RC in Champaign News




Students’ intentions were good; driver in difficult situation

Wed, 04/01/2015 – 2:28pm | Nicole Lafond

CHAMPAIGN — The students who organized a “Black Lives Matter” protest at Centennial High School in December, which led to an altercation with a motorist outside of the school, “had good intentions” and the driver involved “found herself caught in a difficult situation.”

That’s the final outcome of the events that transpired Dec. 4 when a student-organized protest at Centennial got out of hand, a driver’s windshield was damaged and at least one student was arrested, as determined by a group of 16 public officials, students and community members during a three-hour meeting Sunday.

That’s the final outcome of the events that transpired Dec. 4 when a student-organized protest at Centennial got out of hand, a driver’s windshield was damaged and at least one student was arrested, as determined by a group of 16 public officials, students and community members during a three-hour meeting Sunday.

The meeting, called a restorative circle, was the recommendation of State’s Attorney Julia Rietz when she determined Jan. 27 nobody involved in the altercation would be charged with a crime.

“Restorative Circles use a facilitated dialogue to help parties involved in a conflict or painful event to increase mutual understanding and self-responsibility, eventually coming to agreed actions for moving forward,” Rietz said.

The meeting was voluntary, according to Rietz, and the 16 participants included: Champaign Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand, Assistant Superintendent Laura Taylor, Centennial Principal Greg Johnson, Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb, Unit 4 school board President Laurie Bonnett, Rietz, community member and Sisternet Director Imani Bazzell, community member and Project ACCESS Director Tracy Parsons, the driver of the vehicle and her significant other, three Centennial students who organized the original die-in protest inside the school, two parents and a student mentor.

The meeting was facilitated by University of Illinois faculty members Elaine Shpungin, director of the UI Psychological Services Center, and Mikhail Lyubansky, a professor in the UI Psychology Department. The pair interviewed nearly 30 individuals involved in the protest and invited them to participate in the meeting, including the students who were identified as being in the street when the car window was damaged. Those students did not agree to participate.

During the meeting, participants eventually “came to a shared understanding” of each other’s actions before, during and after the incident.

“The goal was to give each individual the opportunity to express his or her view, for the others in the circle to gain an understanding of how the event affected that individual, and for that individual to understand how his or her actions affected others,” Rietz said. “All the participants spoke openly. Without going into specifics, intentions and actions were explained and clarified, regrets were expressed, and apologies were made and accepted.”

Rietz said the discussion helped provide closure, especially to the driver who had the opportunity to “express her concerns and let everybody know her perspective, which was compelling,” she said.

The goal of the meeting was to come up with plans moving forward. Since not all of the students involved in the incident attended, members discussed holding a similar restorative circle at the school. Participants also determined the driver should be compensated for the damage done to her vehicle when the student protest moved out into the street, the driver moved through the crowd and her car window was broken.

“The people involved in the incident would need to be present in order for a final decision to be made about compensations. Some of the things discussed were money coming from the school district or community members organizing a fundraiser so the students that were in the street could get involved in that process and donate money to the driver,” Rietz said. “Either way, we are committed to making sure she is compensated for her damages.”

Car moves through protest

Click for video

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The Restorative Power of Recalling Who We Really Are

"living stone" photo

Photo by Andesine on Flickr

This weekend I attended my first overnight mindfulness meditation retreat and learned about some wonderful ways in which early Buddhist teachings overlap with restorative practices.

For instance I learned from our teacher  (Santikaro of Liberation Park, WI) that the original word currently translated as “mindfulness” has two root meanings:

  • the more commonly understood Western concept of “being fully attentive to what is” and
  • the less well known concept of “recalling to mind”

What is it, exactly, that we are recalling?

Among other things, we are recalling—or bringing to mind—the “heart virtues” that already live within us, including Compassion, Forgiveness, Loving Kindness, and Appreciative Joy.

These heart virtues, Santikaro reminded us, do not need to be “manufactured” in any way; they simply need to be brought forth from within ourselves – so we can more easily recognize and access them, as well as honor and nurture them.

