5 options to make Teen Court more restorative.

Typically when I blog about teen court (links to past posts), I am providing examples about how it is not really Restorative Justice.  I have learned and recognize there are many different models and versions of Teen Court.  I do appreciate the youth development and alternative approach that teen courts can provide.  I am going to use today’s blog post to offer 5 specific ideas on how Teen Court programs might become more restorative.

  1. Decisions about you, should be made with you.  This includes offenders/offending behavior.  Restorative Justice belief: exclusion is a form of violence and violence begets violence.  I am assuming the point of teen court is to “right the wrong” in a way that prevents future harm.  Mixing it up and involving youth offenders in decisions that impact them can be a step towards being more restorative.  This would mean teen juries don’t leave the room.  This would mean the “judge” doesn’t make the final decision without input from all parties.
  2. Move the focus from the procedure of others representing the offender and the victim.  Restorative Justice belief: Justice involves belonging and community.  When another person is involved in presenting/representing/speaking for someone there can be negative consequences.  The speaker might not have the “voice” of the person they are representing.  The silent party might feel on the outside, versus being included.  Restructuring the representation to include direct contribution would make the court more restorative.
  3. Train the youth in Restorative Justice Circles or at very least alternative sanctions.  See what the youth find for comparing and contrasting the two (court or RJ process).  Explore the ideas generated by the youth.  If it really is the “teen’s court” or “youth court” give the students more knowledge, information and skills to work from.  Restorative Justice belief: Restorative Justice is organic and grows in ways and areas reflective of the community.  In my experience courts develop routine and procedures, and those procedures become the focus instead of finding individual case by case accountability.
  4. Use the Restorative Justice questions to learn about the “harm”.  Restorative Justice Belief:  Crime/conflict is harm to relationships, those most impacted, are most relevant to making things right.  Ask what happened, who was impacted, what is needed to make things right.  Focus the discussion and exploration of the incident on ways that frame up the context of the incident.  Rather than proving right/wrong, guilty/not guilty look to identify systemic challenges that contributed and seek solutions rather than punishments.
  5. Dismantle the physical hierarachy.  At very least, shape into a Circle.  Restorative Justice Belief:  Peacemaking Circles are a process with a specific philosophy and key elements. I remember being horrified at a professional conference and seeing a Circle demonstration where the talking piece was used by those in Circle to take turns asking shaming questions of the offender.  At the same moment I was proud of my coworker, when her head spun toward me in disbelief!  We don’t know what we don’t know.  If you are going to do Peacemaking Circles, I suggest getting training, practice and more training and practice.  I do recommend trying to be a bit more restorative and instead of tables across from each other, or people sitting in structures of role, you simply move to a more democratic seating arrangement.

If you test any of these, please let me know how it turns out.  Years of experience in many, many kinds of Circles, I do depend and promote the use of Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles, it is my bias.  However, I have come to learn that small changes can have big impact.  I also heard myself tell a training audience . . . “you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run”.  Maybe one of these 5 will move a Teen Court towards running full speed with Circle process!

Building the trust of school staff, using Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles

I’ve been teaching teachers and school staff about using Restorative Justice in schools, since 2007.  Since that time, I’d like to think, I’ve gotten better at doing that.  I’m really thankful for all the people that have shared feedback, offered points of improvement and stayed in contact.  Over the years I’ve heard very positive stories from educators that use the model and methods . . .

changed the way I think about my students, the best classroom management tool in 21 years
my students now live up to my expectations, instead of seeing them as unattainable
I know more about my students, we have stronger relationships than ever before

I firmly believe a key component to effective schools outcomes and implementation is to get the foundation of Restorative work happening to BUILD COMMUNITY, BEFORE repairing harm.  This is where the breakdown in trust can happen.  Staff want to know how to do the ‘repair harm’ before learning how to build community.  The trust for the process and the trust of people are key skills in being an effective practitioner.

