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.


5 tips for the journey, community to school-based Restorative Justice.

I was very fortunate that in 1999 and 2000 the founders of St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, had intentions on focusing the program on juveniles.  They also engaged a founding board member, who at the time was on the local school board.  Her take on expulsions in schools, was youth were being pushed away at a time they should be brought closer.   With her leadership SCVRJP focused on “embedding the philosophy” of Restorative Justice in the St. Croix Valley.  As board chair she guided us towards the areas of juvenile justice and schools, and the core programs of Victim Impact Panels and victim-offender mediation (as we called it then).

As luck would have it, we added a high school assistant principal to the board of directors.  His house was egged, he accepted Restorative Justice.  His story of the healing it brought his spouse, and the positive relationship with the students, promoted his support and use of SCVRJP.

The first Circle I kept for SCVRJP was in 2005, for a school-based incident.  I still keep a copy of the young man’s apology letter in my book of Circle readings.  He still keeps the Circle of individual ribbons tied together, in his top drawer of special things.

I live 12 miles from River Falls, where SCVRJP was founded and eventually opened the Restorative Justice Center in 2006.  Before the Restorative Justice Center opened, when I was “on the clock” I would stop in at the high school.  This became a pattern of getting cases.  Sometimes it was the students waiting to be disciplined. The assistant principal saw me, saw the student, and brought us in his office together.  Sometimes we just visited about how to handle concerns at the school restoratively.  SCVRJP handled cases of lunch room food fights, students assaulting each other, gym class threats, mean girls, overdose at school, truancy, drugs and drinking on a field trip.  We handled these in various degrees of diversion or formal involvement.

The use of Restorative Justice was part of the student handbook and code of conduct.  A few years later I called back for a new copy, it had already been removed.  Staff changed, SCVRJP got busier and the use of Restorative Justice reduced in individual cases, and increased in teachers and staff coming to training.  SCVRJP volunteers helped with Circles at a lock-in, one of those high school students is now in my college course!  At any rate, things change, that is the first tip for the journey!

Be wise with your time and energy, things ebb and flow, and they change.  Especially in schools.  be patient when working with school systems.  Consider the growing of a garden, sometimes to prune things back is best.  Sometimes you get good tomatoes and sometimes you feed the bugs!

The 2nd tip, is to promote community.  As community based programs, we are often “righting wrongs”.  Community programs typically take referrals after an incident has happened.  In schools it is important to reaffirm, repair and rebuild relationships (pbis posts).  I teach schools Circles, because they can be used for academic instruction, classroom behavior management, and resolving conflict.  To teach teachers how to do a victim-offender conference, is not the way to start (in my opinion).  They don’t have time, they don’t understand the overarching philosophy or goals.  The 3rd tip, is to meet schools where they are at.

Meet a school where they are at means spending time getting to know how they have come to want school-based restorative justice.  I could list 50 different schools I’ve worked with, and I can give you 50 different ways they came to want to be trained in Restorative Justice.  Help them based on where they are at and what they want.  Align with the goals of those invested.

My 4th ‘wisdom of the lived experience’, encourage them to try something.  When working with schools, have the direct application tips for teachers.  These people are already angels, and they need clear specific “how do I” answers and training materials.  Be structured in what you are asking them to do, from the 1:1 conversation with students, to how to keep the Circle.  I love good teachers, the best are no-bullshit, and for a farm girl from South Dakota, I’ve always gotten that.  They need you to be real, and to be confident and know your stuff.  If you don’t know it, you can’t fake it.  The best compliment I got was someone giving me positive feedback for doing Circle in Circle training.  He had just been at a training on student engagement, and the trainer lectured and did powerpoint the entire day.

The 5th tip . . . walk the journey, go back to the school, do coaching and follow up.  I had some exhausting days, but I learned the most when I went from class to class, circle to circle.  I was right beside the team I was helping, I was in the school community they were trying to transform.  Once I sent someone to go learn, and the school ended up on lock-down.  The teacher and I laughed afterwards, but the lessons learned from that experience won’t go unforgotten!

The journey from community to school-based tips:

  1. Things Change, honor that cycles happen.
  2. Build community in schools, don’t start at the top of the PBIS triangle, start at the bottom.
  3. Meet schools where they are.  What’s working well, what are they trying to accomplish.
  4. Get specific action items to those being trained.  Encourage people to try something new.
  5. Follow up, coach, get experience doing the work in a school setting.

SCVRJP is hosting an advanced school-based training on June 8 & 9 in River Falls, WI.  From now until July 31, I am available to do contracted trainings for SCVRJP.  On August 1st, I will be available as Circle Space Services, offering trainings for practitioners and school-based providers.

