Restorative Justice, beyond the victim-offender conference.

From an article in the Eau Claire Leader.

HUDSON – Randy Spence admits it would take a miracle for him to ever forgive the drunken driver who killed his daughter.

But Spence also realizes how close he came to possibly taking the lives of four people years later when checking his phone and running a stop sign.

Spence, 55, an attorney who lives in River Falls, is very emotional when discussing the death of his daughter, Alyssa, and is humbled that an accident he caused didn’t have tragic consequences.

Spence regularly makes presentations at schools and other events. He provides a detailed, heart-wrenching account of the devastation he and his family have endured at the hands of a drunken driver.

“If I convince one person not to drink and drive, doing this is worth it,” Spence said last week at the St. Croix County Government Center during a St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program session.

Alyssa Spence, 21, died five days after a near head-on collision April 13, 2003, near River Falls. Ryan C. Foley, now 30, pleaded guilty in Pierce County Court to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

Foley, a UW-River Falls student who had been at taverns and a house party before the crash, was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by five years of extended supervision. He was released from prison in October 2010.

Foley had a blood alcohol level of 0.235 percent, almost three times the legal limit, when he crossed the centerline and hit the car Alyssa was driving. She died on her mother’s birthday.

“When you lose someone it’s hard to let go,” a tearful Spence said. “That’s still how it is, how it always will be. I miss her every day.”

Ready to talk

Spence said he was never interested in taking part in the Restorative Justice Program, which involves school and community-based programs that emphasize repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It allows, in part, for victims and offenders to meet.

“I have no interest to ever be face to face with the murderer of my child,” Spence emphasized.

But his involvement with the program changed about 9:45 p.m. July 29, 2010, when he ran a stop sign after playing golf and having a couple of beers at a rural River Falls course. His car hit a Lexus SUV broadside. Two women in the SUV were injured, with one, 63, receiving three fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle and broken rib.

Spence assisted the people at the scene, where he also broke down emotionally and told police about the traffic death of his daughter, according to police accounts. Spence said he looked down to check a message on his phone when he ran the stop sign.

He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of causing bodily harm by reckless driving. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning the charges would be dismissed if he abided by conditions of the agreement, which included community service.

That service has included talks to students and others about the dangers of drunk driving and inattentive driving.

“My son (Adam) was on a cross country trip, and I saw the light flashing on my phone. I went into a panic with the memory of Alyssa, thinking something might have happened to him,” Spence said. “The whole thing was kind of ironic. I could have killed someone.

“I was allowed to enter into the DPA if I engaged in restorative justice,” he added. “I realized that my original hesitation with restorative justice was misplaced, and if my daughter was here, I know she would want me to do this.”

Making an impact

Spence starts his presentation with a video of his daughter that graphically displays her injuries from the crash, a presentation his wife, Bobbi, has never seen.

“My wife is the strongest person I know, but I don’t think she would ever want to see this; she lives the loss every day,” he said.

Deb Ottman, a family consumer science teacher at River Falls High School, has witnessed emotional and varied responses students have after Spence’s presentation, including one last week.

“It’s very hard to listen to. He definitely comes across with quite an impact, and the kids are very emotional and have lots of questions when he leaves,” Ottman said. “I can tell the kids have been affected at some level.”

Ottman’s life skills class is for juniors and seniors, and covers conflict resolution, decision making, grief and relationships, “items they will be dealing with their whole lives.

“Each kid takes away something different,” she said. “The idea is that we get to hear each other’s story and learn from it. In this case, kids might not be so willing to drink and drive or text while they drive. Any gain is a gain.”

Kris Miner, executive director of SCVRJP, said there is great value to victim impact panels, teen driving circles, victim empathy seminars and other programs.

“The key is to change behavior by a change of heart; the idea of choosing a different behavior when faced with a similar situation,” she said. “You make your choice, but you don’t choose your consequences.”

