Restorative circles that build community

Restorative circles put problem-solving where it should be: in the hands of the community where the problem happened.

Teachers occasionally tell their students to leave their problems on the other side the classroom door. Sometimes, that’s nearly impossible for kids to do. Your students may find if hard to focus on learning when something or someone else is bothering them.

Kids need resolution when they face problems. They want to restore normalcy in the classroom. If you don’t address student challenges, an undercurrent of negative emotions will lie just below the surface. These feelings will prevent positive relationship-building.

You can help students who have a conflict with another person by implementing restorative circles.

Shift the focus from consequence to restoration

Restorative circles focus on repairing relationships rather than administering consequences. Instead of punishing a classroom offender for breaking rules, the participants in the restorative circle help the offender find a way to resolve the issue and make amends.

Develop the process in your classroom.

Establish routines and procedures for your restorative circle. Indicate its significance by beginning each meeting with the same opening. Read a poem, ask students to recite the class mission, or play music.

  • Explain the purpose of the circle, and give students permission to participate or pass when it is their turn to speak.
  • Use your first meeting to agree on acceptable circle behavior. Remind students what good listening skills look and sound like.
  • Advise students that you will have to report ideations of self-harm or the intent to hurt others.
  • Teach your students how to identify their emotions. Younger students may find an emoji chart useful when trying to describe feelings.
  • Help to identify the conflict by focusing on the resulting problem.
  • Ask open-ended questions like, “How did your actions affect the others?” and “What needs to happen to make things right again?”
  • Value student responses by validating and summarizing what they said, but don’t judge. Assure speakers that, “Anyone in your situation would have felt that way.” For example, students may feel frustrated that they don’t have what another person has, and that’s a normal feeling. Feeling that way, however, doesn’t give a person the right to take something that’s not theirs.

Give yourself permission to get it wrong. Restorative circles are about personal growth, not perfection. Learning new ways of interacting with others is a skill honed over time. That can take longer than a 15-minute connection circle.

Use your restorative circle to honor your students

As you and your students create trust and build confidence with restorative circles, try altering the community circle configurations in your classroom.

Doing so keeps the process engaging. It may also be more efficient when you are pressed for time or have numerous students.

One restorative circle arrangement that has been effective for teachers includes utilizing an inside/outside circle. Called the Fishbowl, the active participants make up the inner circle, and the outer circle consists of those who will observe. Variations include allowing the outer circle members to speak one at a time inside the first ring or creating multiple concentric circles.

Your restorative circles will build trust and respect within your classroom. More importantly, they afford students the opportunity to make things right again and be an integral part of the classroom community.

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