep in mind that a particular stage may have an emotion that is strong.

The goal is not to control or direct the emotional climate, but to be aware of it.  The relationships building stage, may have tears as people tell stories.  You as the keeper may even tear up or cry.  The emotions are part of the process.  RJ and Circles recognize that humans are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual so it’s important to have those pieces in a Circle.

I’ll even use emotional climate, as a means for Circle discussion.  I’ll have people share a one word response about all the stories.  If we’ve had a deeply emotional round, then I have a transitional round or even a light hearted round.  I make sure it’s not trying to rescue or leave strong emotions.  If I’m facilitating a RJ process, I don’t put in a lighthearted round.  I guess it’s hard to say, because no two circles are the same.

By being aware of emotional climate, you’ll get a better sense of what kinds of questions to use.  Monitoring emotional climate helps you as a keeper, understand the experience of a Circlekeeper.  I am a firm believer in Emotional IQ and the work of Daniel Golman.  Practicing your skills at emotional climate will help!

Peace – Kris

Seeing a Circle transform people

I got an email today, that had a line that struck me.  “work that makes your heart sing”.  Being a visual person, I tried to imagine what that would look like.  Then my right brain took over my left, or my left over the right and the conversation when “duh, you hear a song, you don’t see it”, to which my other brain side said “why not, maybe you do”.  Then I realized I was in that Kris Miner, monkey mind place that makes people move my coffee out of reach!  No kidding!

Regardless of that . . . “work that makes your heart sing” is obvious, you can see it, hear it, feel it, because I think it’s a vibration of joy and positive energy.  My work makes my heart sing, and sometimes I sing along, outloud.  Just kidding.

Today I showed up to help with a circle, where teachers and students were having a sense that some conflict was brewing.  The details will be sketchy to keep things confidential.  Two of the three staff had not previously been involved in Restorative Justice or a Circle.  The student selection process was carefully reviewed.  I reaffirmed that if we invite the students to participate willingly and empower them to be problem solvers we’d have a better outcome.  The sense was that if we got the student to even talk, it would be progress.

I wanted this to be a very good circle, I thought about my questions, I felt good about where I was before we started.  I got extra energized to find some “lost” talking pieces still at the school.  It brought in a positive element from last years Circle group.

My community members set the tone, asking not to be judged.  We started off with the usual routine of values and committments.  We talked about what we had for breakfast and what we wished we had.  We shared our two favorite animals, then we made the sound if those two became one.  That’s a good one for giggles and loosening up.  I moved the circle to storytelling and relationship building round with a question relating to our values.  I asked for a story about a recent act that demonstrated the values.  We all got to share something positive we did for someone else.  I then gently guided us into the addressing issues round, by simpling asking for a reflection on the climate in the school.

I didn’t expect one of the community members to want to speak!  Turns out we had a former teacher of this school with us.  I really dislike labels, but we kind of had two bully’s and two vicitms in the circle.  One of the victims shared, a community member, a bully, a teacher, a bully, a victim, staff, me, staff, back to the starting community member.  We learned about clicks in school, pain of being picked on.  So, heartled, I just said let’s pass the talking piece around again.  The sharing included apologies, ownership, discussions with parents, explanations, the silence was powerful as we listened to this deep heartfelt sharing!  It was amazing.  We went on to talk about what would help build the culture of peace and belonging.  The list was great!  From something as simple as smiles, to sitting with a different clique at break, to colorful art on the walls.  One student pointed out the smile was already working (this was between one of our “bullies & “vicitm”).  The two students smiled at each other again as this story was shared.  Someone felt so strongly that a compliment was given to each person in the circle! 

I can’t tell you how amazing it was to see this situation go inside out!  My intern was stunned, and he really appreciated the compliment about his stylish outfit.  All the feedback at the end was positive.  I mentioned a highfive, handshake or hug at the end of the circle.  The first to hug . . . you guessed it! One of our previously known as bully/victim pairs.  Even the intern got a hug!  I don’t know how I kept my tears in!

My heart was singing . . . I bet it was showing, thanks to my new friend Jo for using that line in an email!

Peace – Kris

Circles create lasting connections

I was waiting to pick my daughter up from work, one of her coworker emerged from the back.  He’s a young man that participated in a Circle with me 2 years ago.  “Jay” was court ordered to attend, and we had to work to get him there.  His worker and I coordinated his attendance, I even picked him up and brought him to the session.

The Circle saw alot of value in this young man.  He was invited to be volunteer and help with future circles.  He had been in the juvenile justice system for a few different incidents.  One of the Dads in the Circle, whose son was there on his first run in with the law, asked Jay for advice.  Jay gave me his cell phone number and thought he would be interested in helping out.  I saw Jay again about a year later, in a Circle at an alternative school.

When our paths crossed tonight, I saw a genuine interest as he approached me.  He asked if I was still “teaching those classes”.  He also noticed that I had gotten my haircut.  We exchanged a few more thoughts about if we was still in the alternative school and how he was in general.

It struck me that he was so interested in talking with me.  My daughter says he is usually shy at work and doesn’t interact with many adults.

This is just one of hundreds of examples I could give about the lasting connections that come from being in Circle with another human being.

Catherine talks about how much more connected she is to students in her school, after being in Circle with them.  The shared “sacred space” of a Circle really connects us to our own humanity and to the humanity of others.  When individuals give a portion of themselves, they recieve the interconnectedness of humanity.

Peace – Kris

Teaching Teachers to Circle – embedding RJ philosophy

SCVRJP began with the goal of “embedding the philosophy” of Restorative Justice.  I have our board chair and local senate cadidate Alison Page, for holding true to that.  She reminded us often of this goal, and I balanced it with providing direct service.