Rupnow can be reached at 715-830-5831, 800-236-7077

The interview on KLBB Radio! Talking St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice.

This morning I visited Karin Housley, on her Saturday Morning Radio Show, KLBB radio in Stillwater MN.  I saw an article about Karin in the Valley Women and Beyond Magazine.  The article mentioned her radio show.  Being the social media/networking person that I am, I friended her on Facebook, and introduced myself.  I’ve been on two other radio shows in the last few years, I mentioned this and offered to do a visit to the KLBB program.

I packed my flip camera, making a video has been on my “to do” list since November!

Here is the interview, from my flip (with a piece from November at the end):


Circle Trainers/Circlekeepers – Interview with “The Restorative Way”

I asked my friends Jamie and Oscar to do a practitioner interview.  I really enjoyed reading the interview, I hope you enjoy it as much.  My questions are in bold, and the responses from Jamie and Oscar follow.   With gratitude for good friends and fellow Circlekeepers  –Kris  

ps – if you would like to do an interview, just email me


My name is Oscar Reed, I’ve been involved in Restorative Practices for approximately 15 years.  Even though I’ve worked with a number of RJ practices, I find that I’m really partial and more comfortable with the Circle Process.  I have learned from many great teachers and mentors especially children of this way of life and I continue to learn.


My name is Jamie Williams and I have been working in the field of Restorative Justice and specifically Peacemaking Circles for over 10 years. I self designed my Masters Degree which is in Restorative Justice and my thesis was titled Philosophy and Function of Peacemaking Circles in School and Community Settings.


In 1997 when working for the Seward Neighborhood Group in Minneapolis I discovered my “calling”. F. Buechner said, “a calling is when a deep gladness in your heart meets a deep hunger in the world”. The Seward neighborhood was developing a wide range of programs that included community oriented policing and a community Restorative justice program. Many of us received training in mediation, family group conferencing and finally Peacemaking Circles. Since my first Circle training 10 years ago this month, I have felt like I am home…my life way is Circle. I was very fortunate to have as my first trainers: Chuck Robertson Sr., Kay Pranis, Shane Price, Jessica Jackson Hughes, Mary Ticiu and from the Yukon Territory, Phil Gatensby, Harold Gatensby, Colleen James and Judge Barry Stuart. I was very blessed to have these amazing human beings as my teachers. My greatest gratitude goes to the students at Red Lake School who taught me more in 2 days about Circle than I could have learned on my own in a life time.


Kris:  What was it about Restorative Justice/Circles that attracted you?

OSCAR: Equality.  The Circle turns a blind eye when it comes to politics, race, gender, religion, professional status, etc. The Circle says, “ I will embrace you”…no matter what.

The Circle is very Inclusive, in a way, it has no boundaries, but a focus on respect, love and compassion.


JAMIE: I believe that Restorative Justice is actually very ancient…present during matriarchal times when the Goddess or Mother was sacred. Historically justice shifted with the progression of patriarchal thinking. This is my opinion.


I realized that most of my life I have tried to solve issues “with” people. Always felt doing things “to” people was authoritarian and doing things “for” people was paternalistic. Restorative Justice seemed to encompass what I had always felt in my heart was “right”.


Circles and roundness have attracted me since I was young. Nothing better than a “big apple pie circle” holding hands with classmates or that big round red ball for the playground at recess! Circles are an archaic form that has always existed in the minds of humans…and the Circle reflects our Universe/World: earth, sun, moon, planets, stars, seasons, life cycles, wind, nests…the roundness of a pregnant woman. The Circle, ancient, timeless, no beginning, no end…


Kris:  Can you relate a rewarding story about RJ or Circles?

Oscar: There are many many rewarding stories.  Under “share a memorable story in Circle” I have described such a story.


JAMIE: Over and over again I have seen the miracle of forgiveness, of life affirming experiences. I have seen more people than I can count literally find “their voice”, people realizing their power and discovering their place in this Universe…the Circle ignites our Fire.