Labels hurt. Restorativeness includes kindness to those that bully.

I stay away from the word “bully”.  I put in “bully behavior”.  Labels hurt people.  It’s hard to be called a name, its hard to be you, when a strong label has been applied.  My path to my views was influenced by a few things.

I would not recommend doing this.  I kept a Circle without knowing who the offender and victim were.  I was asked to help a teacher, new to Circlekeeping deal with some issues.  I was happy to show up, and demonstrate the process.  I would teach others to do more preparation, especially if the students had not been doing community building Circles.  Since the teacher was already doing Circles, and was wanting to grow his skills, I agreed to come in around the harm of upper level grade school boys and bully behavior.  This teacher had also taken the two-day training with me, so we had a great rapport and were able to have things set up prior to the Circle.

We met in the corner of the library.  The tall principal joined us on the floor, so did a guidance office staff.  I brought along my deer antler talking piece, the boys thought that one was pretty cool.  The Circle centered around “friendship” being a good friend, times someone wasn’t that good to you.  We used “friend” instead of “bully”, the classroom work was supporting being a good friend.  When a question was framed about being hurt, I was shocked and sad by the stories related.  Mom’s boyfriend throws beer cans at me, the high schoolers make fun of me from their cars.  The kids showed empathy for each other.  You could have heard a pin drop when that tall, authority figure shared a story about being excluded as a kid.  When we left that Circle, I had to check with the teacher.  The kids I thought were the victims, were in fact the ones doing the bully behavior.

That reinforced to me – responses to REAL or PERCEIVED harm include:  revenge, retaliation and restoration.   What is the harm the child is experiencing, that brings our harmful behavior.

Another Circle for 3rd grade boys, the last question asked by the victim to the offender “I just want to know why you did it”.  The answer “because in 1st grade, you got me in trouble on the bus”.  I extended our Circle a little longer to bring that in!

I don’t know anyone that raises kids with the goal “be the biggest, meanest, bully on the playground today!”  In my experience parents are extremely shamed when told their kid did the bullying.

Research shows the effects of bully behavior can be negative for the bully.  This story in Time, tells about a writer who went back to meet his bully.  It’s powerful, showing that the bully went on to continue to hurt people, to the point of murder.  It’s technically not Restorative Justice (not the specific process), it does include victim and offender, and a dialogue.  I want to connect with the author John Guenther, (email me at  He acknowledged at one point or another we have all engaged in bully behavior.  I think it’s key to not forget, we could all work at being better citizens, playground to retirement home.

Programs to address bully behavior must be comprehensive and focus on the culture and climate.  I appreciate all the work at bully-prevention and I continue to work on values-promotion.

Anything to reduce harm, must address the harm that caused it.  The only thing that mends harm is values.  If you’ve been in a training session with me, remember my slides that show the medicine wheel.  Hurt is to our physical selves, and harm is to our mental, emotional, spiritual selves.

Nancy Riestenberg shared this Safe Healthy Learners e-newsletter, some resources are Minnesota based, many are available.

Please note SCVRJP, takes contracts, I am available to train your school on Circles and Restorative Pracitices.  I also provide presentations and workshops on topics related to all things Circle and Restorative Justice.  If you would like to check a reference on my work, you can ask Nancy.


Be part of the next Circle book! Please support the efforts of Living Justice Press.

I love Denise and Mary Joy, I was fortunate to have  a meeting and supper and in their home.  Denise has been kind enough to give me rides to the airport.  We enjoy conversations about “the work”.  Denise has supported my work, and her kind voice and gracious presence is inspiring.  I try to do all I can to support their work as a non-profit (and they really mean “NON” profit).

When I received the email about Nancy’s upcoming book, and the appeal for support, I had to ask about sharing it on my blog.  I appreciate the work that Kay does and she has helped so many practitioners, I wanted to reach as many people as possible.  I know many of the readers here know Kay, and would like to know how to “pay” her back for the many gifts she has shared.

How often do you get to be part of seeing a publication come alive?  By making a donation (link here) or mailing a check, you can be part of the Circle of supporters, promoting Circles in Schools.

When you make your donation, let them know “Circlespace” inspired you.  For donations over $200.oo, I personally will get Nancy to sign your copy of the book!

If you would like to attach this letter from Kay Pranis, to your blog, email or list serve, please share.

Thank you in advance for your support.

For Schools: Reduce bully behavior, increase diversity management, by use of Circles.

