Restorative circles are a powerful way to proactively build the social and emotional skills youth need to negotiate conflict. They can help lay the groundwork for trust and a safe classroom culture, and serve as an alternative to punitive discipline approaches.
Deriving from practices of Indigenous peoples around the world, circle processes can evoke healing and connection among participants. Learn how to use them in your classroom or community.
Restorative circles can be a proactive strategy to build trust and relationships, or a reactive one when conflicts arise. Proactive circles help kids practice speaking and listening from the heart when things aren’t going well, which reduces in-class meltdowns and gives students a chance to build a strong foundation for relationships.
In any circle, keep two things the same: Always let participants speak one at a time and never allow interruptions while people are speaking. This helps ensure that everyone has a voice and is heard equally.
If you’re using a sequential restorative circle, structure each round around topics or questions raised by the facilitator. This format offers quiet or reserved voices a way to speak and gives those who are louder or more assertive an opportunity to be heard too.
Circles can be a powerful tool for teaching students to develop critical thinking skills and moral decision-making competencies. They foster relationship building and a sense of connectedness while encouraging students to share their feelings on a deeper level.
Restorative circles can be used in a reactive capacity to support individuals and community members who are experiencing negative events, such as school suspensions or juvenile justice involvement, or they can be used proactively as a means to address important issues.
In either case, preparation is essential. Preparing for a circle can include identifying who is needed to be present, determining the topic, creating talking pieces and planning for a closing ceremony.
Restorative circles are a process of collaborative dialogue that can be used to help a group address a crisis, resolve a conflict, or build trust. They are rooted in both ancient traditions and contemporary understandings about living in multicultural societies.
The first part of a restorative circle is an opening ceremony that may include reading a poem, doing a breathing exercise, group stretches, meditation or other activities that get the participants situated and centered in the circle space.
After the opening ceremony, the circle facilitator introduces a talking piece, an object that carries some significance that is explained and then passed around the rim of the circle. The talking piece provides a regulated dialog process, ensuring each participant gets uninterrupted time to speak and allows full expression of emotions and thoughtful reflection.
The talking piece used in restorative circles is a symbol of attentive listening. It is passed around the circle at check-in and question rounds, inviting one person to share while everyone else listens.
A talking circle can take a lot of time and should not be rushed. It provides an opportunity for each person to share their thoughts and feelings, even if they choose not to speak at all.
The circle process supports two key goals of restorative practices: building community and responding to harms through dialogue that sets things right. It builds on values like truth, respect, honesty, humility, bravery, wisdom and love to create safe spaces for healing.
A well-designed closing ceremony is an essential part of restorative circles. It puts a comfortable cap on the circle time and prepares participants to transition back into their daily lives.
During the closing ceremony, the facilitator introduces the circle’s topic/s and asks each participant a restorative question. Then, the group moves into a more open model of discussion.
In restorative circles, the talking piece is used to regulate dialog in a circle and allows everyone to speak fully without interruption. This equalizes the pace of conversation and helps to create a respectful and caring environment.