Restorative Conferences also require preparation. You may use this same checklist to guide those pre-conference conversations.
Restorative Conference or Restorative Circle – Which Should I Do?
If there is not time to prepare properly for a Circle, you might need to consider an alternative way of dealing with the situation, including Restorative Conferencing. Not every situation is appropriate for a Circle, nor is Circle always appropriate for certain people. Some students need to first be exposed to Circle process for community building purposes that are not stressful before they are emotionally or psychologically able to handle Circle as a way of dealing with conflict or harm. Be discerning.
Restorative Conferences are incident focused and are an effective way to resolve the situation and redirect behavior. While formal Restorative Conferencing also requires preparation, typically following this preparation, a Conference meets only once. Other than the follow-up plan agreed upon for repairing the harm, the situation is complete.
Restorative Circles are focused on the context for the mis-behavior and the needs of the individuals involved. Therefore both during the preparation process, and particularly in the Circle, creative solutions that provide opportunities for deeper change and healing often arise and are able to be implemented. Circles are organic and effectively allow people to be deeply heard. Circles can be used for a variety of purposes (support, healing, discussion, planning) and can meet repeatedly over time to continue to address the underlying issues/context in which problematic behaviors are rooted. Circles are fluid and flexible.
Example: Two 8th grade girls get in a fight. You might choose to handle this with a Conference and include the mothers, and a few of the friends. You are focused on the fight. You are able to resolve the situation satisfactorily without having to resort to suspensions.
But later you get wind of trouble brewing, not only between these same two girls, but their respective groups of friends. This time you choose to do a Circle.
You follow the Preparation Guidelines. You speak with each girl in each group individually. In the process, you uncover a whole lot of “stuff” you didn’t know about. You hold Circles with each separate group. You bring in the mothers. You bring in a few teachers who the girls feel connected to. Everyone agrees it now feels safe enough to bring the two groups together in Circle. The result is understanding between the girls of what they really want and need—and how much they are the same. As the girls gain insight, they begin to make plans for creating a Girl Power Group that will meet after school. Even though you have invested a lot of time in quite a few interviews and Circles and the subsequent relationships you developed with these girls and their mothers and teachers, in the end it has led to your group of “problem girls” becoming a force for positive leadership and energy in the school.
Be discerning in choosing which will be more effective for the people and the situation, short and long term.
Preliminary Interview/Conversation with Participants
Participants include anyone involved or affected by the incident. If they do not wish to be included in the Circle or Conference, it may still be important for you to speak with them—for their sake—being heard and feeling supported by you, as well as for the information and insight you will gain into the situation.
- Establish safety with them. Address them as equal. Remember your own shortcomings. NO LECTURES.
- Ask what their expectations are. They may be on target, have no idea about this process, or have a negative idea of the process. Picking up on where they’re at…
- Briefly describe the process to which this situation (they) have been referred.
- A Circle (or Conference) where the individuals who were affected by this incident will work togther to figure out how to repair the harm that has occurred, and mend relationships.
- Clarify that this is not a free-for-all. This will be orderly and respectful.
- Describe how a Circle works, including the use of the Talking Piece, and establishing Guidelines. If this is to be a Conference, describe how that will work.
- Explain that you will direct the process with quesitons that help everyone to understand what happened, to understand what everyone needs, and to make a decision together as to how to make things right and repair the harm to relationships that has occured.
- Explain the responsibility of all to hold the information shared in the Circle or Conference in confidence.
- Explain the possible benefits of participating –
- understanding of what really happened from everyone’s perspective;
- understanding the context of the incident and what everyone needs;
- opportunity to uncover misunderstanding;
- opportunity for learning and growth and for long term resolution.
- Ask how they are feeling about being referred to this process. (What’s the alternative?)
- Explain your own role. (Including that as part of preparation, you will be talking to all involved.)
- Ask what some of their values are, explaining what a value is if needed. For example:
- “Is it important to you that people treat you with respect? What does that look like? Is it important to you to be courageous?”
- After talking about these or other examples, explain that these are what we call “values”. They are the ways that we “show up”, or behave/act with others in our life.
- Everyone has values. “We will be talking about these in the beginning of our Circle so we can better understand the people with whom we will be doing this work.”
- Emphasize their right to talk or to pass, and their responsibility to speak and listen with respect.
- HEAR THEIR STORY! Ask:
- What happened?
- How do you feel about what happened?
- What were you thinking at the time?
- What do you think about it now?
- What did/do you need?
- What do you need (or need to do) for this to be made right?
- NEVER ASK “WHY”? Always ask, WHAT/HOW…
- Let them know you will be available afterward if they need someone to talk to.
Use the information you have received through this interview to help you plan the Circle or Conference. Choose readings, stories, activities and discussion questions that will help the participants to feel emotionally safe in addressing the issues when it is time. Be sure the group is ready before you address the issues directly.
Self Preparation Before a Circle
- Assess whether you should be doing this particular Circle—do you have biases that would interfere? Review the information you have gleaned from the interviews. Do you still feel that the situation is appropriate to be handled in Circle?
- Go over some “what ifs” and develop strategies.
- Be clear that the process is open—that you have no particular expectations.
- Take time alone—relax—clear your mind and heart.
- Good self-care: good sleep and healthy food for good energy.
Engage in meditation or prayer—whatever