I like to write about the practices and success that I have had, so you can try the practices and see if they work. The evaluation forms and feedback from 1,000′s, literally 1,000′s of Circles have been documented by SCVRJP evaluation forms. I am more “concrete” than “gray” when it comes to using Restorative Justice philosophy and practices, and I really, really believe in the power of Circle.
“This would be really good for bullying in Schools.” I could help but smile at the person with the talking piece. The person speaking had only experience a few Circles, and the experience was around “compassion”. It was not a training or a restorative justice conference. It was simply the observation from the heart of a former teacher.
To address bully behavior, you have to address the percieved differences that students have of each other. There are some very REAL differences in students (race, gender, economic background, sexual orientation, etc, etc). Do you believe that we all have humanity in common? Can you work from a perspective that each student deserves to be treated equally, with dignity and respect? To provide each student with the equal opportunity for personal growth and development. Even as I write this I am thinking about how to do that with the Johnnies’ that misbehave or the Susie that has trauma going on at home, both around her and to her. That is where school discipline meets equal opportunity and how we deal with the rule-breakers and wrong-doers.
When you work with cattle, on horseback, you need to read the animals around you. You have to be in sync with your horse, you need to get down the leadership of the animal. Tight reins, loose reins, knees or feet for directions. You can give verbal directions if that fits. You need to watch the critter you are moving. Are they going to dodge left or right, try the corner, bolt from the pack . . . you cut them off at the pass. Find where they are trying to break and cut them off.
Circles “cut-off” the wrong-doing, the harm. You build Circles into your classroom, you school community and your discipline policy. Use Circles at all levels, (PBIS and http://circle-space.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/why_restorative_justice_works_for_bully_behavior1.pdf). Consider the Circle process and school-based restorative justice as both the prevention, the diversion and the response.
Each type of Circle is unique and different. Don’t cut the corners on getting staff trained to do the process well and effectively. Mis-implementation is more harmful and can set the process back further. You need time to practice new skills and to develop your own shifting mindset. Reacting, punishing, punitive responses are so far ingrained in our institutions and structures, sometimes it is hard to realize what is subconciously happening because of those long set beliefs that punishment works.
Part II: Diversity management skills and Restorative Justice Circles.
Right now I need to run, a Diversity Circle is calling!