This brought to mind a restorative practice we enjoy in our family, inspired by the  story of an African tribe in which, when a person commits harm, the villagers gather around and remind the person of their beauty (by singing that person’s special “birth song”). The description, which varies from telling to telling, goes something like:

The tribe recognizes that the response to harmful behavior is not punishment but love, and the memory of one’s true identity. When we recall our own song we lose our desire to hurt others. Our song reminds us of our beauty when we feel ugly, our wholeness when we feel broken, our interconnectedness when we feel alone and our purpose when we feel lost.

While the story does not seem to be rooted in any real African tribe or tradition, according to my own searches and those of others, the legendary practice resonated with me when I first heard it years ago, and I adopted it as part of our family’s Restorative Toolkit.

Thus, for example, if my son says or does something hurtful to his sister, I may pull him aside, touch him gently, and give him a “Loving Reminder” (sing “his song” to him). This may go something like:

Hey, sweetie, remember who you are? You are the loving big brother who held your sister in your lap when she was tiny and sang to her. You are the big brother who plays with her patiently and compliments hear artwork! You are the one who taught her how to play soccer, the one who watches over her at grandma and grandpa’s house. You are the one she adores…

This usually has the effect of “softening” him, which I can see as a relaxation of his shoulders, breathing and facial muscles, and in the immediate reconciliatory actions that tend to follow.

After years of doing this (irregularly, as one of several restorative options in our home), I was blessed to be the recipient of a Loving Reminder for the first time in my life last week.

Following a rather divisive, reactive, and angry argument between my now-11-yr old son and me (in which we both said some not very pretty things), I went up to his room where he was supposed to be cooling off, to check in on him. As soon as I entered, he left his perch by the window, where he had been gazing at the sky, and approached me.

Touching me gently on the shoulder, he said:

Mom, remember? You are our loving mom. You are the one who makes us healthy snacks and arranges them in a tray after school. You are the one who cuddles with us and sings us love songs. You are the one who helps us clean our rooms. The one who packs and organizes the whole family for trips. You are the one who loves us.

I felt my eyes tear up and my throat tighten. It was true. I was hearing the notes of my song reflected back to me at a time of anger, uncertainty and isolation. I felt myself softening and re-orienting.

Sometimes we may need mediation, reconciliation, facilitation, family-group-conferences, restorative dialogues, peace circles, and Restorative Circles to help us restore relationships, repair harm and respond to unmet needs.

Other times we simply need to recall who we really are.

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The Fight Room

By Elaine Shpungin and Dominic Barter

Originally published in Tikkun Magazine on January 10, 2012

In 1854, Dr. John Snow, an early epidemiological pioneer, interrupted a deadly epidemic of cholera by tracing the source of the “poison” in sewage-tainted water to a specific London water pump. For two decades prior to this, Snow had made unsuccessful attempts to shift the prevailing belief that cholera was caused by “miasma in the air.” The cost of societal failure to embrace a new understanding of the origins and spread of disease was over 10,000 lives.

Today we continue to struggle with other epidemics, such as the widespread persistence of interpersonal violence, structural violence, and violence based in inter-racial and inter-ethnic tensions. Not only is the cost great in terms of lost lives and personal trauma, but considerable resources are also spent on attempts to subdue, redirect, and control the violence. Yet, as in nineteenth-century London, we may continue to make little progress in treating this disease until we are willing to honestly re-examine our deeply held beliefs about its origins.

One such “epidemiological” re-examination comes from Dominic Barter’s work in Brazil, which has led him to posit that violence increases as we attempt to suppress painful conflict. Rather than being dangerous, conflict holds within it vital messages regarding unmet needs and areas of necessary change. Given this understanding, safety is increased not by avoiding conflict, but by moving toward it with the intention of hearing the messages within.

During the last seventeen years of working with conflict from this approach, Barter has  observed and systematized the practice known as Restorative Circles (RC), a restorative response that engages individuals and communities undergoing painful conflicts in creating conditions for mutual understanding and collaborative action. The dramatic increases in social cohesion and safety in schools, local communities, organizations and families have prompted the United Kingdom’s National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts to choose Restorative Circles as one of the world’s ten most “radically efficient” social innovation methods.

