Developing Restorative Justice Circle Intuition.

The first step is to gain knowledge, the ‘how to’ of a Restorative Justice Circle.  Then you develop experience, those experiences lend to your understanding and ability to predict what happens.  Pour in some passion, some real care and authenticity to your work and you’ll develop an effective style of Circle Keeping.  That blends to provide Circle intuition.

A few knowledge pieces:

  1. It is good to know, the four stages of Circle.  How to move between the four, and what the philosophical rational is behind each stage.
  2. Members in Circle reflect your relationship.  Build connections as soon as you can with those in Circle.  This can happen in pre-conference (preparation meetings) or as you engage people coming to the session.
  3. Each Circle has something to offer you as a lesson.  The Circle is the power, and in that the wisdom.  Create safety, and people will share.

A bit about passion:

From the website:
From the website:
  1. Being passionate, is bringing your special relationship to Circle/Restorative Justice.  Don’t leave what you find of value about Circles or your own values outside the Circle.
  2. People respond to genuine and authentic individuals, own your passion, and allow others the freedom and space to own theirs.  I was working with an experienced group, I shared that I told a reporter I was a Circle-freak, some else shared being a Circle-addict.  I’ve heard Circle-hog, as an apology for always suggesting Circle.


  1. Nothing substitutes for experience.  You can read about riding a bike, or swimming, nothing like the experience.  It is not just the experience of keeping, the experience of participating in Circle.  Find places to be in Circle.
  2. Watch keepers, develop outlines, find a mentor, ask questions about the style and use of questions and techniques.  An experienced facilitator will make decisions and guide a process for a reason.
  3. Create your own experiences if needed.  I had a teen Circle for my daughter and few others, that was enough to give me two extra experiences a month.  For a short time, I hosted ‘New Moon’ Circles, to give space to talk about values.  Use a Circle demonstration when going to give an explanation of Restorative Justice.

Intuition is developed when you become more natural.  Intuition is the deep inner knowing.  Restorative Justice Circle intuition allows a keeper to move confidently.  Consider the experience of each and every person in Circle.  Seek to balance the needs of each person.  When someone is sharing, observe how that is changing or impacting the emotional climate in the room.

When keepong, you have a general sense and an idea of where the Circle will go, you don’t control the outcomes for each individual.  This balance requires an intuition about Circles.  The more you develop knowledge, passion, experience and intuition, the more you will be invited to keep and the deeper and more effective the Circles will be.

Circles include earned and learned wisdom, formal and informal support.

There are two ways we get smart about things – we experience it or we take someone else’s story and decide to do it, or not do it.

When we are seating in Restorative Justice Circles, we take time to listen.  We listen like sponges.  It just happens that way.  The values have been determined and used as our “way” of relating to each other.  We speak one at a time, we share perspective by perspective.  Just as each second on a clock happens from a different place, so do the stories shared in Circle.  Just as the commonality of time passing happens with each second that clicks off a clock, the stories have a commonality of being human.

Teaching people to listen without judgement is crucial to a Circle.  Giving people the permission, to not have to react to what is being said helps.  The communication loop is person-to-center, instead of person-to-person.  We observe the loop or relationship a person is sharing.  Without judgement we “hear” that person’s earned experience.

Once you “earn” your paycheck you have it.  You “earn” your experience.  Just like you can blow that paycheck, have it be gone with no investment in the future, you can blow your experience and not invest it in the future.

Talking about our “earned” experiences in front of each other allows others to learn from them.

One of our volunteers relates his life that includes going in and out of prison.  Being high a week after being out.  How crime was needed to fuel the need for more drugs.  This story is shared as part of a larger program addressing controlled substance use.  It works.

It works, because we care.  We listen first and teach second.  We let the person in the session be heard and participate in Circle.  We all add a value to the Center.  We all hold the potential to add value to our communities.  Restorative Justice does this like nothing else I have ever experienced.

Formal support comes from people paid to do what they do.  Informal support is people who act because they care.  Think about that from your pizza delivery and the friend that made you soup.  The airport shuttle ride or the friend that gives you a lift.  Formal support is a therapist, informal support is a great conversation with a close friend.

We all know someone who can be a great therapist, hair stylist or store clerk, because they care.  It’s kind of like that with SCVRJP, and I hope all restorative justice programs.  The use of volunteers, bring in people just cause they care.  As a non-profit, we are less funded (more like a friend, not getting paid for that ride to the airport).  We address the areas that the community needs, vs what the government decides we need.

I’ve read that you need both good formal support and strong informal support to reduce symptoms of PTSD.  I always to apply what I read in academic research to my life.  Makes sense to me, fits for the times in my life I struggled.

We are relationship creatures.  I so appreciate that restorative justice can bring our relationship to our experiences to others.  Restorative Justice also brings relationships to people formally or informally, and that just helps us all grow.

Using Restorative Justice Circle questions to guide and deepen the impact of Circle.