We’ve learned valuable lesson along the way in promoting and implementing RJ in schools.  Minnesota has approximately 32% or schools using RJ.  They funded grants from 2001-2003 and provided staff positions and learned that when the grant ended the position ended.  That’s part of grant funds reality – typically you get three years.  With over a decade of human services experience, it happens time and time again that a great program comes and goes based on funding.

So I teach people to fish.  The old cliche . . . “take a man fishing you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

July 23 email (refrencing assigments because she took the class for 1 credit from St. Mary’s University).  I really have to thank North St. Paul District 622, they provided teachers a stipend for coming to the training.:
Hi Kris,
Thank you for a wonderful two-day training this week on using Restorative Justice in Classroom Circles. I really learned a lot and am very excited to use this in my classroom and with our staff at Cowern.
Attached is my introduction to circles and my talking piece, as well as an action plan for how I hope to use circles with my staff. I think you mentioned that this would work for the two-credit option, followed by a reflection when I do my first circle. I really do also hope to get out to see some of your circles as a community member.
Please let me know if there is anything else you need for the class requirements.
Thank you again for being such an inspiration. I also had the privilege of doing small circle yesterday with your dad, and he is an inspiration as well.
Best Regards,
Then I got this email on September 28:
Hi Kris,
I took your Circles class through ISD622 this summer, and I just wanted to let you know that i have been using Circles in my classroom with my 4th and 5th graders, and I am amazed at the respect they show one another during that time. It is truly a scared, special time that we share and I want to thank you for introducing me to it.

It’s been a learning experience for me as a trainer.  I have to thank Catherine my co-worker for tips on teaching teachers.  I also used the Ten Minute Trainer and Beyond Icebreakers as solid resources to help me develop an effective training curriculum.  I love training, please keep me in mind if you need someone to bring RJ or Circle to your school or community.

Happy Fishing!


Guest Post – Catherine, 3rd Grade teacher

Catherine posted this story as a comment and I am moving it to a post.

Peace – Kris


Here is my circle story of the day. I teach 2nd grade in an urban Minnesota school. I open each school day with a circle (Responsive Classroom Morning Meeting Circle) and end each day with a Closing Circle (15 minutes). The Closing Circle provides a chance for students (and me) to process what went well during the day, and what maybe didn’t go so well. It also gets my students ready for learning the next day. To my surprise the Closing Circle has also been a powerful proactive tool for solving small problems before they become a classroom disruption or become a distraction to student learning.

I asked the question, “What is something that didn’t go so well today?” When passing the talking piece one little boy responded, “Well, reading buddies didn’t go very well for me today, because I didn’t get to take my turn reading. My reading buddy didn’t listen to me read because she was busy coloring her own story instead. So that really made me feel bad about reading buddies today.”

Everyone in the circle knew who his reading buddy was because the buddies are assigned and stay the same for the entire month. Needless to say, everyone in the circle looked directly at the young girl (Sarah) who was obviously the offending buddy. The boy then passed the talking piece to his neighbor who said, “Wow, Kelly (not real name) that must have really hurt your feelings. I am sorry for you.” The talking piece continued around the circle with children making comments back to Kelly about how they felt about his missing his turn to read. When the talking piece came to the Sarah”offender/buddy” she just looked wide eyed at Kelly and said, “But I just wanted to color. I didn’t know he would feel bad.” Then she passed the talking piece.

When the round ended I took back the talking piece and said, “Well, it looks like we have a problem to fix. How can we make Kelly feel better? Let’s pass the talking piece and see if we can help Kelly and Sarah fix this problem.”

A little girl started the talking piece with this statement, “I think that Sarah needs to say sorry to Kelly.” The talking piece continued around the circle with each student making suggestions such as, “Sarah needs to tell Kelly she won’t do that again.” “Sarah can make sure that next reading buddies she gives Kelly a really long turn.” Etc.

By the time the talking piece got to Sarah she was looking like a deer with headlights shining in her face. She looked at everyone and said, “I guess I better give Kelly his turn from now on so I don’t hurt his feelings. Sorry, Kelly.”

This was an amazing process because Sarah at age 7 had no idea that her actions had hurt Kelly. She is an average 7 year old who is still “all about herself”. Empathy has not developed within her yet. It never occured to her that someone else might not appreciate her actions. She was not being mean…it just hadn’t occured to her. It was very obvious that her peers holding her accountable made the difference for her and helped her understand what she had done and why it was important that she promised not to do it again.

Prior to using circles I would have taken Sarah out into the hallway and had a private respectful conversation about hurting people’s feelings. She is a nice girl and would have nodded and gone back into the room without really understanding or internalizing anything new. In the circle process her peers and the victim helped Sarah to internalize her actions and develop empathy. It was a raw experience and very eye opening for me. In the past I have used circles for problem solving but now with the daily closing circle a new process is developing….pro active problem solving of small issues before they become major issues.

I am looking forward to more experiences of this nature. And with 7 year olds…nothing surprises me anymore!

Comments on Attending a SCVRJP Program

Please let us know what program you attended and what your thought about attending and participating.

Victim Impact Panels – providing first hand accounts of the harm that drinking and driving has caused.

Underage Consumption Panels – Circle process, using harm reduction CHOICES program.

Victim Offender – Conferencing – a process to repair harm and make things right

Victim Empathy Seminar – Circles with multiple offenders, community members and a focus on victim empathy

Safe Teen Driving Circles – preventing harm and promoting safety on the roads

Circle Training – two-days of keeper training

Workshop, Class or Presentation presented by Kris Miner