Restorative (Measures, Practices,Justice ) Circles meet and beat bully behavior with it’s own definition.

This blog title includes the words “measures”, “practices” and “justice” in parenthesis – because Restorative Circles, are a similar but different approach to the Restorative Justice Circles I am blogging about.  Restorative Justice started in criminal justice and moved to be an effective school intervention, thus the words “measures” & “practices”.

I agree and work from the definition of bully behavior (click here, Olweus) that frames bully behavior is (1)unwanted, negative (2) repeated and involves an (3)imbalance of power.  I believe Circles can change bully behavior by the very definition of what bully behavior is.  Let me set some backdrop (I encourage you to click on the links).

Restorative Justice seeks to change the culture by changing the climate, very much like PBIS Recommendations are effective bully prevention efforts are school-wide and comprehensive, the exact same recommendation for implementing a Restorative School!

You can use the different types of Circles at the different tiers of the PBIS triangle.  This looks like: Tier I-All students, Tier II-Some students, Tier III – Few students.

With that background, when it comes to addressing bully behavior with Circles – I think you should apply the definition of bullying to make it even more effective!

1)negative and unwanted – – After experiencing Tier I & II Circles, students will be willing to participate in Tier III Circles.  You will need to carefully prepare all participants at Tier III.  The restorative magic, happens when students explain the depth and experience of negative and unwanted behavior from others.  When explained from a perspective of real life experience, you can not deny or minimize.  Empathy develops and empathy can motivate a change of behavior.  Facing what exactly the behavior is and addressing the harms helps clarify, for all involved, what the behavior is.  You get to clearly state the “unwanted” aspect.

2)repeated – Just like a single incident is not bully behavior, a single Circle is not likely to fix it.  Circles done consistently will change the climate.  Circles at the different Tiers, will help change behavior, Circles can be applied, again to the same situation.   We have forgotten “repetition is the Mother of knowledge”.  I understand that more serious behaviors should have more serious responses, but please don’t stop doing Circles after one attempt.  Please don’t go directly to a Tier III Circle and expect it to be 100% effective.  If students will repeatedly exposed to each other, the Circle should be repeated.

3)imbalance of power.  Circles are about equality, they are the opposite of bully behavior.  To diffuse the bully behavior, apply the opposite.  Place equality in your school, in your classroom.  I believe Circles are far and away the best way to balance power.  I also teach teachers, to move the relationships to learning from only the teachers responsibility to the responsibility of each learner.  The power to learn is within each student, where it becomes a life-long skill, vs the skill of the teacher.

The power of Circle is amazing.  People transform in Circle.  Recently a participant had such insight she actually said she was embarresed for statments she made earlier in the Circle.  That kind of ah-ha, comes from within, and Circles address things within.

Resource Book from IIRP, Restorative Circles in Schools.

Bully Intervention and the Power of Circles. Guest Post by Matthew Kuehlhorn

Today’s post is provided by my friend Matt, we met through social media at first, he’s providing some great reflection on Circles in Schools.  Check out his work at  I recommend his book Bully, if you work with teens!


Bullying Intervention and the Power of Circles

My literal stumble into <a href=>teaching about bullying</a> was prompted with a colleague of mine, who is a Middle School Counselor, when she told me she wanted a book that taught Restorative Justice to her students.  Back then my reply was “Restorative Justice, what’s that?”

The journey began on that day and has not stopped since.  That was in 2008.  Since this time I have had several conversations with industry leaders, Kris Miner being one of them, attended international and regional conferences, and read up on research and additional literature regarding restorative justice use, primarily in the schools.

What I love about the stories and the process is using the Circle.  Sitting down with people in a circle brings so much power to any situation.

I am an experiential educator and have taught for twelve years now.  I began my career in the outdoor classroom guiding classes through five day expedition trips.  I would teach about ecology, biology, and other academic focuses while also teaching outdoor skills.  We had to address relationships in our days as there was no Principal’s office to send students to when conflicts arose.

We used circles multiple times a day.  We sat around fires, we had group meetings, we made decisions, and we resolved conflict all in circle.  In the outdoors this is how people naturally congregate.

When working in a classroom I do enjoy circles still and will oftentimes find a way to get students working together within a circle.  Though desks can be awkward, we will stand, or arrange, the room before student’s arrival.

When students get into a circle I immediately notice a change.  Everyone is seeing the other students and the circle brings equalization to the room that was not there before.  The circle arrangement alone can offer prevention to behavior disruptions and relationship conflicts.  This can occur before any facilitation!

The next piece I incorporate with circles is a conversation around guidelines.  Many schools bring in Positive Behavior and Support (PBiS) programs which I really do love.  The PBiS model, as I understand it from a conversation with the Colorado State Director, is simply training students in guidelines for the school.  This is broken down into how we act in the bathroom, hallways, classroom, etc.  Then the teachers and coaches train the kids in these guidelines and good result follow.  What I find limiting to this model is that the guidelines are created by teachers, administrators and perhaps students from one year’s class (or partial class).  A more effective way to engage and empower the students you are working with now is to enroll them in the creation of their own classroom’s guidelines.

Once this is established, which may take three or more meetings to get detailed out, students and teachers have a system by which to hold themselves and others accountable.  Therefore, when Thomas steps out of line with the guidelines that he helped to created and signed off on, someone in the classroom can point this out to him and everyone knows exactly what the next steps are.  Thomas is not removed from the classroom and people learn to make mistakes, be accountable and take corrective actions.

This is all powerful prevention.

Bullying Intervention is built on top of this system.  When circles are used regularly, students and teachers learn about people’s needs.  When a person is bullying another there is an underlying need which is a driving force for the action.  It can certainly be a learned skill and under that skill is a need to prove oneself or to be accepted by another person.  The needs of people must be uncovered before bullying can be addressed and intervention successful.

Building a framework with circles is the powerful solution to being proactive and reactive when addressing bullying.  Regular use of circles can build community in the classroom that promotes people’s success, supported by every community member.