When I began teaching Restorative Justice, my motives were about being in Circle with the same set of people for 16 weeks. A post somewhere on this blog explains learning about people teaching in Circle. I was at the 1st National Conference on Restorative Justice and a meeting was added in with Howard Zehr. I knew about his study guides on the Good Books Website. Another new friend shared his syllabus and I was on my way.
I knew MUCH more about Circles and Restorative Justice than I knew about young adult development and teaching methods. I love to train and had a few years of training experience by this point, so that part didn’t concern me. My priority was merging Restorative Justice practices into the class experience. I wanted to emphasize the Circle as my teaching “mode”. The educational experience was to be at the Center of the Circle, and the educational topic was Restorative Justice.
I can still picture that very first Circle of students, I remember names and faces and stories. It was a meaninful event in my career.
A few of the practices I use to enhance the “Restorative-ness” of teaching Restorative Justice:
4 stages of Circle. Each class/CIRCLE includes an open and close, a getting acquainted question, a building relationship question and for our issue, we talked course content. The taking action phase of the Circles was the “check-out”, “take away” or “reflection” on the class period. One thing I remember, is that college students seemed to enjoy original thought. We would have different aspects of the class time, or different perspectives presented when we did this ending. It also allowed for students to relate to each other and have a different understanding on the topic taught that day. The students taught each other what they learned.
Student/Teacher. I intentionally focus that equality in Circle, means we are all students, we are all teachers. Remembering this, practicing from this point means flowing in and out of my “authority” position in the class. I kept the Circle and I also instructed the class. I learned as much from my students as they did from me, it was just “different” types of learning. When you empower each person to be “teacher” when they have the talking piece and “student” when they do not, you pave the way for them to listen with a specific intention. You set up the Circle questions to work this magic into your teaching.
Engage the triad. Referring here to Victim/Offender/Community. I was fortunate to have a local business man taking the course, he was on “audit” status. He brought an adult community perspective, the diversity added to our class experience. I brought in volunteers from SCVRJP, both speakers to storytell and community volunteers to explain and experience Circle as a community member. One requirement for the students is to attend an SCVRJP session and participate as a community member. It was noted in many papers that the students themselves were also “offenders” who had not been caught (underage drinking or impaired driving), however they found transformation in attending and gratitude for experiencing the session without the additional consequences. Our Circle questions also focused on sharing related to the triad. For example, “tell a story about a time you caused harm, and how you repaired it”. (Only to be used when the class was ready)
Treats. I emphasis attendance, as all professors do. I explain you cannot get the experience of the Circle if you miss class. I also emphasis that we miss out on your perspective, when you miss. After we have established class values I explain how WE the class, are harmed by the absence of any community member. I let the students know bringing treats for the class is the way to “repair” that harm. Even if I miss, I bring something! We have had apples, mini-bags of chips, and cookies. Eating and breaking bread together bonds a group. Side note: many students share that my class has high attendance.
Just as a Restorative Justice process transforms the victim, the community and the offender – the restorative justice teaching experience transforms the learners and the teacher. When you feel a deep meaningful connection to the work, you know you are in “best practice” flow of Restorative Justice.