Kris:  Can you recommend a resource (book, website, training) for learning more:

We recommend a 4-day training for a beginning, anything less leaves one feeling incomplete…books can’t really take the place of a real experience however they can enhance ones knowledge immensely. Living Justice Press has many wonderful books on the subject of Justice and Peacemaking Circles. We recommend checking out their website for books and as an additional resource.


Kris:  Can you share a memorable moment in Circle?

OSCAR: One of the things that teenage African American boys find difficult to do in group is expose themselves emotionally or mentally.  Dom was one of those cool very bright kids that everyone liked and looked up to. He had no plans what so ever to share what he shared in Circle this particular day in front of 23 high School boys. After our fifth Circle together something happened as Dom tells it.  I say that there was a shift and Dom found himself sharing his deepest private concerns.  He started by tell the Circle that his mother was in prison and he had to live with his grandparents.  The reality of it all at that moment made him break down in tears.  From that moment on, to this day the Circle for Dom and the boys has never been the same and that was six years ago.  I first meet Dom when he was a freshman, he is in college now and he comes back from time to time to talk about how Circle has helped him and to encourage the young men to stay connected, help each other and trust the Circle.    


JAMIE: Honestly, every time I sit in Circle is a memorable moment. I work hard at being in the present moment in life and especially in Circle. The more you are present in the moment the more every moment is memorable! I have experienced Restorative Justice and the Circle in prisons, faith based organizations, community centers, homes and schools. The most memorable moment in any Circle is when everyone feels “the shift”. “The shift” is difficult to describe in words. But when “it” occurs everyone feels it, everyone knows “it” happened. Some words from Eckhart Tolle may help describe in part what I’m trying to say:


“When you don’t play roles, it means there is no self (ego) in what you do. There is no secondary agenda: protection or strengthening of your self. As a result, your actions have far greater power. You are totally focused on the situation. You become one with it. You don’t try to be anybody in particular. You are most powerful, most effective, when you are completely yourself.”


The essence of Circle is story. Story telling touches us, affects us, reaches us, enlightens us, shifts us, affirms us, teaches us and most importantly mends us. Restorative Justice to me is mending through Storytelling.


In Circle we begin by becoming acquainted and building trust…getting to know each other through the telling of our stories…what values have we each chosen to live by? It is necessary and imperative that we share with each other what we value…we do this through Story. Sometimes identifying issues and concerns isn’t even necessary because sharing values has clarified the situation, incident or event for everyone. Finally, everyone shares their wisdom. We all have something significant to contribute. The Circle is alive, it is a creation that can only come to life with everyone’s voice being heard… 


My most memorable moments are always when young people feel, show or experience empathy. I call it “pay day”. No paycheck ever compares to seeing a young person “getting it” or “sharing it” and “experiencing the shift”. My and Oscar’s old work partner Chuck Robertson Sr. said of the “shift”


“It takes place between the head and heart, but is it a ‘shift’ or an expanding ‘inclusion?’ I think the heart becomes included in the awareness and experience of the process and the participant begins to genuinely care about what they are thinking. The caring comes from personal validation in the Circle. Jung calls it unconditional love. I emphasize ‘love of SELF’ (personal validation and I call it regression to a preschool comfort level) something unusual that hasn’t happened genuinely in a long time for most of our fellow Circle participants (trainers and keepers included)…”



Kris:  What do you see as the future of RJ & Circles?

OSCAR: What I see and what I hope for are two different things.  Since we spend approximately 90 per cent of our work in educational institutions, my hope is that Restorative Practices will become the law (if you will) of the land.

Mandating the Restorative Process would be a big mistake.  Way too many children are being unnecessarily suspended and too many teachers are being overwhelmed with deadlines and test scores while ignoring what’s really important and what really promotes learning.


