Circles – The Practise of Restorative Justice

Restorative Practises Circles, that hold respect for everyone.

How can you be proactive day to day to empower your people with courage, trust and confidence?

Use Informal Circles ~ ethical conersations that restore what has been lost. This is part of everyday life when things go wrong between people. In the youth it’s often about power struggles, in the adults it’s often about misunderstandings and assumptions. So, once peacefulness has been restored, even a tense peacefulness where the readiness to LISTEN deeply to each other is present, then, through respect, empathy and compassion, assert safe boundariers. Then, we can ask: “What happened here? How can we put things right? What could have been done differently? Which virtues could you use to make the difference? How can you make amends for your part in it? What was helpful to you during this conversation?”

Parents in a Circle of Unity - Chrystal House School, Cape Town

Parents in a Circle of Unity – Chrystal House School, Cape Town

We wish to support each other to make amends, because, it’s how we mend that which is broken that matters.

Nodi Ipp (Nigel) exploring safety and caring - Restorative Circle

Exploring safety and caring in a restorative circle – Nodi Ipp (Nigel)

Formal circles ~ these are well organised responses to highly challenging situations. You will need all the key people to work together with their commitment and vision. Purpose: usually these circles are for a person to reintegrate or restore themselves to the community from which they have been excluded because of their behaviour. Creating a safe and trustworthy network of people is a powerful support structure. It is flexible and creative, able to respond to the unexpected, yet clear and strong stakes in the ground provide security and stability. Stakeholders who matter to the person being supported are always present and they stand committed to an action-time plan to show they will walk their talk in support.

Fromal Reintegrtion Circle - examples of stakeholders and carers present

Formal Reintegrtion Circle with examples of stakeholders and carers present

The Key: DON’T do things TO others.
DON’T do things FOR others.
DO things WITH others

Below are some of the many excellent youtube videos and websites selected by Nodi Ipp (Nigel) – Character Facilitator of the Virtues Projecttm

  1. Changing the school ethos – zero tolerance doesn’t work – pushes our children out of school gangs and care room – calm herself work on anger issues and develop strategies to repair harm. A little nervous. But amazingly powerful. From rules to relationships.

2. Dara Feldman, teacher and workshop presenter’s website with resources: 10

3. 5 minutes on building connection in the San Francisco School Area. Excellent, my favourite: 10
Summary of Documentary: Unified School District – Rosa Parks High School and others San Francisco 2016 . The full documentary used to be at this address, but I think it’s been taken off you tube, so if you want it I can send it to you.
‘Calmness and consideration’ ; ‘Think about what other people like about the world’ ; ‘Everybody gets a turn’ ; ‘It made me feel part of this class.’ ; ‘It made me feel special.’

Building Relationships

Comments: They can believe in their own Feelings and Share Own Feelings. You get to say everything you want to say and people listen to you. They believe they feel safe. They believe they feel cared about. Circles made me feel I was a part of this class. It made me feel special. It’s about Positive Relationships and how to restore relationships when harm has occurred. This builds community. It grows a climate of Trust in the classroom. It fosters their learning. Offers a language to learners and adults. How to think about virtues and values and to apply the restorative and empowering practises.

Gives students a voice: Happier and more cooperative learners grow when those with authority do things with the younger person, rather than to them.

Talking down to the younger person, takes away their part in the process – becoming a victim rather than a victor.

A common problem: adults are controlling and only allow the younger person to say what the adult wants to hear.

Trust – younger people have to trust that you’re actually going to allow them to speak. Someone is actually listening. They notice why I’m hurting. They’re listening and they’re not judging.

Inclusivity – allow everybody’s stories to part of the community. Believe that they feel safe.

Builds community and models a way of being for how we all want to relate to each other. Feel a sense of belonging. Want to be seen. Want to be heard. Want to connect.

Children / People who are assailants, who do harmful things are often victims themselves. They haven’t been taught, so don’t feel they are a part of something. They don’t feel that they have a voice.

Part of a community – A place where they’re wanted. Feel comfortable. Feel good about coming to school every day. Students believe that they are cared about.

Work with students to help them develop their own problem solving skills. Give people full buy-in, to the culture of the school, their school.

They work it out. “You resolve it. You tell me what you need to do to make that person feel better.” They come up with some things that are phenomenal.

Consistency – always going to be the same process – a tool for adults that works in all situations. Gives us the words to say ; the process to go through ; for every single case. No matter what happens, they are being heard. They are being seen. This is a High Trust Environment. And it becomes the culture of the community, the way that everyone interacts when it comes to listening, caring, respecting and restoring that which has been broken by mending and making amends.

4. Formal Restorative Justice Circle: Reintegration of a learner who had been sent to another school until they were ready to return. OR release and reintegration from incarceration. It’s totally wonderful to see the amount of caring adults who are there to facilitate the reintegration, including the head of the Oakland School district.

5. Spokane district – all about Trust:

6. Care room, a response using restorative justice in a care room.

7. Seema Gajwani — a special counsel in the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General, where she leads the Restorative Justice and Victim Services Section — speaks on restorative justice during the 2019 JDAI® Inter-Site Conference.


