Cordelia Anderson M.A.


Restorative Justice & Circle

Restorative Practices Basics

Evolving from the field of Restorative Justice, restorative practices are also a way to resolve conflicts or recover from a trauma or crisis in the workplace.  Restorative practices take into account the perceptions and ideas of all involved.  The focus is on the impact or the harm from behaviors or actions, and also on solutions or possibilities for moving forward in a positive direction.

My experience with staff development and interventions makes it very clear that serious tension and stress usually is not caused by the work itself, but by political/systemic and/or interpersonal issues.  In the workplace there can be conflicts, tensions and harms done that make it difficult to have respectful, safe and professional working relationships and can also seriously damage a positive and efficient working environment.  Unfortunately, problems are often left to simmer until litigation is threatened, lawyers are called in or valuable professionals leave.

Restorative interventions focus on relationships. Conflicts often arise because people do not feel valued, listened to, treated fairly or equitably, or they feel bullied or harassed.  In the workplace people do not need to be friends or like one another, but we do need to recognize how we are all connected, the impact of our behavior on others, and the reality we can be part of any problems or be part of the solutions.  While therapy may not always be appropriate for people in the workplace, enhancing communications, staff development, conflict resolution and problem solving certainly is.

One restorative method often used is something called “circle.” Circles are nothing new and indeed are based on customs and values true to indigenous people around the world. When problems occurred, or major decisions needed to be made, the leaders sat in circle to honor and involve everyone’s voice and recognized the impact on the entire community.  We use a circle as a process to allow for fair, inclusive and respectful dialogue.  We sit in circle to allow everyone to literally see and listen to each other. Circle also represents the reality we are all connected and behaviors/actions have a ripple effect on individuals and on the organization or community.

Related Resources:

In The Art of Possibilities authors, and organizational consultants Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander advocate for restorative principals. They ask: “How do we help each staff, each student, be an active participant?” “How much greatness are we willing to grant people?” And they point out, “Leadership involves listening for the passion and commitment of each person.”

When there is conflict in the workplace the tendency is to minimize it or to hope it will just go away. Sometimes people try to ignore it totally, or try to fix it by getting rid of or punishing a particular individual. Any of those actions might work, but as the Zanders point out, “Punishment doesn’t put someone in the mood to give a great performance!”  A key concept of restorative practices is for the leaders and decision makers to do “with”, not to do “for”, or “to.”

When business consultant Peter Block was recently in the Twin Cities he challenged participants to consider, “How do I bring myself into the Institution?  What is the methodology of transformation?  Of moving from a paternalistic structure to one that is fully human?” He also spoke of the Circle as a symbol of community, citizenship and the need to create healthier communities in the institutions. Block said that to do this we need to discuss the “undiscussables” in a respectful, pro-active way.

Possible Steps in Preparation for Circle:

1)      Information and preparatory session with key organizational members and/or potential participants.

2)      Identify key potential participants (Who is involved? Who has been affected?)

3)      Potential participants agree to be involved in the circle.

4)      In preparation participants consider: 

a.       What is their perception of the problem/issues?

b.      How have they been affected (directly, indirectly)?

c.       What is the organization doing well? What could the organization do better?

d.      What do they bring to the table? How have they helped/hurt the process?

e.       What are their ideas for positive actions/possibilities?

Examples of Clients Specifically for Restorative Justice Work:

o   Minnesota Department of Education

o   Minneapolis Public Schools

o   St. Paul Public Schools

Stop Everything & Dialogue undefined SEAD

Purpose: A way to engage the staff, a classroom or an entire school in a dialogue and action planning about a topic or challenging issue.

Background: In working with schools around issues such as bullying, sexual behavior problems and discrimination or prejudice around students within the school, it became clear that a way to engage the whole school community in dialogue was critical in order to:

Increase knowledge about a topic

Understand the students perception of the issue

Glean ideas for action to move things forward in a positive way

Strengthen relationships between staff and students and within the student population

Create a way for students to be heard.

Examples of Use:

The Minneapolis Public School that helped design SEAD and was the first pilot site was Ramsey International Arts Magnet, a K-8 site.  SEAD was started as a way to help all the staff use circles (a way to engage in respectful dialogue that creates a way for all to have a voice) and to improve education and involvement in solutions around some behavior problems at the school. The model evolved into once a month SEAD’s throughout the school year.

A large suburban high school used the SEAD model to engage the entire 11th grade in discussions about racism and bystanders. The school had a strong peer leadership group that was trained in one session to conduct circle dialogues. An educational session was presented over the schools television systems into all classrooms. The entire grade then went into the very large auditorium with 8-12 students in each circle facilitated by a student leader. All the teachers were standing by to step in when the plan didn’t work. The students were so engaged that the staff had an impromptu circle that identified many staff issues that were identified for follow-up action.

Ideal:  Topics selected throughout the year. SEAD held once a month or every other month. Topics selected by some combination of staff and students based on the schools needs.

Basic Model:

·  10 minutes  mini-education   (this may be a follow-up to a school assembly or a prior class lesson)

·  30 minutes circle

10 minutes arts infused activity (this may be done the next day or in a second class period)


All staff at least has basic training on SEAD and circles.

A SEAD committee is established or the work is done by some other staff committee.