JAMIE: This work is spiritual. Chuck Robertson and I were friends for 20 years before we started this work journey together. One night, a Story Telling event to share Circle experiences in schools was planned. Oscar and I were both invited but Chuck wasn’t. Chuck was Dakota and Ojibway and I strongly felt he should be honored as a speaker that night. After much persuading he only agreed to attend because I told him he would meet a former Minnesota Viking player named Oscar Reed…The three of us began our work partnership that night and it is still going strong. Chuck returned to the spirit world in 2003 but he told us many times “we will be doing this work together FOREVER!” He is still an important part of our work and he inspires us continuously to keep going. Oscar Reed is the most amazing work partner anyone could ever have. He has dedicated his life to youth and Restorative Justice and I am honored and blessed to work with him. Our business is called The Restorative Way, you can learn more at


We have chosen not to solicit work. We trust spirit. We trust the Circle. Restorative Justice and the Circle keep us in the present…our future is…Circle. Circle connects us on a deep level, we become keenly aware of our interconnectedness and purpose together.


Jamie met Kris Miner in Circle on a beautiful sunny winter day in Duluth about 5 years ago…”it was one of my most memorable moments in Circle…because we were in the moment! I am grateful for the deep Circle “connection”. Thank you Kris for all you do to keep the Circle strong and alive!!!

Article posted in from a Facebook Friend

Restorative Justice:
A Dream of Restoration and Transformation

Artika Tyner

I have a dream that we won’t have to talk about ‘restorative justice’ because it will be understood that true justice is about restoration, and about transformation. I have
a dream. – Dr. Howard Zehr

Once a crime has occurred the question then becomes: How do we address the crime in a “just” manner? Restorative justice offers an alternative framework for addressing crime.
Historically, America’s criminal justice system has followed a retributive and utilitarian model that sanctions criminal behavior through penal measures. The restorative justice approach is distinguishable since it draws upon principles of community building, reconciliation, healing, and peacemaking. Restorative justice seeks to address the question of how to “make things right” by identifying the harm suffered by the victim, holding the offender accountable for this harm, and restoring interpersonal relationships within the community. It offers all stakeholders (victim, offender, families, and members of the community) an opportunity to repair the harm suffered as a result of the criminal offense and create a social contract to build a harmonious community.

The Characteristics of the Restorative Justice Model

The principles of restorative justice differ from the punitive nature of the United States criminal justice system. Traditionally, the key participants in a criminal matter are the judge, jury, plaintiff, and defendant. The plaintiff is the State; hence crime is characterized as a threat to public safety and disruption to social order. During the court proceedings, the goal of the State is to establish the elements of the crime, such as: the act, intent, and result. The defendant then presents defenses against the crime. The role of the jury is to determine if the elements of the crime are established to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Throughout this process, the victim plays a limited role and the voice of the community is not present. In most cases, the offender is encouraged to remain silent and avoid making admissions or giving an apology.

Restorative justice takes a different approach by focusing on making the victim, offender, and community whole again. Restorative justice draws upon the traditional notions of community building and peacemaking. These foundational tenets can be found in the practices of indigenous cultures across the world. This includes the sub-Saharan African ideology of Ubuntu that recognizes a person is a person through others; thus crime is a threat to the well-being of the entire community.1 Also, Native American faith traditions of “living in balance with self, community, and the creator” are incorporated into restorative justice practices.2 By drawing upon these cultural and faith traditions, restorative justice provides an opportunity for the victim to describe the harm suffered, the offender to take responsibility for the harm, and the community to offer support during this process.

In the restorative justice model, the focus moves beyond retribution to reconciliation. Restorative justice is a victim-centered approach; therefore crime is identified as harm to the victim and the community. Restorative justice offers an opportunity for the victim to find healing and answer questions that are often left unanswered, such as: Why did the offender commit the crime? How can the offender be held accountable to make things right? How can the victim and community overcome the fear of re-victimization? Through this line of questioning, the victim is given a chance to share his or her story of the harm suffered as a result of the crime and its impact. This storytelling can empower the victim and begin the healing process.

