Creating rules or creating values, the difference in a restorative classroom.

Restorative Justice Classroom CircleIn the photo – Catherine and students in a morning circle.  Responsive Classroom has been taken one step further with implementing restorative justice in the classroom.

A recent training: 

Restorative Justice in Schools:  Effective Use of Circles.  I use a combination of Circle itself, Powerpoint and small group discussion to teach the various concepts and restorative justice circle process.

In small group Circles the training participants were speaking to the concepts they already use and the ones they would like to start using.  I over heard a participant talking about how the creation of classroom ‘rules’ happens all the time, when in fact we should be creating “values” for our classrooms.  YES! YES! YES!

Rules can be what student do when the teacher is watching.  Values are ways of behaving, knowing what we should be doing, versus behaving in a way we want to, or even have to.  You’ve got to put the motivation for behavior on the INSIDE.  You need a shared concept of community in a classroom.  INSIDE that little community is shared concepts of treating each other.  INSIDE those little people in the class, you instill the values for behavior.

We talk very little with children about values.  Circles are where that talking can take place.  In Circles you can discuss and demonstrate trust, respect, honesty and caringRestorative Justice Circle.  Even when you are talking about other things you can be sharing about these values.  Circles bring our character.  What you share about shows character.  Deep down inside all of us, is our core character, and young people need help.  They need help carving out character, and we can do that by teaching and talking about values.

In the training demonstration Circle, I used the getting acquainted question “what did you have for breakfast, if you could have had anything, what would you have had”.  We learned someone made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her child and had one.  We learned someone else had a spouse who went to a nearby farm that morning for fresh eggs.  We learned who had coffee, who would have rather had waffles.  It was a way of seeing interactions with others by learning who had what for breakfast.  As we ended the demonstration circle, the training participants offered reflections.  It was noted that you can learn a great deal from others, just by listening.  Circles give that listening space and process.

Values stay with us longer than rules.  Values transfer situation or setting.  We need rules to offer structure and I think using values as rules is a way to create a restorative classroom.  Rules are hard to place in relationships to each other, values are the means to which we treat each other.  Next time you are considering the rules, think about the values instead.

Deep Brain Learning book review and applications to Restorative Justice

I snapped this photo last night with my cell phone.  The lights of the Christmas tree blurred out the tabs on the side.  I tabbed 48 places in this book.

This was my Saturday night date, this book, Deep Brain Learning.  I read it in two and a half hours, cover to cover.  I thought it was very, very good.

I was reading it to pick up more information for my upcoming book:  On the Road Together Safe Teen Driving.  (Other blog links about that here.)

I was also reading the book because I love the  Circle of Courage philosophy and approach.  The subtitle of the book interested me Pathways to Potential with Challenging Youth.

I learned some very interesting connections between our brains and restorative justice, when I attended the IIRP breakout session:  The Implications of Neuroscience for Restorative Practices presented by Frida Rundell.  She actually gave us almonds in the session, to demonstrate our amygdala.  I still carry those around, those two almonds, my amygdala.  Dr Rundell, is an instructor at IIRP, and she made clear connections between restorative justice and our brains.

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Deep Brain Learning, gave me a great deal to think about.  I am not sure if I can completely articulate any one concept right now.  I liked several new ideas presented and the one that most struck me was the idea of Consilience.

The wiki definition here.  The authors of Deep Brain Learning share that the wordsmith William Whewell who invented the term Scientist, also invented the term Consilience.  It means knowledge that links research, practice, and deep values.  The authors make a great illustration with four circles that over lap and the center is the truth.  The four circles are Practice, Social Science, Values, Natural Science.

A subsection of the introduction is titled:  Twisting the Truth.  There is a good discussion on evidence-based practice.  I really appreciate the authors directing us to the American Psychological Associations definition of Evidence-based needing to include Scientific Research, Clinical Expertise and Person Characteristics.

Several of the tabs I placed were markers for blog topics.  I plan to link back to this blog post when I mention items from the book.  I do recommend that if you work with youth, you get this book.  It is very interesting and provided you ‘maps’ to working with young people in a way that sustain positive behaviors.  The chapters are titled like that, Chapter Four Trust Maps, Chapter Five Challenge Maps, Chapter 6 Power Maps, 7 Moral Maps.