In order to be teaching people Circles and Conferences, you’ve got to know how to build community.  As Restorative Justice trainers emerge from community based programs, it should be acknowledged that not all have the ‘build community’ capacity.  Most community based RJ programs, respond to an incident that initiated the referral.  Building restorative community is a different (but similiar) process.  I’ve learned 5 tips for building trust with school staff when teaching others school-based Restorative Justice.  In essence building the trust as a trainer is as important and building community!

  1. They have to be safe enough to tell you their fears and challenges.  I use three words, and we play a word game like hangman to get these in the room: Impossible, Unrealistic, Dangerous.  Those are the 3 resistance to Restorative Practices.  I relate my stories around these, I categorize challenges into one of these 3, and I provide structured responses and time for the training group to develop their own answers to their own challenges.
  2. Demonstrate and model Circle.  There are two ways I do this, in a quick mini-demonstration, where we do four simple passes of the talking piece.  I also try to do a real, heart-felt, soul-connection, someone cries Circle.  You have got to show and have them feel the power of the humanity that comes from Circle.
  3. Ask, don’t tell.  I repeatedly say “build community . . . common . . . unity”  I ask them to “try it” and to try it “like this”.  Teachers have a great deal of knowledge and confidence, they earned it!  They are in front of an audience ALL-DAY!  Just as a community Restorative Justice program promotes ride-alongs in law enforcement, I promote “teach-alongs”.  If you are teaching teachers Restorative Justice and you haven’t spent time in a school, go to a school and shadow a teacher, all day.
  4. Be sure you are not putting another straw on the camels back!  Connect to current design, current approaches, find the strengths and community places that exist.  It can be very difficult, especially when we think about the work of Restorative Measures as the most fundamental change in school discipline since we stopped spanking in schools.  

    .  Start where they are and build from there.  One more, or a new thing, is easily dismissed.  Use videos that show the universality of the concepts.

  5. Be you.  The best you possible.  People don’t trust a shyster.  If you don’t have experience facilitating, you shouldn’t be teaching.  You can get experience by volunteering for a community Restorative Justice program.  Ask for students to volunteer and be in Circle (tip from Nancy Riestenberg) so you can practice and develop comfort in Circle facilitation.

The field of Restorative Justice is at a beautiful place with schools.  We need to keep it real and continue to honor those that have taught us, and to do the work in a genuine and authentic way.

 

Restoratively engaging survivors, storytellers and community volunteers.

Restorative Justice operates by engagement of Victims-Offenders-Community.  The magic is in the mix of these stakeholders.  I believe the more congruent your program and work with these stakeholders is, the more you are modeling, teaching, coaching and living restoratively.  Using community volunteers beyond facilitators is very important.  The community voice is important to help both the victims and offenders feel supported and to increase their knowledge of how crime impacts the community.  Storytellers in Restorative Justice can be the survivor of crime, the support person of someone harmed, or someone directly impacted.  I have other posts on Restorative Justice Storytelling, here.  This blog post will provide some direct actions you can take to restoratively engage individuals in the work of Restorative Justice services and programs.

1. Live Circle Wisdom.  Value all your relationships, and maintain a place where you yourself are in a good way for your relationship with others.  This might mean self-care or spiritual practices that keep you centered to your best self.  As someone recently said to me, “walk the hot coals of our own lives”.  People decide if their relationship with you is ‘just’, they want to be treated fairly and with respect.  The standard is even higher for those in Restorative Justice, you want to show people how it works, by being that example.

2. Apply the approach constantly.  Utilize the power that Circles create, by applying the outcomes in this image, as the potential for each engagement with someone else.Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles

 

I was provided some feedback that I didn’t necessarily want to hear, but I needed to hear it and I’m glad that I did.  I see it now, that I could have lived the bullet points in this image.  I try to be mindful of these and do them consistently.