While participating in the restorative justice process, the offender will gain a deeper
understanding of the gravity of the offense. Throughout the process, the offender is held
accountable to both the victim and the community. The offender can discover ways to earn redemption and create a path of re-entry into the community. For example, this
can be accomplished by offering an apology, performing community service, and/or
providing restitution. The community also plays an integral role by supporting the
personal development of the offenders and aiding the offenders in the process of
understanding their obligations. Community members can offer referrals to social services and resources; hence drawing the offender into the social fabric of the community and reducing the likelihood of recidivism.

Benefits of Restorative Justice

Restorative justice offers benefits that may not be derived through the traditional criminal
justice system, such as healing for all participants and collective accountability. The
greatest benefit is the ability to create a sense of community since “awareness of connections is the foundation of authentic community.”3 A local restorative justice agency, Restorative Justice Community Action, Inc. (RJCA),4 has aided offenders/referred participants and community members in addressing crime in a
restorative way. The mission of RJCA is to improve community livability through
restorative justice practices. RJCA’s 2002-2005 data highlights include:5

•18,881 offenders participated in a community conference.
•86% of offenders successfully completed their restorative justice plan.
•75% of offenders did not re-offend within three years of committing an offense.
•96% of participating community members and offenders were satisfied.

Overall, the RJCA’s accomplishments illustrate that restorative justice can provide an
opportunity for mending the harm to relationships in the context of community
building. Each stakeholder is actively involved in restoring peace and obtaining justice.

Examples of Restorative Justice Models

The restorative justice model has been used in various ways to restore communities, build
relationships, and prevent future crime. As an advocate for restorative justice, I have
participated and served in a variety of capacities in various restorative justice models.
Through the following experiences, I have witnessed the benefits of addressing issues in a more holistic and restorative manner:

Create National Unity. I recently served as a volunteer for the Diaspora Project of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia (TRC).6 The restorative justice model
correlates with the principles of transitional justice for many nations as they seek to
transform their turbulent past into a peaceful future. I witnessed firsthand the power of the TRC in aiding citizens as they reconcile, forgive, and speak the truth.7 Through the
sharing of these personal accounts, nations, like Liberia, South Africa, and Sierra Leone, have learned from the past and united to repair the harm suffered.

Honor Cultural Heritage. I participated in a Hmong Community Peacekeeping Circle.
This circle incorporated Hmong cultural traditions when responding to crime through
the integration of the wisdom of Hmong elders into the legal process. The involvement of the elders provides a link to the Hmong cultural heritage for future generations.

Remedy Conflict in Schools. While studying in Greenwich, England, I trained grade school students in relational perspectives of conflict management and stimulated their leadership development. I prepared students to play an active role as stakeholders in resolving conflicts in the school.

Promote Community Policing.As a community advocate, I have researched models of
community policing that use a holistic, integrated approach to policing. In a growing
number of municipalities, restorative justice has also become an integral part of police officer training. The City of Woodbury is one such example in which officers work alongside community members to create safe communities and prevent crime. Through this collaboration, relations between community and police have improved, communities have become unified, and mutual respect has been established.


In Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, King suggest that we cannot be
satisfied “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” The underlying goal of restorative justice is realizing justice for all stakeholders.
Restorative justice offers an opportunity for the victim, offender, and community to work
together collaboratively to address criminal behavior and create durable solutions. The
ultimate goal is to restore the sense of community that is diminished by crime and
violence. My hope is that the dreams of both Dr. King and Dr. Zehr will be reached as we
explore ways in which restorative justice can be used to restore and transform our communities.

1 Department of Welfare, Private Bag X901, Republic South Africa, 1997,
Documents/1997/wp.htm (last visited June 19, 2008).
2 See
3 Kay Pranis, Restoring Community: The Process of Circle Sentencing (1996), presented at “Justice
Without Violence: Views from Peacemaking and Restorative Justice” (June 6, 1997).
4 Restorative Justice Community Action Incorporated,
5 Downtown Journal, Restorative Justice, Restoring Communities,
6 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia,
7 Id.

