This blog title includes the words “measures”, “practices” and “justice” in parenthesis – because Restorative Circles, are a similar but different approach to the Restorative Justice Circles I am blogging about. Restorative Justice started in criminal justice and moved to be an effective school intervention, thus the words “measures” & “practices”.
I agree and work from the definition of bully behavior (click here, Olweus) that frames bully behavior is (1)unwanted, negative (2) repeated and involves an (3)imbalance of power. I believe Circles can change bully behavior by the very definition of what bully behavior is. Let me set some backdrop (I encourage you to click on the links).
Restorative Justice seeks to change the culture by changing the climate, very much like PBIS. Recommendations are effective bully prevention efforts are school-wide and comprehensive, the exact same recommendation for implementing a Restorative School!
With that background, when it comes to addressing bully behavior with Circles – I think you should apply the definition of bullying to make it even more effective!
1)negative and unwanted – - After experiencing Tier I & II Circles, students will be willing to participate in Tier III Circles. You will need to carefully prepare all participants at Tier III. The restorative magic, happens when students explain the depth and experience of negative and unwanted behavior from others. When explained from a perspective of real life experience, you can not deny or minimize. Empathy develops and empathy can motivate a change of behavior. Facing what exactly the behavior is and addressing the harms helps clarify, for all involved, what the behavior is. You get to clearly state the “unwanted” aspect.
2)repeated - Just like a single incident is not bully behavior, a single Circle is not likely to fix it. Circles done consistently will change the climate. Circles at the different Tiers, will help change behavior, Circles can be applied, again to the same situation. We have forgotten “repetition is the Mother of knowledge”. I understand that more serious behaviors should have more serious responses, but please don’t stop doing Circles after one attempt. Please don’t go directly to a Tier III Circle and expect it to be 100% effective. If students will repeatedly exposed to each other, the Circle should be repeated.
3)imbalance of power. Circles are about equality, they are the opposite of bully behavior. To diffuse the bully behavior, apply the opposite. Place equality in your school, in your classroom. I believe Circles are far and away the best way to balance power. I also teach teachers, to move the relationships to learning from only the teachers responsibility to the responsibility of each learner. The power to learn is within each student, where it becomes a life-long skill, vs the skill of the teacher.
The power of Circle is amazing. People transform in Circle. Recently a participant had such insight she actually said she was embarresed for statments she made earlier in the Circle. That kind of ah-ha, comes from within, and Circles address things within.
Resource Book from IIRP, Restorative Circles in Schools.