Each month a dialogue topic is selected by staff SEAD committee and/or alternative months are selected by students).  It is useful to have one or two months open to deal with issues that come up or have the flexibility to switch the topics around based on need. It may also be necessary to do a follow-up SEAD a few months later to see if the concepts were understood and identified action/needs were addressed.

On a given day all grades & classes participate in SEAD: mini education/lecture, a circle on the same topic.

The circle is followed by an arts activity that allows the students to further reflect upon and communicate what they learned.

The outcome of the arts activities, when appropriate, can be posted in hallways or on class doors, to reinforce the messages and discussions.

Parents are informed of the topics and when the circles will be happening so they can reinforce the discussion at home.

Ideally, staff debrief at a staff meetings once a month, after SEAD, to discuss what worked and didn’t about the circle and related activity.

Samples of student’s arts activities can be collected as a year end portfolio.

A staff committee works to select topics (and/or help students identify topics)

This same committee also selects possible arts infused activities staff can use along with each topic

It is useful to outline for all staff how to introduce the topic, define the issue, and possible dialogue questions.

Consider varying expectations or activities based on age/ability.

Link to existing curriculum/topics when possible.

It is also useful to have a simple form staff completes after each SEAD:

Teacher, Grade, Topic

Gems of Ideas



Sample/Potential topics include:


Bystanders: What it means and how to use positive influence

You Made It My Business When (How to Make it Work)

Normalization of Sexual Harm (Hypersexualized culture) & Sexual Behavior Problems in schools

Sexual Behavior Continuum (differentiating what is healthy, appropriate and expected from that which is disruptive, harmful or illegal)


Dress code

Positive and Negative Peer Pressure


Male/Female “gender” roles/expectations (positives/negatives)



Targeted behaviors/School Themes:  Is it clear?  Is it on target? Are we behaving in accordance with our beliefs/values?  RAPP (respectful, appropriate, positive, patient)   3 R’s (respect, responsibility, rights)

Core Values

Healthy relationships/friendships


War (anxieties;_ perspectives of best way to peace)


Basic introduction to Circles

History:    Indigenous people; native tribes – a way of life

Philosophy:  When used for problem solving: Bring together those harmed, those who did the harm and the community

All voices are heard, valued and everyone is part of solutions.

Respect for all in the Circle;

A way to help all move forward in a positive way

Values:   Includes but not limited to: equality; ability to listen as well as have a voice; value of the perspective of others, knowledge and life experience if each participant

The power of circle to strengthen community and to solve problems or move forward in a positive way  (rather than the authority to dish out punishment or  the answers)

Circles for Prevention

-   There are many protective factors that are enhanced: caring connections, respectful communications, (listening, being heard), solution focused – a way for all to make a positive contribution, feel competent and connected.

Some keys to a successful use of a circle include:

Sit in circle  (ideally with no barrier and a “centerpiece” that adds meaning)

Sit in a circle without a table so there is no barrier

Talk about the behavior or issue, not the individual

The problem or issue is in the middle of the circle, not a person

Common courtesies established and practiced (speak from the heart, listen with an open heart to others, say what you need to say but with enough brevity so all can be heard, etc.)

Use a talking piece – this is far more than a gimmick --(whoever has it talks; others listen -without side comments or interruptions); the TP has a meaning to the keeper or the circle and in some cases is a sacred object

The circle keeper “serves the circle” by setting the tone, asking the questions and passing the TP to the left. A person can pass but the TP goes in order around the circle rather than jumping around to whomever has something to say.

Participants are asked to say what needs to be said, but to be brief or succinct enough so everyone gets a chance to speak.

This helps quieter folks get an opportunity to speak and those who tend to dominate discussions to have an equal turn; it helps all learn to listen and to remember that everyone has something to add.

Questions are often open ended so circle participants can respond with whatever is on their mind at the moment when you have the talking piece.

Role (tenor, style) of the circle keeper is to  make the Circle welcoming & safe for all participants, set the tone, help the circle establish “common courtesies”;  ask each participant to identify themselves & share some element of who they are; Closing  (may involve story/quote, summary or clarifications of agreements made.) The person who keeps the circle is not their as the circles’  therapist, authority, answer person, control centralundefinednor simply the asker of questions

-     Planning, preparation and questions are done by the Circle keeper but reflect and change to meet the needs of the Circle.

Possible Questions:

Name & connecter/understanding/personal tidbit

How you see the problem/issue?

How you’ve been affected by what has happened?

What do you think needs to be done to move things forward in a positive way?

What are you personally willing/able to do?

Note: Circle training generally 4 days; but many variations on how training is done and l
ength of training are underway. Circles are used for prevention and intervention



                · The Little Book of Restorative Justice Howard Zehr, 70 pages, $4.95

 ·  The Little Book of Circle Processes, Kay Pranis, 70 pages, $4.95

                ·  Peacemaking Circles, From Crime to Community, Kay Pranis, Barry Stuart,
      Mark Wedge
, 260 pages, $15.00


· Safer Saner Schools – New York

· International Institute of Restorative Practices

· Restorative Practice E-Forum Articles:


Respecting Everyone’s Ability to Resolve Problems: Restorative Measures

Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning

Article Available from the Minnesota Department of Education

Contact: Cordelia Anderson
Sensibilities Prevention Services
3118 West Lake Street # 431
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software