Specific process, with defined protocols, that brings together those who have caused harm through their wrongdoing with those they have directly or indirectly harmed.

Restorative practices is a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision-making.


Evan’s Story of Empowerment and Restoration:

When I started teaching Evan in pre-primary school he was as intense a boy as I had known and already had a negative reputation amongst the parents of his preschool. Later he was enrolled in my grade one and immediately set about finding his place in the pecking order of my Montessori based grade 1-3 class. Within a short time he revealed his great skill at sport. He was totally absorbed by soccer and cricket and played them like his life was at stake. Fiercely competitive, determined and courageous to the point of recklessness, he would periodically find himself in front of me during break time telling me that nobody wanted to play with him. Upon my investigation it would always come down to Evan’s intensity to win, score, dominate and overpower. Each time I would go through the sequence of thought that went something along these lines:

Me: What happened when the others stopped playing with you Evan?

Evan: Johnny got upset and shouted at me and wouldn’t play and the others also stopped.

Me: Please get Johnny so we can hear the full story.

Evan: (fetches Johnny)

Me: Hi Johnny, I see you are upset. What happened?

Johnny: Evan kept taking the ball. He wouldn’t pass. He shouted at me when I made a mistake. I got cross and picked up the ball and Evan shouted and kicked me. But Evan always wants the ball and wants to score and never passes.

Me: Okay thanks J, Evan what happened for you?

Evan: J always mucks up and I wanted to score and win and when I pass to him he mucks up so I just want to win the game.

Me: But now there is no game to win is there Evan?

Evan: No!

Me: Seems like the others are upset with you again.

Evan: Yes!

Me: Okay, let’s go through it again my friend. I want to remind you about what I have told you before – you know, how good you are at soccer. You are one of the best I have ever seen at your age. You kick with both feet, you are enthusiastic, a natural, you love the game and your determination to win is very powerful. These virtues will be your great strength through life. But if you forget to include other virtues in your mix, then your strengths will also be your biggest challenge. Which virtues can you add into your mix so that the other children don’t get hurt and want to stop playing with you?

Evan reflects and sometimes needs to read the chart, but after two or three times he responds, Respect

Me: Yes and …

Evan: Consideration

Me: Good you’ve remembered them now. I’d like to add in patience and tolerance, because each person is different and has a different set of gifts. Yours is soccer, but if you can’t be a team player, then you can’t win either, because being a team player is about including everyone and sometimes it can even lead to losing, which is also about character building. So patience allows you to take turns and share while tolerance allows you to respect that each of you are different and have different skills and abilities.

Evan: Yes …

After some more clarifying of the situation, I get the boys to shake hands and invite Evan to remember consideration of others and respect for his team by including them so that they enjoy playing with him and being part of his team because he is so good. I then remind him that this strong set of skills along with his passionate nature, are likely to overpower him again and again, but that with support from the boys, my understanding and his commitment to calling on the other virtues of ‘inclusion’, in time this intention of his, might come to the fore, resulting in less difficulties and more fun. We remember together that practise does not make perfect, but that it does make improvement.

Here we see how Evan’s particular genetic make up, his biology, his character, dominates and almost always wins. This kind of boy would, without the scaffolding and nurture of a supportive and effective adult, become more and more alienated and even likely become a bully with many conflict situations in his life, leading through to adulthood.

As a result of the kind of intervention I made in his young life (grade 1), he had the opportunity to put his particular character strengths to the most effective use. He was not vilified, rather he was supported with his determination, creativity, purposefulness and excellence in sport. He was not told how badly behaved he was, rather his strong traits that led to his conflict were framed in the positive light that they deserved. The gift that Evan got was the opportunity to evolve himself and grow his character. There was often the need to remind him, that respect for the rights of others is an (ethical) value that often results in the giving and receiving of respect, fairness and kindness for everyone.

The ways in which I tried to help Evan place respect, fairness and peacefulness first were many and varied and sometimes it felt like we’d never get there. But his human right was to have me do that for him. The effect of this kind of intervention was highly prized by his family who did their best to support the process. A few years ago I found out that Evan was a fairly stable settled teenager and he and his family remain appreciative for the kind of interventions I offered during the tender and impressionable years of the Foundation Phase of his learning. He remains a powerful, enthusiastic, courageous person whose favourite virtue is determination. I am sure his challenge virtues (not weakness) will remain a challenge for the rest of his life, but he has been given the knowledge and the opportunity to evolve himself so that he is less dominated by his genetic make up. It is not an ‘either or’ approach to development of self, to resolving conflict, it’s an ‘and with’ approach. We built on, to his character rather than undermine it or attempting to crush it. Not only did we build on, we actually celebrated and acknowledged the very qualities that led to the conflict, for they are genuinely the qualities or virtues that will lead him to success in his life.

This example shows that there are ways to make a difference if we take the idea of human rights and human responsibilities and put both of them at the top of our pile of values. Then we too are called to evolve ourself, for this attitude and approach calls us to grow our understanding, patience, tenderness and respect.


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