I like to write about the practices and success that I have had, so you can try the practices and see if they work.  The evaluation forms and feedback from 1,000’s, literally 1,000’s of Circles have been documented by SCVRJP evaluation forms.  I am more “concrete” than “gray” when it comes to using Restorative Justice philosophy and practices, and I really, really believe in the power of Circle.

“This would be really good for bullying in Schools.”  I could help but smile at the person with the talking piece.  The person speaking had only experience a few Circles, and the experience was around “compassion”.  It was not a training or a restorative justice conference.  It was simply the observation from the heart of a former teacher.

To address bully behavior, you have to address the percieved differences that students have of each other.  There are some very REAL differences in students (race, gender, economic background, sexual orientation, etc, etc).  Do you believe that we all have humanity in common?  Can you work from a perspective that each student deserves to be treated equally, with dignity and respect?  To provide each student with the equal opportunity for personal growth and development.  Even as I write this I am thinking about how to do that with the Johnnies’ that misbehave or the Susie that has trauma going on at home, both around her and to her.  That is where school discipline meets equal opportunity and how we deal with the rule-breakers and wrong-doers.

When you work with cattle, on horseback, you need to read the animals around you.  You have to be in sync with your horse, you need to get down the leadership of the animal.  Tight reins, loose reins, knees or feet for directions.  You can give verbal directions if that fits.  You need to watch the critter you are moving.  Are they going to dodge left or right, try the corner, bolt from the pack . . .  you cut them off at the pass.  Find where they are trying to break and cut them off.

Circles “cut-off” the wrong-doing, the harm.  You build Circles into your classroom, you school community and your discipline policy.  Use Circles at all levels, (PBIS and  Consider the Circle process and school-based restorative justice as both the prevention, the diversion and the response.

Each type of Circle is unique and different.  Don’t cut the corners on getting staff trained to do the process well and effectively.  Mis-implementation is more harmful and can set the process back further.  You need time to practice new skills and to develop your own shifting mindset.  Reacting, punishing, punitive responses are so far ingrained in our institutions and structures, sometimes it is hard to realize what is subconciously happening because of those long set beliefs that punishment works.

Part II: Diversity management skills and Restorative Justice Circles.

Right now I need to run, a Diversity Circle is calling!


Community Circles before Conflict Resolution Circles and always the Restorative Justice Circle process stages.

This post contains some recommendations for those of you using Circle process in a school or classroom setting.  You will want to develop the students awareness of the process.  By using Circles to “build” community you prevent harm.  The more you know about someone the less likely you are to hurt them.  Hurt people hurt others.  Community Circles can help students process their hurts.  Conflict resolution circles, are specific to hurts that have developed.

You cannot hold someone accountable if you don’t have a relationship.  Building relationships is crucial to everything we do.  Relationships influence us, even if they are at different degrees.  Relationships of influence are ones from Consequential Strangers  (other CS posts) to family members.  By building up relationships and using Circle, you create a safe space to talk about the difficult topics.  Students get a feel for processing in an equal and structured setting.  This is very different from other types of settings.  You infuse the non-judgement.  You reinforce this container (circle) is strong.  Someone recently commented that although Circle can be similar to an AA meeting, the part for him that was very different was the non-judgment.  He explained that in AA you worry about what you are going to say as your turn approaches, and after you worry if what you said was “good” enough.  Several heads nodded at that comment.  Being in a space where we aren’t judging each other allows us a sense of value and acceptance.  Have you ever known anyone who didn’t like feeling valued and accepted?

You can gather a group together and do a conflict resolution circle – prepare parties ahead of time.  Do the “pre-conferencing” or pre-circle work.  I have posts here at Circlespace that address that skill.  To go to fully implemented, to use the Circle as a classroom tool, to be a fully active Restorative Practices, Restorative Measures, Restorative Action school, you should be doing the process on all levels.  PBIS triangle here, or public health model: universal, selected, indicated.

The other import aspect of using Circles consistently is to be consistent in the approach and using the stages.  You can slightly modify the stages, however you still need to be using the values in the first stage.  If you are doing community building Circles, the third stage of addressing issues, can simply be a focus on a value, or having students share about their classroom community.

Familiar breeds comfort, and our comfort level with something leads to being our true and authentic selves with it.  By doing community building Circles, you also build up your habits as a good Circle keeper.  If you rush into doing a conflict resolution circle and it doesn’t go well, you can set back the implementation process.  Building up the process for success helps it on many different levels.

Good Luck!

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.

The impact of teaching with Restorative Justice Circle process.