Artika Tyner is a Clinical Law Fellow in the Community Justice Project at the
University of Saint Thomas School of Law Interprofessional Center. Ms. Tyner teaches and supervises CJP students as they prepare to become agents of social change. CJP students use an integrated problem solving approach to restore and build communities. She can be reached at or (651) 962-4960.

other rj blogs

If your reading my blog, you are probably a fan of Restorative Justice, so I’ve updated a link list for you.

You’ll find blogs on Restorative Justice for Loreen Walker in Hawaii and Amos Clifford in California.  The Curb Crime site has a blog, they are in the Caribbean!  If you know of other RJ or Circle blogs, let me know, we’ll get those added.

On the list I included Career Brazen – whose helpful advice on blogs got me going.

I am constantly working on my public speaking skills, two blogs (the other) I check often are listed.

You have GOT to get TED in your life.  You get to see these GREAT speeches, powerpoints, the theme: Ideas worth spreading.  I would like to be invited to do a TED talk someday!

Please let me know of other resources, so we can all stay connected on the great work of Restorative Justice and Circles!

Practitioner Interview – Linda Wolf

Practitioner Interview with Linda Wolf, Executive Director Teen Talking Circles. (there will be a link back to your bio on the TTC website) I met Linda in May 2006, she facilitated a Sacred Circle Retreat in Yelapa Mexico.  Linda’s been doing this work since 1993, her books are excellent and you’ll enjoy her website.

Kris:  Linda, thank you so much for taking the time do to a blog interview with me.  Can you share what orginally drew you to the Circle process?

Linda: I was fearful for my daughters coming into their teen years and wanted to do something to help them and help me figure out how to be there for what I saw as possibly being as difficult for them in the ways that it was difficult for me. I thought about it a long time when it came to me to do a book for them, inviting a lot of the women who’d helped me through my teen years and afterwards to be part of the project. We started a “focus group” to focus on the issues girls would want in the book as we moved forward. That was to last 10 weeks before writing the book. But the girls wanted the circle to continue, they loved it so much, that we just didn’t stop. Now, it’s nearly 16 years later. The book came out and brought a lot of other people to us who wanted to know how we did it. So we created a training to  help them start circles in their communities. And it just kept growing.

Kris:  For someone just beginning, what suggestions do you have for developing a deeper understanding of the process?

For someone who is just beginning to do Circle reading our books as well as the great books out there is a wonderful idea. Kay Prantis’s book on Circle is a great source. Simple and profound. Our Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Handbook is really chock a block full of everything one would need to know to start a circle of any kind. Talking with other women or men who are in a circle is good. Anyone can phone me up and I’d be glad to demystify the process! 206-842-3000.

Kris:  What words do you have for a teacher that would start using this in a classroom setting?

Linda: That’s very particular. I would suggest that the teacher learn about Compassionate Listening(sm) and talk with other teachers in schools around the country who have brought C.L. Into the classroom. I know of a few I can suggest. You don’t need to invent the wheel, so connect with other teachers and schools where Circles are happening. We have resources lists of them that you can get from our website. For example, the Puget Sound Community School heard about our circles when our first book came out, Daughters of the Moon Sisters of the Sun: Young Women and Mentors on the Transition to Womanhood. The school brought a group of girls to the book reading we had in Seattle and then started doing Circle at school.  That was 1998 and since then the school uses circle processes daily or whenever needed. I think it’s really important to ask others doing Circle in schools how they are doing it and what the pitfalls are because there are really different criteria for doing them outside institutional settings and doing them inside.  You can contact Andy at for information about the Puget Sound Community School.