As an apt symbol of this process, the youth of one Brazilian school now use a circular, glass-walled “fight room” located in the center of their building to address their painful conflicts within the visible presence of the school community.

Perhaps, as our society embraces a new way of understanding the origins of violence, we will begin to regularly see transparent, circular, restorative fight rooms at the heart-center of every community and institution in which people gather to live, learn, work, govern, pray and play.

The fight room in a Brazilian school

The Circular “Fight Room” in one Brazilian school. Restorative Circles are not about suppressing conflicts, but about having them safely and productively so that everyone can benefit. (Credit: Dominic Barter)

Restorative circle poster and request box at a Brazilian school

For a restorative circles process to succeed in a school or community it is critical that anyone be able to request a circle without getting permission from authority figures. The poster and box above, outside a kindergarten in the favela of Pouca Farinha, Brazil, invite people to make their requests directly to circle organizers. (Credit: Dominic Barter)

(Click here to read more free online articles associated with Tikkun‘s Winter 2012 print issue on restorative justice. Don’t miss the print issue’s twelve inspiring, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking subscriber-only articles on this topic: subscribe now to read them on the web via the Winter 2012 Table of Contents or order a single copy in the mail.)

Source Citation: Shpungin, Elaine and Barter, Dominic. 2012. Web-only article associated with Tikkun. 27(1).

Dominic Barter has been researching and consulting in the restorative justice field for seventeen years in more than fifteen countries. He co-developed the award-winning Restorative Circles practice (www.restorativecircles.org) used in restorative justice projects by UNESCO, UNDP, and the Brazilian government.
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The Danger of Compromise

Photo by TheCulinaryGeek on Flickr

Picture a stand-off between multiple parties.

Perhaps it is between representatives of two nations sitting across a long polished table as they butt heads over a piece of land, or perhaps it is between red-faced members of an organization fighting over a budget item, voices raised, or maybe its kids on a grassy field arguing about which game to play.

In our case, this morning, it was between our 9 yr old son (on sofa, arms crossed, body tight, face scowling) and his dad (on living room rug, visibly slowing down his breathing to be “patient,” feet planted firmly).

As with most such cases, the disagreement is initially played out not at the level of intentions, values or underlying needs (safety, choice, consideration) but at the level of STRATEGIES or actions (my son wants to eat his Top Food Choice for breakfast; we want him to eat Third Food Choice, so I could pack Top Food Choice for his school lunch; we have been out of Second Food Choice for a couple of days now).

It may or may not help you to know that, because our son’s diet is severely limited by health considerations, balancing tastiness, variety and nutrition in his meals can be a challenge in our family. Or that my husband is working hard, right now, to be “patient” and engage in (and model) nonviolent, non-coercive approaches to conflict.

The bottom line is that there is always a story. Both sides have unmet needs and, often, underlying tensions on which the conflict seems to build. And that is exactly the point I want to make today.


As with many stand-offs, large and small, the clock in our home this morning was ticking, and our son seemed deeply entrenched in his position – giving things a simultaneous sense of semi-urgency and semi-hopelessness.

Thus, my husband, with the intention of showing kindness and sowing harmony, offered a compromise. He’d make a quick run to the grocery store for Second Food Choice and our son would (a) eat Second Food Choice and (b) work on getting himself together to where he could speak to us respectfully again.

Waiting for my husband to return from the store I puttered around the kitchen, silent and brooding. My lived experience – and my understanding of conflict through years of studying Non Violent Communication and Restorative Circles (a particular restorative justice practice developed by Dominic Barter in the Brazilian favelas) – told me that this would not be the panacea we hoped for.


Sure enough, after having gotten Second Choice, as agreed upon, my son attacked his sister over a small act, using a sarcastic and angry tone with her that left her confused and pouty. Hearing our son speak rudely to his sister after the trouble he had gone to that morning, my husband now erupted in anger.

Pausing everyone I spoke about what I was seeing.

“Hey guys!” I said, “I am guessing you both believe, right now, that you did a favor for the other. Is that true?

“Well, yes,” my son said as though that was obvious. “I am doing you guys a favor by eating what I did not want to eat.”

“What!!” my husband said. “You are doing ME a favor when I spent some of my shaving time and work prep time to get YOU something you wanted??!! And then I come back and instead of being grateful you are mean to your sister!”

