How key elements of a Restorative Justice Peacemaking Circle create more than conversation.

Circles are so simple, yet so complex.  I’ve been told I make it look easy, that ease comes from a deep committment to honor the process and the key elements of Restorative Justice Circles.  Here are a few of the elements and how utilizing them impacts the process, creating a deeper container a richer experience, and has people quickly moving to a place of emotional safety.

The opening/closing.  I have a 3 inch 3 ring binder bursting with poems, readings and even an obituary.  When you introduce this element you are sharing how Circle is different from our every day conversation, that sets a tone.  The reading also provides one voice.  The one reading, is the one speaking, at that time.  People know that when someone is reading to a group, the thing to do is to listen.  The reading creates an opportunity for the group (without knowing it) to do one of the things that makes Circle so successful (speak one at a time).  When you get to a place of “one voice”, it is actually creating a collective energy of ‘one-ness’.  Sound corny, but in that space you are having more than a conversation.  This is a monitoring of the emotional climate (key Keeper skill) and when you have that spot reached, you have a deeper well.

Commitment to the Values.  Crucial.  Absolutely crucial.  This sets the agenda and the tone for how we are going to relate to each other.  Doing the values round as the first round, sets a tone, and the commitment to those values, sets and ground that the Center of the Circle, has a capital C.  It is an easy place to find consensus, to talk about consensus.  The other thing it does is give chance for a one-word or short sentence response.  Quickly moving the Talking Piece around the Circle.  Once every voice is heard, people have a sense of belonging, of value.  They have given a vote on how they are willing to proceed.  If I have a delicate topic or important conversation, I always ask “can I talk to you” or “do you have time right now”.  This is a small but very influential relationship building technique.

Passing the Talking Piece Around the Circle.  I think the Keeper was trying to point out use of the talking piece, when someone was blurting she asked if they needed it, the person said yes.  It started a “popcorn” style, going across the Circle, bouncing around.  Many of us were not in that particular stream of conversation.  From my seat, it felt as if the individuals doing the talking had taken a bit of control of the process.  When the Keeper started to engage the piece going all the way around, it felt more equal.  Equality, sitting equal distance from the Center, equal opportunity with the talking piece.  These physical actions influence our emotions, Spirit and thoughts.

Keeper as model to responses.  I often go first, to show or demonstrate and to set the tone.  Just offering “who wants to start” creates the extroverts going first.  You have lost the chance to influence the emotional content, level or sharing and duration of explanation you are seeking.  Sometimes going last to summarize is important.  By going first you can also restate the question at the end of your sharing.  Helpful for the person to your left or right.  (I go both ways, another blog post).

Relationship Building.  You can’t NOT be in relationship, and relationships are bi-lateral.  Kindness builds a relationship.  I often mention to the person on my left, “you have a big job, you’ll be going first” or I engage in talk that connects.  Asking people safe questions to start and small talk shows you care.  We specifically place volunteers in the Circle as people are starting with the task to do relationship-building.  It means treating people with the utmost non-judgement.  If someone hands you a pen, they are trying to be helpful, take it.  Hand it back later when it is needed.  People can be anxious or nervous, do what you can to be kind, helpful, non-judgemental, supportive.  Be as safe as a Circle, engage values in every way you can. (click to Tweet).

Restorative Justice Circles promotes one voice, as speakers share one at a time.

A recent comment mentioned a struggle when someone in a Circle consistently declines or is not moving at the same pace.  I work really hard at keeping the Circle equally engaged.  Here are some thoughts regarding equal engagement in Circle.

I teach and train keepers of Restorative Justice Circles, to promote equality in dignity and worth.  This means in language and speech about describing the Circle.  Saying phrases that might seem cheesy, yet promote this sense of community and connection.  For example “lets sit equal distance from the Center” , “next to each other, knees and shoulders”, “if we were a tire we would go down the road smooth and round”.  If you request it kindly, gently and from a good heart, people hear it that way.  There are other ways to promote within the space, making sure if you are in the room you are in the Circle.  Not having a different chair, or some people using bean bags.  I co-create with the space I have, moving furniture if needed.

When explaining the talking piece I talk about equal opportunity, because it will be going around the entire Circle.  I speak to sharing, explaining I am looking for a word or phrase.  I also move deeper and explain the second stage, looking for a paragraph or two.  A skilled Circle teacher I know will even address it kindly and inclusively outside of Circle.  She’ll approach the student, state her observation (without judgement) “I noticed we didn’t get to hear any of your stories, maybe next time”  or state that she hopes to hear these.

The next thing I teach and train, is to monitor the emotional climate, making it safe for everyone to share.   I am a firm believer in role modeling and honoring the talking piece as the keeper.  If not, you are not promoting that equality and equity that a Circle provides.  The Circle does the work, not the facilitator, and facilitator is specifically a word I do not use.  If people pass or elect not to share.  In a respectful way, I reframe a bit, “here’s a question we can all answer”.  Don’t move on without engagement of the entire Circle.  Create safe space.  Always create safe space.

I recommend that schools do community building circles first.  This means holding Circles to model and teach the process.  This means taking time to get people close and connected.  Follow the PBIS triangle, and get the skills before addressing a potentially or harmful event.

Treat and encourage each and every person to be the strongest edge of the Circle, teach and know that each person is contributing to the Center of the Circle in their very unique and individual way.  When the Circle works, like spokes to the Center, and the distance between each person and the Center is equal, amazing things happen.

This model held and practices, teaches an individual responsibility.  It strengthens each students relationship with themselves by the bolstering the skills of speaking and listening.  In turn each student engages, every voice is heard.  When there is equality in participation, there is equality in engagement and community is built.

It seems like a lot of effort, or these Circle take a long time.  It can be done quickly and effective when this (equality/connection) is the context of who you are and what you represent.  Circlekeeping is a more than just a skill-set you turn off and on, Circlekeeping is how you relate to others.

Restorative Justice promotes healthy relationships, one Circle at a time.

I am working on a letter to a prison inmate.  I am trying to describe and explain what I have been meaning, when I say that SCVRJP provides “support”.  SCVRJP offers our volunteers and clients (victims, offenders & community members) a place to practice positive healthy relationships.

The value of a healthy relationship is invaluable.  Recovery doesn’t happen in isolation.  Change doesn’t happen without connections.  Community doesn’t happen without others.  The experience of knowing you have been generous, kind, supportive, helpful, honest can only happen, in the experience.

We can talk about healthy relationships one-to-one with our therapist, probation officer, physician, spiritual advisor, best friend.  Being new and being better in relationships requires that we have healthy relationships.

Read a book about swimming and you get some tips.  Get in the water and learn to swim.

A Restorative Justice Circle starts with clarifying relationship values.  The getting acquainted stage starts with explaining the process, reading an opening and then having all involved contribute a value.  Speaking about the values and making a committment to them is the easy part.  That’s the part like reading the book on swimming.

When you get to the parts of the Circle that involve building relationships and addressing issues you are having a healthy relationship.  Time and time again people step up and operate from a deep place of respect and understanding.

I have witnessed victims express themselves, offenders take ownership for harm caused.  It is healthy in the depth of a Circle.  It is healthy when young people share of themselves.  It is healthy when we take time to listen to each other.  It is healthy when we come away with a changed attitude because we gave a received our thoughts and experiences.

People leave Circle different from when they arrive. 

There is power that transforms people when you create a community of listeners, taking turns.

Get yourself into a real, Restorative Justice Circle, the values, a talking piece, a open and close are parts of a real Circle.