Restorative Circles and their use within the school system
Allowing students to learn from their conflict, grow from their mistakes and repair any strained relationships caused by conflict is what restorative practices are about. The circle allows for open communication and gives facilitators a tool to utilize everyday not only when conflict arises. Students take more of an active role when they are shown the implications of their actions. Through restorative circles students have the opportunity to explain their reasoning, hear how their actions have affected others and come to a solution between all persons involved. “Restorative Justice brings persons harmed by crime and the person who harmed them, along with affected family and community members, together in dialogue that aims to build understanding, explore how the crime has impacted those involved, including the community, and develop agreements for what will be done to make things right. The result: truly meaningful justice for all involved.”1 From these concept restorative circles (sometimes referred to as dialog circles) were developed.
The main reason to develop restorative practices is to help students come to terms with what has happened and move forward. All people involved in the conflicts are learning to express why they reacted the way they did and notice the impact their reactions have on others. The circles give opportunity for the relationships that may have been damaged during the conflict to be repaired. This form of conflict management is different from traditional methods in schools because it is putting the responsibility back into the hands of the people that have been involved. This is a change from simply removing the people in conflict and distributing punishments for “bad” behavior. “School discipline has for the most part taken its cue from the criminal justice system. The focus is on punishing wrongdoers with the aim of enforcing behaviors that are safe and non-disruptive. When punishment does not work, misbehaving students may be excluded through suspension or expulsion, with possibly serious long-term harmful consequences to them and society. There is little or no opportunity for social and emotional learning.”2 Restorative practices allows for the idea that people make mistakes and react to situations because of any number of reasons. Rather than just punish a person, restorative practices encourage all involved to explore why the conflict occurred what can be done now to repair the damage.
Goals within Restorative Practices3
How can you do this?
This practice is most effective when implemented throughout a school rather than just in a few classrooms. As an educator if you are interested in bringing about this change in your school starting with the principals and values of restorative practices within your classroom can spark a larger change. “Making the change from a punitive to a restorative culture is a significant undertaking, and can be quite challenging. It happens over time and as a result of sustained effort.”4 When the school is looking to make a change to restorative practices there are three main stages.
The first stage is to recognize that “bad” behavior is normal and there are reasons which cause the behaviors. This stage moves from thinking that behaviors need to be suppressed and are evidence of students who don’t perform well academically to noticing that “bad” behaviors are opportunities for social and emotional learning.
The second stage brings everyone affected by the behavior together rather than seeking out only the misbehaving students.
The third stage allows for dialog, relationship repair and understanding rather than excluding the student who misbehaves to motivate them to change their behaviors.
1. https://www.ocde.us/HealthyMinds/Documents/RP%20Resources/Teaching%20Restorative%20Practices%20with%20Classroom%20Cirlces.pdf PG 6.
2. https://www.ocde.us/HealthyMinds/Documents/RP%20Resources/Teaching%20Restorative%20Practices%20with%20Classroom%20Cirlces.pdf PG 10.
3. According to the Healthy Minds Ministry Document