I definately plan to make sure our work at SCVRJP integrates these nuggets of wisdom.

A dating relationship measure, “Melting Pot worthy”.

Yes, by Melting Pot, I mean the fondue restaurant chain, Melting Pot.


I had the good fortune of being introduced to the restaurant with some male friends.  While traveling I caught up with an old friend, a social media friend and made a new friend.  Here is a photo of all of us at a Melting Pot Restuarant in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.

We only had a dessert portion of the melting pot experience.  We had already had supper, but decided to catch a drink after.

As the four of us socialized we really had quality conversation.  Paul and Ben knew each other, but Matt had just met each of them.  I had just met Matt in person, Paul and I have known each other for a few years.  Ben and I only knew each other from an earlier workshops session.  Yet I was struck by how conversational the evening was, and what fun we had chatting.

At one point in the evening we spoke to the host, Jason.  He was full of helpful information regarding the history of Melting Pots and the “event” of having a full Melting Pot experience.  It really made me want to experience an entire meal at the Melting Pot.  Since the process takes awhile to go from appetizer to dessert, I commented on the importance of being in good company.  I joked about having ‘melting pot’ worthy friends.  I was glad to be in excellent melting pot company that evening.

I now measure my dating relationships up to the Melting Pot test.  Would it be enjoyable to have a long meal with this person?  My answer really should be “yes”.  It may seem shallow, but two months ago I got a real awareness when I asked this question.

So as I post on this two months after the fact, I go catch the Melting Pot link for the post.  They have a facebook application where you pair your friends.  Hmmm, maybe I’m not the only one that sees the Melting Pot dating test . . .

Think of Circles as a ‘magic container’, transforming the contents and the people contributing.

2007decembercrossingscouncilcircle1A diverse group of people recently gathered for Circle training.  We had college and elementary teachers/professors, campus & restorative justice program staff.  It was a very fulfilling training, lots of enthusiasm was generated and lots of ideas came forward for Circle application.  I love that part of it.  I warn people when I am training or teaching “if you ask, ME as question, the answer will be A Circle”. 

Proactive Circles, for community building and belonging.  Creating a culture in a classroom, school or community.  Developing relationships with coworkers or even consensus on a mission statement.  Circles are a container – strong enough to hold strong emotions and sensitive topics.  There are so many aspects of being in the Circle.  I’ll highlight each from a wholistic perspective.

Physically:  Seeing each face, having us face faces, not someone’s back.  There is no back of the class, or person at the front.  No sliding in late un noticed.  The energy of people all facing the same way is magnetic to me.  I also try to consider the physical placement of the Circle, a place free of distractions is helpful.  I let someone schedule a room for me recently.  It turned out we were in a glass, fishbowl like atmosphere and it was almost like the outside sound was being piped in.  There was heavy foot traffic outside the room and I kept thinking as people walked by they were going to come into the Circle.  So consider the container around your Circle, make sure you are in a place that has minimal distractions.

Emotionally: In our Safe Teen Driving Circles, we have students fill out evaluation forms.  One of the open ended questions is:  “what did you like least about this experience.”  The students report that seeing people cry, or crying themselves was the least liked.  I don’t mind that response, because it lets me know we are touching hearts.  When I see people sharing from the heart, and sometimes choke up, or speak with watery eyes, I get moved.  I admire the courage, I’m touched by those powerful emotions.  I’m proud to sit in Circle and see others hold the edges for someone expressing themselves.  Emotionally there is a safety in Circle.  The process is predictible.  The basis is respect.  The playing field has been leveled for us.

Mentally: For me, “neutral mind” emerges in Circle.  I don’t have to think about my reaction or response.  I am listening for understanding.  I stop weighing things like the risk or benefit to me personally.  I also let go of positive or negative thinking.  It’s about the person speaking, about their perspective.  I’ve been in Circle enough to know, that I need to listen to each person before me in the Circle.  Early on, I used to formulate the response in my head, or select the story I would share, then by the time I heard from everyone ahead of me, I had something different to share.  Now I settle in and let my mind be open.

