Resovling conflict, restoratively with Circle and 2nd graders – by Catherine

Catherine is a 2nd grade teacher who uses classroom circles.  She is also on staff at SCVRJP.  She has this story to share:

They (20 second graders) came streaming in from lunchtime recess.  Two children were yelling at each other and several others were standing around watching and commenting on the screaming match.  I stepped in and asked, “What is the problem”?   A young girl replied, “He kicked me!”.  A young boy replied, “She yelled at me during the 4-square game, and she wouldn’t get out when she was out!”   Within seconds the classroom doorway was silent and 20 second graders looked to me for guidance.  I said, “Well, should we miss art or read aloud today?  We obviously need to have a problem solving circle and those are the two times we have available today.”   There were groans of protest because they all knew the read aloud book tied into the art lesson scheduled for today. So  either choice meant they were going to miss something fun and important to their day.  I quickly took a straw vote and read aloud won the vote.  Besides, that was scheduled immediately and art was whole 90 minutes away.  I figured the iron was hot…so… strike now.
 
I told everyone to circle up and we started the Circle.  (back up)   While the majority of children were organizing the chairs I quickly visited with three children who had personally witnessed the problem from today on the play ground between the two offenders.  During this conversation I found out that the young girl had become quite well known throughout the second grade as a person who yelled and screamed at other children, making it very difficult to play 4-square in her game.  I told the children to make sure they shared that story in the circle today. 
 
The circle began with a generic pass of what rules on the playground did they regularly follow to keep everyone safe.  The second question was what rules did they see today or recently on the playground that were NOT being followed.  Then we went to the heart of the issue.  (Please keep in mind that the circle values and other circle stages are practiced every morning and every afternoon.  Which allows us to get right into the circle when we need to.) We passed the talking piece to share stories we had specifically seen (or been a part of) involving today’s two offenders.  (It turned out that the young girl had become a real problem on the playground and people were avoiding playing with her or playing in any game where she was involved.  There were a couple stories involving the young man, but apparently they were isolated and didn’t appear to be forming a pattern.  Each offender was then able to tell their story (uninterrupted), why they thought it might have happened, and who they think they impacted.  Then we passed the talking piece again and the students told who they thought was impacted today.  It was very powerful because most of the students felt sad about missing read aloud.  Finally, I told the offenders, “Now is the really important part of the circle.”  (Both of the offending students were new to my classroom.  One arrived about three months ago and the other about one month ago.) “Right now, everyone in the circle is going to give you a really good idea on how you can fix the problem you had today.”  I continued,  “ So listen carefully.”   I then chose a student to start the round who I knew would have a great idea. 
 
I am totally amazed at the wisdom of second graders.  Here are some of their suggestions:
Stay out of the 4-square the rest of the week.  Next week when you play again you need to have a buddy who will help you keep your self control.  On the days you play 4-square you and your buddy will report back to the group at closing circle how it went that day.  Everyone decided to do a short report on playground rules and how they keep us safe.  Then they decided to make posters from their reports.  (The reports are just a group of post-it notes used to generate a paragraph)  Once everyone agreed on the posters then the most amazing suggestions came forward from a student:    Let’s have circles with the Kindergarteners to help them learn the playground rules.  “Let’s be circle keepers!”  one second grader said.
 
So we have decided (with the help of a kindergarten teacher) to send in 4-5 second graders and run a circle with the Kindergarteners.  Of course I will run through several practice circles with my class where people will role play as kindergarteners before sending them in to run the circles.  But they want to run the circles not just be a part of them.  The Kindergarten teacher was very excited and added her own part to help.  She suggested that immediately following the circle the second graders go outside on the playground and play with the kindergarteners to role model all things just discussed in the circle.  The kindergarten teacher said that after the recess she would sit down and have a circle with her kindergarteners to process all the safe rules they followed on the playground.
 
I can’t even believe how cool this idea is!  And it didn’t come from me!   Again…the incredible wisdom of 8 years olds shines when I share power in a circle.