I messed up at a community forum, small groups brainstormed ideas on work of SCVRJP.  One group had identified the importance of people knowing about “forgiveness”.  I reacted, I sighed, whispered to a neighbor, saying “that’s not what restorative justice is really about”.  It wasn’t that I was wrong, but what I did was not necessary, it did not represent the ‘positive way of being’.  I didn’t include space for that person perspective or understanding.  It would have been just fine to let that pass without showing my feelings about it.  I didn’t realize people were watching me like that, until that feedback.  I realized the standard for those promoting this work is important to model.

3. Be an invisible gate-keeper.  All people have gifts and contributions, not all are ready for the intermingle and mix in Circle.  Find ways to include people and give them a role appropriate to their current level of restorative justice.  We once had someone in a volunteer orientation Circle, refuse to share anything about herself since she didn’t yet know everyone else.  A few rounds later, after people had opened up about why they were volunteering, she learned some were giving back after being given a 2nd chance drug court program.  When the talking piece came to her she scolded us saying “I didn’t know I would be with criminals!”  We assigned her data entry, so she could see evaluation form comments.  She also helped with a fundraising event.  I went back and checked in with the “criminals”, a word I avoid, using x-offender or the persons name.  Thankfully, it opened up a discussion about expecting that from community, and that is “a price paid when you break the law”.  I got to affirm the accountability of the person referenced and labeled.

4. Silently Mentor.  Prepare people for the anticipated and unanticipated possibilities in Circle.  We have a reflection round after storytellers.  Sometimes the emotions leave people wanting to escape or avoid those, so they themselves rationalize or minimize harmful behavior.  For example, after hearing from someone who killed someone after driving impaired, a reflection was offered “it’s not your fault, he got in the car with you”.  Coach people to listen with an understanding they don’t have to take everything to heart.  Have your radar on and your listening engaged to make sure everyone, from every angle of the Circle can feel supported.  You can check-in politely with people, offer ways they can reframe their sharing.  One volunteer told those at the Underage Consumption Circle, that “you drank to get drunk, your an alcoholic”, I later checked in, she really believed that.  Her life expereinces were limited and she thought that was the way things were.  I suggested that perhaps she not label others behavior, but speak from an experience of her own.  Strong feelings are welcome, they belong in Circle, people need to be able have healing through feeling, once labeled or judged, the opportunity gets smaller.  She understood the value of not labeling, given the opportunity to expresss and explain herself.

5. Honor preferences.  Listening to what is important and helpful and do things to show volunteers you care.  One volunteer is a smoker, and he has anxiety before sharing his story.  The storytelling isn’t until an hour or more into the Circle.  His pre-speech jitters would usually be to rest with a cigarette, that outlet is not possible, we always start and complete our Circles together.  He likes to chew on small suckers, Dum-Dums to stay calm.  Our candy jar hasn’t been without the little candy, since we learned this.  One of our welcoming office behaviors is to immediately offer a bottle of water or cup of coffee.  A new volunteer says they like tea, so we stock tea.  Another loved a new coffee flavor, so we have that coffee on hand.  The little things make a big difference.  Show people they are respected, that they belong and that they are important to your program and work.

 

In what ways to you honor volunteers or support survivors?

From “teacher” to “keeper”, for successful restorative justice circles.

There has been an amazing increase in school-based Restorative Justice Circles.  All across the United States, schools, districts, teachers and trainers have emerged.  There is an excellent blog at Edutopia, for schools implementing (by Dr Fania Davis).

Years of teaching teachers has provided experiences that if I want to leave skills where I train, I need to make the material relevant, useful, accessible to the students, and especially if I am training teachers.  In a recent webinar by the Zehr Institute, (you can view the webinar on the link), what I have learned was reinforced by those implementing school wide Restorative Practices.  The comments by Dr. Davis shares, about school culture, especially resonated.

One foundational key concept, is the relationship to Circle participants by the Circle Keeper. (click to tweet)

I use this image as a reminder.

shapes
(c)scvrjp

The square represents when people are on different sides.  Assumptions are made about the other “side”.  There is a win-lose, right wrong, above-below based on judgements of those on the opposite or different side.  The triangle represents power, at the very top, 1 person.  At the bottom, many people.  This is the typical structure in a classroom, or in a business or hierarchy.  The Circle, is where people connect to the center.  Spokes to the center, connected to the center, equal dignity and worth of each and every person.  The role of the keeper is to bring the best out, the ‘keeper’ in each person in the Circle.