Kris: Do you have a favorite Circle story for us?
Linda:  I suppose I have to mention this one. We started circle one afternoon and one girl was missing and had not called us to say she wasn’t coming. It was a middle school girls circle that has been ongoing for a couple years. About 1/2 way through circle she arrived pretty upset. She had gone to a local store near where we met and stolen some bracelets that all the girls were wearing at the time, bangles…she’d been caught and she’d been at the police station with her parents. Needless to say we all stopped “check-in” and listened to her. After she told her story, a couple other girls admitted they had stolen the same jewelry from the same store and other stores in the same complex and showed us their wrists. Suddenly a number of girls came forth and admitted that they had also stolen jewelry. My co-facilitator and I were really surprised. We inquired what caused these girls to steal from local small stores? Why did they feel they needed it so badly? What was causing them to feel that they would rather give up their integrity for the object? We spent the next 1/2 hour dissecting all the reasons, not making anyone wrong, just listening to the unraveling of their stories and how connected their actions were to the feeling that they needed that jewelry to make them feel good about themselves in the face of other people at school. Pretty clearly everyone realized how absurd it was because they all had a lot of guilt that even tho it was shoved in the back of their minds really was there. We talked about what this did to the fabric of our community to injure the women who owned these stores. I suggested they take off all the jewelry that they had on which was stolen and we walk up the street and give it back. So we did. That night I invited the girls to bring everything they had stolen over to my house and we’d box it up and send it back to the stores. We did this. A month later, I received a letter congratulating me and our organization from the office of juvenile justice in my community saying that they had never seen anything like this before. It was a first. They credited our circle process and our work as the factor that had made this impact.

 Kris: How do you think being a Circle facilitator and trainer has impacted you personally?

Linda:  I’ve learned just as much as anyone else in Circle about how to hold sacred space, how to care for myself, how to be transparent and vulnerable even when I make a mistake or feel ashamed about myself and how deeply this heals me and forwards me in all the possibilities of my life. I’ve grown to be a much less defensive listener when I’m in conflict, and my ability to hold all sides of an issue or all perspectives –even those I don’t agree with- has improved vastly. I have let go of so many issues that have dogged me and kept me stuck. I’ve come to love myself so much more and in so much better and more whole way. I’ve been so blessed to be in circles and be able to heal issues from my own teen years with teens themselves. I feel deeply blessed that the girls and the guys who have been in my circles have let me into their lives. It has been one of the greatest things I’ve done with human beings other than my family. It’s brought so much joy to me and so much depth. I love training others also. To see them open to this process and have the successes that I’ve had is heartening. Right now I’m feeling really good about my work because there is a new generation of women and men doing it with our nonprofit…some of whom were teens in circles themselves! But right now not only have my whole board of directors (except 2 people), and staff done our facilitator’s training, but we have our own Women’s and Men’s adult circles…so we have really brought this into our daily lives in a huge way. PS what I appreciate most of all is that my family has all done circle and we do circle together and Compassionate Listening whenever we need it. To know that when there is something we need to communicate about with each other that we have a way to do it that brings us closer 100% of the time is really very special.
Kris: thank you so much, I can’t wait to see you again.  Keep up the work, you’re amazing.

Linda:  I so love you.  Thank you for asking me to do this.

Practitioner Interview – RJ in Schools

Interview by Kris Miner, with elementary school teacher, Catherine Cranston.



KM:  How has training in Restorative Justice Practices made a difference in your classroom?


CC: The biggest change for me has been the change in teacher language.  I now use the words harm, offender, victims, and community members to describe the students in my school and classroom. I talked to students about fixing the harm they have caused instead of breaking the rules. I explain to students how each rule keeps them safe from harm or keeps others safe.  The whole purpose of the rules at school is so everyone can feel safe and learn.  This has changed the way both the students and I look at rules.  For most students school rules are all about rules set up by grown ups for grown ups.  Looking at rules through a restorative lens means recognizing that breaking a rule may cause harm to everyone in the school community or everyone in the classroom.  Rule breakers are offenders and everyone in the classroom can be victims.  This gives misbehavior a context and the students see how their actions affect others in the classroom and others in the school. Misbehavior is a violation of people and relationships. For seven and eight year olds that is quite a new concept, because up until now everything has been all about them.