Spiritually: For me, this is the aspect of being connected to greater purpose.  What am I here to do? (that question to me explains, spirituality) I listened to a self proclaimed atheist, she said “this is it, heaven and hell”.  Yet, I know she is committed to changing the world for the better, she takes action on issues of peace and justice.  It struck me that we don’t have to be connected to what happens to our physical bodies in a way that means we live our life in a reverent manner.  I am always trying to do better, to be better.  Generally I think most people strive towards that.  I believe in the greater connectedness between people and all beings actually.  Circles evoke a spiritually connection because we are striving to do better when we gather in Circle.  Somehow each individual experience in Circle, is connected to the ‘greater good’. 

Circle training really fills my cup.  I miss the people I spent the last two days of last week with, it’s Tuesday, that was 4 days ago.  I can’t wait to run into them again, there is nothing like time in Circle to build a powerful connection.

Elementary Classroom – Talking Pieces

Post by Catherine, classroom teacher and circlekeeper.


Talking peices come in many shapes and sizes in my classroom.  Children bring items to share and leave them on the shelf to use as talking pieces. We have MN Gopher stuffed animals, Gopher pucks, Wild pucks, Gopher hats, flowers, Snoopy ornaments, coins from a variety of countries, baseball cards, rocks, drawings, cards, and many homemade objects on the “Talking Piece Shelf”.  It is a special priviledge for a student (twice each day) to select the talking piece for opening or closing circles.  But….everyone knows it we are having a special or serious problem solving circle…the only piece that really works is a puck!
The read aloud book this week is, “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory”.  So one young boy brought in Wonka candies to use as talking pieces.  I have to admit it was the first time I have passed a package of Wonka Nerds around the circle as a talking piece.  But…it worked just fine!



Thanks for sharing your photos and stories!  Catherine took Responsive Classroom strategies to the next level with restorative justice classroom circles.  Her school had a one-day training, a coaching day and the district sponsored a two-day circle training.  Catherine and her principal are happy to speak to other school staff and answer any questions.  Look for Catherine’s other posts.  She shares classroom stories and helpful school-based ideas.

The Social Emotional Learning benefits of School-based Restorative Justice.

exit-slipsSEL – Social Emotional Learning – Postive Impacts here.  A resourceful website in general CASEL – Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

Another helpful article on what SEL is and how it helps our children – here.

The Center for Social and Emotional Education CSEE provides a brief and relevant overview on this link, regarding the importance of school climate.

So if you didn’t link out and read all the articles mentioned, let me briefly explain.  Youth are better citizens in school, when we tend to their social side.  When we relate and teach emotional development our schools are safer.  We have less conflict and more learning occur.  A child that does not feel ‘safe’ cannot learn.  We need to see children wholistically – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

What do you think of the words in this photo?  How about these words as a community you would be part of?  Pride, Respect, Thoughtfullness, Calm,  Trust . . . these ‘exit slips’ represent the one word that Circle participants selected to describe a feeling experienced during the Circle.   Remember I am a full-time executive director, part time professor and ONE of the services SCVRJP offers is for me train on Restorative Justice.  The majority of the training contracts are with schools, around school-based restorative justice.

I update my trainings as I have more stories, I learn more, I carefullly review the rankings and comments on my evaluation forms.  So I tried something new for this one day overview on Restorative Justice in Schools – we started the day with a Circle demonstration.

Then I had the ‘exit slip’ activity.  Before ‘exiting’ on break – words were placed as shown in the picture and described above.  Then after break, I explained SEL and asked if students were feeling the feelings listed on the exit slips – – what kind of learners might they be that day.  We did a little more debriefing on the Circle and I was able to reference our experience throughout the rest of the training day.  If you are a trainer of Restorative Justice, I would suggest you give this a try.  I also highly recommend any training be done in Circle.  Come to a training I do and you’ll see how I weave curriculum right into our training objectives.

Values are crucial to Restorative Circle process.

ehs_6_crop1In this photo I am placing the ‘values’ plates in the Center.  ‘Safe Teen Driving Circle’ we are usually held in classrooms.  Getting students in a Circle and the desks have little room for students to slip out and place their paperplates in the Center.

