Restorative Applications in Youth Community Groups
Staff use circles at the beginning or end of the week, as one example, asking youth to share highs and lows of their week or weekend. Circles can also be used to establish group norms, address painful incidents in the organization or broader community, or address negative patterns of behavior.
Learning New Skills
Talking circles are effective in promoting learning. When a new topic is introduced, it is helpful to use a circle to ask youth what they already know about a topic area or what questions they have. Or youth can be asked what they find most important/useful/challenging/confusing in a presentation or project to identify the learning needs and reinforce key content. Circles are also very effective to encourage sharing of writing and giving peer feedback.
Problem-solving circles are used when there are behavioral problems impacting a group of youth. The circle explores who has been affected by the behavior, in what ways, and what needs to happen to make things better. Individuals are not singled out as wrongdoers, and the whole group is asked to be accountable for improving the situation.
A voluntary process bringing the wrongdoer and those affected by the harm, possibly including family members, staff, administrators, community members and other youth. In a conference the person harmed is empowered to express how they have been affected, ask questions, and assert what they need to repair the harm done. The wrongdoer gains the opportunity to be accountable, express remorse, and to make things right. Restorative conferences provide the opportunity to address conflict and harm in ways that enhance positive youth development, as an alternative to exclusion from the program.
Staff/Youth Chats & Dialogues
Restorative chats/dialogues are used by staff to address minor incidents. Taking just a few minutes, the conversation can be held with just the wrongdoer(s) or with a wrongdoer and the person harmed. The staff member asks the wrongdoer what they were thinking when they did what they did? who has been affected by what you did? in what ways? how can you fix things? The person harmed is asked a parallel set of questions and then agreement is reached on how to make things right.
During the peer jury process, a young person who has violated an organizational rule sits in a circle with trained youth jurors and together they discuss why the incident occurred, who was affected, and how the wrongdoer can repair the harm caused. Typical cases include disruptive behavior, minor property damage and verbal arguments. (Peer Jury is appropriate for grades 9-12)
Typically, bullying interventions focus on the bully, often leaving the person targeted with feelings of shame and isolation. Restorative conferences for bullying, using the process described above, promote healing and reintegration for the victim (as well as the bully). Like any restorative process addressing a serious harm, restorative bullying interventions require careful preparation and skilled facilitation to ensure that the victim will not be further victimized.
Circles can be used in meetings with parents or community groups, especially when addressing issues that are emotionally charged for some members of the community. Circles encourage sharing on a deeper level, and promote understanding across differences of class, race/ethnicity, role, and points of view.
Staff & Team Meetings
Adults also benefit from circles, when used to promote peer support and address conflict in healthy ways. As administrators and staff begin the paradigm shift to restorative thinking, they enhance their own teamwork and serve as role models to youth.