KM: How has embedding Restorative Practices in your classroom changed your day to day classroom discipline?


CC: The central focus of behaviors is repairing the harm, not punishing the rule breaker.  We spend time and effort on putting things right by asking these questions:  Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are these?  Rather than focusing on the traditional methods of discipline such as:  What rules have been broken? Who did it? What do they deserve?  The Restorative Questions are a new way of looking at discipline.


KM: What would be your advice to other teachers who are interested in implementing Restorative Practices in their classrooms?


CC: I am certainly not an expert by any means.  I can only tell you how it has worked for me.


First, I just took a class on using the circle process and read two books on Restorative Justice.  I must admit that at first I had a hard time thinking of how to apply this whole thing to classrooms or schools. Many of the publications are focused on criminals, prison, or the courts.  “The Little Books” of Restorative Justice were very helpful for me in making that leap from the criminal justice system to the school system.


There was no awareness in my school of what RJ was, although my entire building is a Responsive Classroom School.  I personally see many connections between the Responsive Classroom process and Restorative Practices so when talking about RJ to other teachers I tried to bring Responsive Classroom into the picture as often as possible.  Most teachers in my school were already using fix it sheets and morning meeting circles so that is where I started to make the connection between RC and RJ.


My next step was to talk about the impact the circle process and restorative practices was having in my own classroom.  I didn’t try to talk anyone into doing it…I just talked about how much of a positive impact it was having in my own classroom. 


I spoke to my principal and asked her to sit in on circles both in my classroom and at the Restorative Justice Center.  This gave her a clear picture of the circle process and how it worked in both settings.  She loved the idea and was ready for the next step.  So I approached her about implementing problem solving circles as a school wide program.  I facilitated the school wide circles on Fridays and asked teachers to refer victims, offenders, and community members to the circles.  The power of the Friday Circles and the excitement of the students who participated prompted other classrooms teachers to begin asking me about Restorative Justice.


The next step was when I wrote a grant to a local foundation for funding to support a one day Restorative Justice Training for the staff at my school.  This was a basic overview of Restorative Justice and a first introduction for most of the staff.  Some teachers were very interested and asked me for more resources.


Many teachers began asking more questions about circles.  So my principal asked me to facilitate a circle for a staff meeting to process a problem the school was currently experiencing.  This staff meeting circle was a first RJ/Circle experience for most of the staff in my building.


KM: Now that you are in the second school year of using Restorative Practices are there any changes between year one and year two?


CC: Yes, the biggest change for me is that my class last year was filled with behavioral issues so most of my circles were problem solving.  In addition to that last year I didn’t introduce circles and restorative justice practices until well into the school year.  I wasn’t really able to begin on day one with proactive RJ strategies.  The problem solving circles really gave all parties strong voices.  I received very positive feedback from victims, offenders, and community members in the school (students and staff).


This school year I have been using RJ practices since the first day of school.  I have continued with morning meetings, but have changed the sharing portion of each morning to include a circle sharing where every student speaks.  I have also added a closing circle to end each school day.  Closing circle only lasts for 10-15 minutes but every student gets a chance to share and story tell.  I have found this closing circle serves two major purposes.  First, it gives each student a chance to process verbally the issues from the day.  It has become a proactive way to solve small problems from the day.  It has also provided a forum for discussion of issues that might become problems in the future.  The students are able to bring up topics they “wonder about” or topics they are “worried about”.  Closing circles help the students get ready for learning because they have less to worry or wonder about.


Starting RJ practices from the first day of school has created an incredible sense of belonging and safety for all the students in my classroom.  I just finished Parent-Teacher Conferences last week and received positive feedback from every parent about the circles and how much their children absolutely love school. I invited several parents to participate in the morning circle and they were amazed at the process.  I truly feel the sense of belonging and sense of safety is why the children are excited about being in school.


Thank you Catherine!