 I attended the first National Restorative Justice Conference in 2007.  A small gathering happened at breakfast for those teaching Restorative Justice.  I “crashed” and met Don Haldeman, who shared his course syllabus.  I went back to Wisconsin, and 7 months later I was teaching at the local campus.  The 3 credit course is a special topics 300 level course.  Many students are sociology majors and criminal justice minors.  I took some lines from their final papers, a class reflection.

This is the only class that I can say I honestly changed from what I learned.


 More than anything I learned things about myself that I did not know before.  This class has taught me a great deal about myself.  After sharing things about my life to the class I had a change to open up and think about my life in the past, present and future.  I got to think of such things as all of the decisions I have made, who has been affected by them, and how I can make better decisions in the future.  I learned that I am an equally good speaker as I am listener.  I also learned that once I get to know others, after a while I tend to start opening up and say things that I normally would not about myself

The number one thing I learned about others is not to judge someone before you get to know who they are.

I think restorative justice has shown me that there is good in everyone and a majority of the time once people see how many individuals are affected by their decisions they feel remorse for what they have done.

 At first when I walked into class and saw that we were sitting in a circle I felt a bit strange and it felt like I was in some sort of rehabilitation center.  But now . . . I would recommend it when I am with a group of people . . . now it feels natural and it is interesting just how sitting in a circle can change how you speak and see people.  I will miss sitting in circle because it seems like the natural way of solving issues and treating people equally.

 It is safe to say that this class has made me into a better, speaker, listener, and thinker and I now feel more prepared to go out into the world directly because of this class.


 I had absolutely no idea what this class was about, but I enrolled in it.  What I have gotten out of CJ 389 was something that will be in my heart and soul forever.  When Kris explained that the class was not a traditional criminal justice course, but a different topic called Restorative Justice . . . I honestly felt like I had lost all interest in taking the course.  I was looking forward to learning about laws and court, not about how we can “fix” our wrongdoings.

 It was a great experience, being about to share moments and feelings about myself with my fellow classmates using the circle process.  The circle was something I’ve never even heard of before, but it grew on me very quickly . . . it allows people to openly express their life stories and helps them to become better listeners as well.

 One thing this style of learning has really strengthened for me is understanding the pasts of certain people that help to shape who they are right now.  Before, it was very easy for me to be judgmental about people, but now, with what I’ve learned here, I can better see who they really are.

 Overall, what I got out of the Restorative Justice experience is something that will stay with me until the day I die.  It has helped to bring out and shape who I really am and has also aided me in finding the right career.

 I would recommend this course to anybody . . . going in to criminal justice, along with anyone else who needs help with finding who they are or finding peace with themselves.  This course was an absolute life changing experience for me, and I would would enroll in it again in a heartbeat if I had the change.  Our world is far from perfect, but Restorative Justice is definitely one massive step closer in the right direction.


 This class was not just teaching an alternative style, it was an alternative.  This involvement helps see things through other people’s eyes and how the world around us in viewed.  This is created by the circle process.  This is the only classroom on campus that uses the circle as an everyday standard to each clas period.  By having a circle as the classroom setting . . . we were able to talk to everyone . . .  with everyone an equal.  This is a great bridign between the classroom and the circle process.  By having a circle every day we were exposed daily to the foundation of restorative justice, which is respect.  By letting me speak in class, restorative justice has made this a class, in which I made mine by letting me share my ideas and thoughts.


 I feel that the whole class became closer as a result of the circle process.  We were able to learn many things about each other that we otherwise would not have known in a regular class setting.  I have become more attached to my classmates here than in any other class.  It is very intimate so you can talk about touchy subjects without the worry of backlash or ridicule.  I felt completely comfortable saying what was on my mind or how I thought about certain things.  I knew that no one in the class would laugh at me or go tell their friends after class about what I had said.


 I believe that bringing in values in the circle is the critical piece to making everybody safe and open up.  I have never experienced a space where people come together and share personal stories like they do in restorative circles.  I always leave a circle feeling really good.  I think schools need to implement more circles in classrooms starting in elementary.  If children can experience this and talk about finding in a safe, open environment that the circle process offers while teaching them about values I can only help to develop healthy growth.


 Having class in circles was very different at first.  At first I was uncomfortable with having to face everyone and having everyone see my every move.  That to me was a little bit invasive, but I got over it soon because everyone had to do it, so I guess we all shared the awkwardness.  Having class in a circle was a lot of fun once I got used to it.  I started to warm up quickly.  The part that I liked best about the circles was the plates and talking peace.  Having class in a circle gave me a new way to listen in class.


Restorative Justice Circles increase L-factor, likeability.