Training provides tips and techniques for moving into the relationship dynamic of Circle.  Some teachers, will explain the move to students.  Those with deeper connections to relationships and stronger social-emotional skills are naturally able to move to this dynamic.  It takes practice, trust and open-ness to the concepts of Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles.

Mid-november Circle Forward should be released, and it is my understanding this is part of the book.  I am looking forward to another resource for school-based/community building circles!  Pre-order at Living Justice Press.

Peacemaking Circle Keeping 3 intentions, 3 activities, please.

I’ve been traveling and training and learning more and more what people are calling “Circle” and I am getting more and more concerned that we are missing some key elements.  Good work can be done in Circle.  Transformation, growth and self-discovery can be multiplied when we keep from a grounded center in the practice and elements of Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle process.  The foundation from Kay Pranis and the Little Book of Circles.  I’ve got 3 key intentions to use in your Circle keeping and then 3 activities to help promote those intentions.  These crossover and support each other, they help support each other.

When Circle Keeping, your role is to guide the process, as a model.  That means modeling a “Circle Hierarchy”, which would be an oxymoron!  The structure of Circle is one of equal dignity and worth.  A concept I have worked hard at teaching teachers is a different skill-set than classroom teaching.  The intentions of your Circles work best when coming from this place of equality.

Circle Intentions

It is not easy, you let go of commenting, redirecting, controlling the Circle.  The use of equality means taking time to offer opportunities to learn how Circle works best (vs ‘teaching’ it).  This works, and I know this from 1,000’s of Circles and the stories from those that keep Circle using this intention.

Coming from a place of Values, is another Circle intention.  This means living them as keeper.  Modeling them for everyone in Circle.  In a casual conversation some keepers shared with me, how they ask the kid that won’t share to say more.  That is disrupting the equality, and not instilling the value of respect.

Those plates, or the co-created Center guidelines are the foundation and Center of Circle, the basis for reaching the center of each person in the Circle.  You can’t build trust in the Circle, if as keeper you are not doing the same.

Inclusion in Circle is an intention for allowing room for all perspectives.  Check your keeping, are you really doing this.  Physically, are you making sure everyone in the room is in the Circle.  Is your Circle as round as possible, so everyone is knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder?  Mentally, are you preparing your questions, have you put thought into your Circle.  Have you considered what everyone else will think about the questions, the topics.  Have you invited as many perspectives as possible to the Circle?  That is a form of inclusion – to have the community voice, the hurt, the harmed and the people impacted.

3 Circle Activities that promote values, equality, inclusion

1) Stand and have people take one step in when they share.  Have them do two snaps when they finish, and the Circle do 2 snaps.  This activity shows the turns, and cues the listeners in, while giving them a role (to snap).  They track the speaker (role modeling, practicing one at a time).  This also engages people to take courage to share, everyone is asked to step in, one at a time (equality).

2) Y Chart.  Draw a Y on a plate, then add a drawing of an eye, an ear and a heart.  Ask people to share what it might look like, sound like and feel like if the values in the Center were in the Circle.  Any round with the talking piece that includes a deeper discussion or reflection on the values is value added.

3)Consensus/Commitment “action”, when having people commit to do their best with the values in the Center, include a verbal cue, but then also an action.  A thumbs up, pass a pinky finger handshake, or putting your foot in the center for two taps.

Join me at the Advanced Keeper Training, encouraging use of Peacemaking Circles in Schools!  October 23 & 24, 2014.

Circle Keeping, brain science connections.

St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program (SCVRJP) has delivered 1,000’s of Circles and trained 100’s of people in Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle process.  Circles in kindergarten classrooms, museums, prisons, college campus, fire departments, churches and many at the Restorative Justice Center.