You won’t find me doing a Restorative Justice Circle without paperplates a discussion on the values and committment round regarding these values.

I have left the scripted ‘victim-offender’ conference process almost completely.  I will use it, typically with small groups.  I am preparing a young woman to meet with a husband and wife.  The young woman and husband were in a car/motorcycle crash.  The young woman was driving drunk.

Circles and focusing on values.  Allowing/defining my work with others to begin with values, keeps me manically optimistic.

On an individual perspective, I am a better person for being a restorative justice provider and having the conversation of values in my life.  I am frequently provided the opportunity to explain my perspective on a value and affirm a committment to honor a community of values.

On a Community perspective – I’m a better community member.  It also enhances the social capital of our community when we focus on values.

Think of repetition as the key to knowledge.  True knowledge.  Again, again and again the power of talking about values.  Sometimes Circles that I keep, that are not about resolving conflict or addressing an issue like safe driving, underage drinking, vandalism, etc – are the Circles that have the richest discussions about values.  These are typically Circles in training sessions or as part of staff development or demonstration circles.

The stories about values stay with me.

The daugher who remembers her Dad, the community doctor, back when house calls were common.  He had a back drawer for certain families.  They were never sent a bill.  As daughter grew older she realized, those families often did things like drop by some of their potato crop, or a freezer full of meat from a recently butchered pig.

The story of  a teacher there for a young girl suffering because over the summer her brothers arm got cut off in a farm accident.

Once we identify our values and then make a committment in the Circle, we know how we are going to relate.  I love that part when the piece goes around and everyone agrees. 

I like the picture above – it shows my physically doing what I do emotionally when I keep a Circle.

Education is a gift we give our children – photo


Willie and his daughter at UWRF Graduation December 2008.

Willie was a student in my Intro to Restorative Justice Class.  He invited me to his graduation party, via Facebook.  That’s how I found this photo and asked him if I could post it and do a blog post on education.  Education is a gift we give our children.

You see my daughter was 5 months when I graduated with my BS.  This photo reminded me of my college graduation.  It got me thinking about how my now 17 year old, has been impacted by the fact I pursued education.  You know Willie’s daughter although unaware in this photo, she will be impacted by Willie getting an education.  This picture made me very proud of Willie.

Since our class was held in Circle, we had an opening check in every week.  Willie often talked about how his daughter was doing.  Some of his classmates specifically talked about him in their final papers.  They were happy to get to know him from Circle process.  They also found his love for his daughter and his role as a Father to be impressive.

Having this young man in my class was a real honor.  All of my students are special, and together we learned with and from Willie.

Blogging and Bookwriting – making progress


The photo:  Today I worked at home, and my cat sleeping on my bed, which is typically NEVER allowed was something different for me.  Just like hammering out over 3,00 words for the upcoming book On the Road Together:  Safe Teen Driving Circles.

I love blogging, it is something I get to do.  The blog is a constant work in progress, a growing resource.  Writing the book is something I have to do.  Ok not technically, I mean I WANT to write the book.  I want people to have another resource on how to do a certain type of Circle.  I want to spread the word and works of SCVRJP.  It’s a labor of love because a deadline is looming.

We got the funds from Allstate in May of 2008.  I need to have the manuscript to the editor by the first of March.

Briefly – May thru August – I did nothing on the book.  Didn’t even make an appointment or schedule time to do it.  Woke up from denial that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Aug – Sept – reduced duties, resigned committee memberships and trained in an office staff person.  Started blog, trying to write something, better than nothing.  Hired a writing coach.  Got motivated.  Created a writing plan.

Sept-Dec– began writing.  Found road blocks, checking emails and doing laundry doesn’t increase the word count.  Developed the outline, started making progress.  Lots of reading and research to contribute.

Now this whole 8 months, I’ve been running a non-profit and holding a second job as a adjunct professor (only teaching one class).

Today I got over 3,000 words down.  Ready to add this to the 10,000+ I already have.  I’ve found my groove (today).  I break my book writing into 500 word blog posts.  So I made a list of “pseudo posts” (for the book) and I am working away.

Okay – – back to that!