It was just a quick 2 and a half hour training session, introducing the middle school staff to concepts of Restorative Justice and Circles.  The format was in Circle.  The experience was very deep during the story telling round.  As the teachers were leaving the classroom, I was picking up the Circle Center items.  I was stopped by two people who both complimented the training session.  It was nice to hear “good job” and “great session”  I said thank you to accept the compliment.  I did feel guilty because it was really the power of the Circle that made the training so good.

Circles work at increasing your L- factor as in LIKEABILITY.  When people like you they can open up to you and learn from you.  I’ve read in other places that if you get people talking about themselves they will like you more.  Using Circles in training sessions is a way to give an experiential learning and have people connect to each other.  Another Likeability Factor article details components for growing your L.

These include being relatable, compassionate, listen & engage people,  don’t gossip & give freely.

This fits right into circle.

As you facilitate a process that is about equality and respect you become someone people want to relate with.  Explaining a talking piece helps break the ice.  People have to know something about you, a little story of your life and then they can see themselves in you.

Circles evoke compassion in the way the bring out discussion regarding values and listening.  The “WE ahead of ME” phrase that I use summarizes this, because in Circle we take turns and compassion comes from listening and listening is a component of Circle.  Everyone is given equal opportunity to engage in Circle.  Just the shape of facing each other, engages people differently.  A teacher recently shared how he was forced to behave in Circle.  He said usually he is the class clown in trainings.  Another teacher offered that she usually texts under the table during trainings and could do that with the Circle format.

The final two things that promote likeability are don’t gossip & give freely.  When I start and introduce the talking piece, I share that we speak from the heart.  Speaking from the heart is not what you “think” about someone else, it’s about your own truth and experiences.  I think that just guides people to a no gossip zone.  When sharing that the talking piece is for you to speak until understood, it also limits what you would say that could be gossip.  When I speak to the confidentiality of Circle, I start by giving  people permission to speak about the experience in general, but not about what people specifically said.  That is explaining a boundary and crossing it is gossip.  I also introduce the Circle, by sharing that we speak to the Center in Circle, rather than  respond to what someone else said.  Avoiding weigh in, advice giving, and other feedback loops is part of Circle. Giving each voice its own turn is the Circle way.

I really like the last suggestion in the increasing your” L” article, give freely.  When someone shares a deeply personal story, or gives a life experience to the Circle, it shifts.  It shifts the Circle to a deeper place of perspective and realness.  Groups are their own best climate creators, and when you have one person willing to open up, it helps others give freely as well.  Sometimes I can feel a Circle energy tighten around the person who is near tears.  I always feel glad I have taught the process when we simply hold space for that person to share.  No one jumps in to rescue, recommend or even support and encourage.  To give freely in Circle means to give without condition.  Free is free and that means that you are giving your perspective and much as giving your understanding.  So give both freely (perspective and understanding), it can increase your own L factor and it’s a good Circle practice to take with you all the time.

Circle-keeping brings the best of who we are right to the surface.

Kris and Catherine
Kris and Catherine

Catherine and I got to spend some time together, we caught up by sharing stories about Circles.  I am a high energy and passionate person.  Catherine is a dedicated, professional and energetic teacher.  She’s been learning, using and sharing her experiences of Circles in her Classroom.    You can search ‘Catherine’ on this blog and read some of her experiences using Restorative Justice, Classroom Circles. 

As we laughed at the power of the stories, I felt a special touch of our shared experiences.  We both know and have seen Circles transform situations.  As we spoke, I took in the beauty of her energy.  She talked about how she ‘backs up’ and ‘centers’ a Circle.  She explained how she adds a little excitement and builds up the anticipation that everyone in Circle will respond.  I suggested she write up a blog post on that skill/technique.

I realized something in that conversation . . . when you take on the practice of being a Circle-keeper (facilitator), you get to bring YOU as a skillset.  You get to genuinely be your best self.  When keeping a Circle – there is the opportunity to do an activity where alignment of thoughts, words, feelings and actions are all congruent.  All lined up when you keep a Circle, are your personal and core values. 

The simplest of things happen in Circle, speaking and listening.  Guiding the Circle is part coaching, part leading, part being.  I’ve sometimes referred to it as “Circle Sherpa“, because it is about guiding.   You set it up and get out of the way.  It’s a mixture and balance.  It puts an ancient process in the present moment.  Most importantly it is a place to be the truest person you can be.

I really loved seeing Catherine tell me stories about the Circles in her classroom.  I love reading her posts and sharing them on the blog.  In this conversation I could feel the energy she has for the process.  She is speaking less in class.  She knows so much more about her students, having Circles as part of her classroom.  She’s developed her own style of keeping Circle and the postive energy and emotions are contagious!