As our program demands grown, the need to teach people the art of Circle keeping has grown.  As a non-profit working alongside criminal justice systems, the need to be “evidence-based” is crucial.  Having great outcomes, it is important to maintain the success.  These means teaching others how to do powerful, meaningful, effective Circle keeping.  I have focused on this for years.  The increased demand in training requests, partnered with the requests to do a two-day training in half-a-day has caused me to be analytical in the delivery of quality training, effective skills and targeted strategies for Circle keeping.

At a recent training I shared the technique of contracting or expanding my explanation of Restorative Justice and Circle.  In the very beginning before the opening reading, when starting I suggest doing this.  A training participant asked me more about what I meant.  I explained speaking longer or shorter, and monitoring the emotional climate.  I was asked again what I meant.  I realized I had developed my “feeling” for it.  My intuition had developed from doing Circles so often.  The second nature of Circle keeping is living and expresing the values of Restorative Justice.

Right then in the training session, I started explaining what that meant.  I talked about body posture of others, eye contact, how I was feeling.  What are the clues to “knowing” when we are ready to start Circle.  I used words like: trust, calm, connection.  Today I found what it is by brain science!

A HUGE ah-ha!  In reading Words Can Change your Brain, by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, I noted the 12 Strategies of Compassionate Communication and powerful and making a TON of sense in the context of Restorative Justice.  I had to see if I could find a handout for this afternoons training.  It led me to learning the neural resonance also called neural coupling is a speaker-listener brain based connection!  THAT is the element to use when monitoring your Circle for emotional climate!

CompassCommunication

Creating Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circles how and why the relationship value question matters.

In Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle process, and every Circle facilitated by SCVRJP, we identify relationship values at the first round with the talking piece.This is extremely important and requires an understanding of how and why that is so important.  A teachable lesson emerged recently and can demonstrate why framing the question is so important.

Technique & How  

1) Ask people to identify a relationship. Hand out paper plates

2) Ask them to identify something really important in that relationship.  Avoid using the word “value”, you are going to go behind the social mask, by asking this indirectly.  Suggest what makes the relationship great, without it, it would not be the same.

3)Handout markers, asking them to write the word about that relationship on the plate.  Remind them of the non-judgmental context, lots of things make great relationships, to just pick one for today.  Getting again behind their own judgments or preparing what they think they “should” say.

4)Role model, go first, start the talking piece, place plates in the center.

Why

1) Brain connections – engage people in thoughts of loved ones stimulates brain chemicals to promote openness.

2)Indirect ask – – we all want to fit in and belong, we use social masks, our answer change if we are with our friends or our parents friends.  That’s good because that creates accountability and social norms.  We want to get to the heart of people in Circle, and using the approach reaches a more genuine context.

3) Relationships matter – asking about a specific relationship that the person has, reinforces the importance of relationships and brings in dialogue relvant to what really motivates our behaviors.

4)Topic matter is comfortable – everyone can easily share about someone they have a relationship with.  This promotes bonding and a successful first round with the talking piece.

Lesson

It was observed in Circle that the relationship/values questions was framed as “someone you find inspiring”.  Participants picked figures like Gandhi, very few people have a personal relationship with Gandhi, so this question eliminates the personal context of who and what is important in personal relationships.  The “someone” rather than a relationship leaves out the discussion of disclosing who is important to us.  By a de-personalized question, people can social mask it easier and pick a figure, vs an actual relationship.  The cross pollination of discovering others values on relationship values is lost with the question framed this way.  The question could still be utilized in Circle, however it might not be the most effective and developing values that the Circle can then commit to use for the rest of the process.

Restorative Justice listening . . . to bare witness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Memory tool for explaining Restorative Justice Circles.

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

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

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

RR-25s

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

Circle-speak is . . .

. . . inviting over authoritative

. . . suggestive over directive

. . . about opportunities over rules

. . . supportive over assumptive

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

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

. . . listening with the ears of your heart

. . . speaking your wisest words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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