Thought and care to questions when facilitating Restorative Justice Circles is important.  As you get more used to doing Circles and more used to monitoring emotional climate, you start to see how certain questions can guide the process.

I was in a Circle of students and only one of them had been in Circle before.  There was some cross talk happening and the teacher next to me was trying to “shhhssh” students.  I don’t do this, I try to use the Circle as leverage.  So that is what I did, the next round I got the piece, the question was:  “how do you see the talking piece, interacting or supporting the values in the Center”.  The round was good, rich with perspectives.  People pointed out that honesty in saying what is real when you have the talking piece.  Someone shared that you can trust that people won’t interupt.  Respect, that we talk one at a time.  Everyone shared something about it, and the cross talk pretty much disappeared.  I don’t know how I got so relaxed about it, but it really really helps people when they realize for themselves that honoring Circle process, respecting the talking piece is where magic and depth occurs.  I had also started the student circles by asking for “practice” in everyone listening together, using my tingsha’s.

Another example of using questions to guide and deepen.

We had a storytelling round, with middle school teachers.  It was a deep connecting round as people related something that impacted them when they were in middle school.  After the round ended I asked people to complete a sentance, and write the word down.  The sentance completion was:  After hearing these stories, I have a sense of __________.  I think when we have a sense of something that is part of spiritual selves.  My word was ‘belonging’, in another session I used ‘community’.  I then did further explanation of School-based Restorative Justice.   I came back to the word completion and I asked people to vote by show of hands.  I asked them to consider how the word they selected would impact their classroom climate on a scale of 1-10.  A rating of 1 would mean very little impact and a rating of 10 would mean a great deal of impact, 10 also being a more positive impact.

So for me, I wrote “belonging” and I rate that a sense of belonging would have a positive impact of about an 8.  I explained this again and asked for a handraise of those that had a 1-3.  No hands went up.  From 4-6, two hands went up.  From 7-10 and the majority of hands went up.  It showed people, that the feeling created by the storytelling would have a positive impact on classroom climate.  I didn’t have to do this by passing the piece to each person, I used questions to guide the Circle and deepen the impact.

Questions are really a tool when it comes to Circle keeping.  Question your motives for using a question, there is both latent and manifest opportunity!  : )

Restorative Justice Circles, help us realize our own relationship values.

Cross contamination happens in Circle.  As someone talks about their experience, it resonates with someone else.

I’ve been thinking about how to explain this magical awareness that happens.  I’ts part of why I think Circles are so effective.  I want to promote a mentoring program that involved Circle as a mentor/mentee activity.  Its the cross contamination of our understanding of values.

I just had a realization of my own, that can demonstrate what I mean.

One of the first things in Circle, is to hand out paper plates, and ask participants to think of someone special.  Then to write on the plate the one quality or characteristic most important to that relationships.  I do this backdoor approach to the value, because if you flat out asked someone to write down a relationship value, you would probably get what they think they should write.  I also do the back door, because if we think of our ‘special’ person, our brains get flooded with that positivity of thinking of our loved one.  It puts relationship on the mind.  Restorative Justice is about relationships.

One participant picked the word ‘communication’ and spoke of his Mother being the hub for what is going on in the family.  Talk to Mom and you know what is going on with everyone else.  I immediately thought of my Dad.  He is our families ‘hub’.  I realized my Dad is doing a good job of being my Mom.  The Circle went on. 

Later while watching TV, the thought of my Dad being a good Mom came up.  I wondered if had my Mom, not died 22 years ago if my Dad would be in that role.  He calls my brother, my sister and me, he goes down the line.  We’ve laughed as talking with my Dad, prompted me to call my sister.  Typically our conversations include my Dad’s updates about talking with my sibilings.

I explained to my daughter how my Dad was being a good Mom.  Someone elses awareness of a relationship value had a ripple effect.  It created awareness about my own relationships.  That’s what happens in Circle and that’s why it helps.

A few years ago I did an interview with a domestic violence advocate and a member of support group.  After being trained in Circle the advocate introduced the process to the DV support group.  The women wanted to have group in that format, again.  So the advocate agreed to once a month.  After the second Circle the women in the group said, we want Circle all the time.  The interview was conducted, I was going to write up an article about it.  So I have permission to share their reflections.

The support group participant preferred Circle over group for several reasons.  She appreciated the equality of the circle, instead of the tables and square format.  She appreciated hearing from each person in the Circle, support groups could get dominated by one individuals ‘solutions’ for everyone else or one persons crisis.  She also liked that instead of focusing on ‘what he did’ they talked about relationship values.  She also shared that everyone has values inside, Circle helps you make those values stronger.  She thought that was much more helpful than a support group on budgeting or childcare, when those issues don’t relate to everyone.  In Circle, each person relates the topic to themselves and that helps.  She also felt empowered in being part of the Circle, rather than just a recipient of the service.

The advocate, she felt the Circle, helped people be safe in a way that they actually explored being different.  She shared an ‘aha’ one of the woment had about why she was battling with her x over child support.  The focus on relationship values, really helps people get along well, with others.