Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles
“Because of our class circles, students accepted more responsibility for their roles in both creating and solving the problems. It became much easier to encourage students to solve their problems themselves; in part because I gained more confidence that students had the skills to do so, but also in part because of how the project shifted the way I communicate with my students.”
--Fourth Grade Teacher
This resource supports the teaching of restorative practices and skills in your classroom. Restorative Practices are a framework for building community and for responding to challenging behavior through authentic dialogue, coming to understanding, and making things right.
This resource describes how to hold restorative circles in classrooms. It contains step-by-step instructions for circles that build community, that teach restorative concepts and skills, and that harness the power of restorative circles to set things right when there is conflict. Using these methods consistently will help to create calmer, more focused classrooms. Teachers who use these methods often find that the overall proportion of time dedicated to managing behavior is reduced. This means more instructional time becomes available. It also means that students (and teachers) have happier, more peaceful experiences of their school days.
Restorative thinking is a significant shift from punishment-oriented thinking. People, including students, who are invited into restorative dialogue are sometimes confused by the concept of “making things right.” Their default response to the question “What can we do to make things right?” often has to do with punishment. It is said that “children live what they learn.” When what they have learned is that troublesome behavior demands a punishment-oriented response that is how they will live. But restorative practices invite different ways of responding. These new ways must be learned through experience. The activities in this resource give students the necessary experiences to support a shift toward restorative ways of thinking and behaving.
Like students, teachers and administrators also find it challenging to make the shift to restorative ways of thinking. Even when we understand the value and concepts of restorative justice, it can be very difficult to move from theory to practice. This resource invites those who lead the lessons it describes—teachers and other adults in the room—to also be participants, to use the methods themselves to experience restorative practices.
The activities in this resource have been shaped by students who showed up in circles in ways that were brilliant, touching, and inspired. Each activity has gone through several iterations of development, and we encourage you to modify them as well. Adapting them to your teaching style and the needs and circumstances of your students and your school, is completely in the spirit of restorative justice, which seeks above all to do what is right in the particular circumstances where it is used. If something in here doesn’t feel quite right to you, modify it; make it right.
It is our hope that your time in circle with these activities will help deepen your understanding of restorative practices. We hope you will find that after you work through a dozen or so of these activities you will see significant results. We wish you success as you work to build a positive, supportive, friendly and just classroom environment. Classroom circles are the foundation of this process.
 One of the best resources for research on restorative practices is the International Institute of Restorative Practices, online at www.iirp.org.