“Yes,” I reminded my husband, who has been on the Restorative and NonViolent journey with me all these years. “I know you were being kind and patient by going to the store – and I feel a lot of tenderness towards you for doing it. But – in terms of addressing the issue, I did not have a lot of hope that it would work.”

“Why not?” my son piped up, his mouth stuffed with Second Choice.

“Well, this is what the theory says – and my lived experience shows. When we jump right to Action, skipping the phases of the process where we find out what each person is feeling and needing (not their wishes, but the needs underlying the conflict) we wind up with two people who feel slightly resentful and disconnected because they are focused on what they each gave up to make things work.”

Thus, while our son was able to let go of the specific strategy he wanted that morning, the “underlying conflict” between us was not appeased or addressed through the compromise.

In a world where minutes seem to be a precious resource and conflict happens so frequently, it may seem counter-intuitive to take the time needed to engage in a restorative process in which dialogue is used to hear the needs of each party and the focus is on creative solutions that  “expand the pie” (as Deepak Malhotra says in his brilliant Negotiating Genius text) rather than nibbling away at it.

Yet, the danger of compromise is that it leaves all parties feeling like their plates are half-empty rather than half full.

The trick, I believe, is to have faith (belief not always based on proof) that a little extra time in the front end (using a restorative process) will wind up saving a ton of time (and pain and disconnection) on the back end – and create solutions that are more sustainable.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. I don’t want you to feel like you are compromising!

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The Restorative Revolution

train tracks

Photo by foxrosser on Flickr

Call me crazy – but I think we are ready for a Revolution. 

I’m talking about a revolution in the way we approach justice, transgression, punishment, crime, and every day conflict among ordinary people. I am talking about the way we treat each other after we hurt each other – even in very deep ways – and the way we treat those who are less powerful than us when “justice” is placed in our hands.

I am talking a transformational, society-wide, lens-shifting, all-affecting revolution the scale of the 1960’s civil rights and women’s rights movements, a revolution in how we think about who we are and how we live, work, and love together.

Not a solution to everything. Not panacea, utopia, peace and love for all. But a fundamental shift in the collective understanding of what might be possible.

I feel it in my bones, like the rumble of a train coming down the tracks way before you see its lights appear from behind the bend.

People are sensing the heavy creaking of the current justice system, the way it is over-burdened and under-humane, the way it takes our sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and puts them back into our communities more hardened and less integrated than they were before, the way it creates rifts among us, decreasing rather than increasing the sense of safety for which we all long.

And people are becoming dissatisfied with the way we inadvertently replicate that same model in our homes, with people most precious to us, and in our communities, the places where we spend our waking hours.

I work with a lot of communication modalities and I have been talking to people about empathy and healing and dialogue for a long time.

But when I mention the restorative practices work in which I am involved, people respond with the kind of excitement, the kind of energy I have not seen before. Their eyes light up. They smile.  They want to learn more. They want to get involved.

I am talking about people across all economic, class, age, and race differences: administrators working in the formal justice system and grandmothers of boys in the local jail, academics and activists, rabbis and conservative ministers, teachers and parents, college students and poets. When I share what might be possible, there is a spark, an electrical surge of hope.

And what is possible is a way of doing conflict and justice in which each voice and each side gets heard, in which people who have been hurt get to ask their toughest questions and those who have caused pain get to experience the impact of what they have done and come out feeling more human, not less. What is possible are solutions to conflicts that are not believable until you hear them, that stem from human creativity that is untapped by the current way we do things, and are agreed upon by everyone who is impacted by the conflict.

Restorative practices, as ancient as human society, have been making their way back into our collective knowledge. Some of them, like the Restorative Circles practice which I have been learning, are laced with a modern edge, an edge forged in the fires of inner-city Brazilian favelas where drugs, gun violence, racialized tensions and numbing poverty overlay the struggle for daily survival.

And that is what makes the possibility so palpable. There is another way and it works. It works to re-humanize people to each other in the most trying of circumstances across deeply etched lines. In a place where unbelievable beauty and unbelievable disparity go hand in hand, restorative practices are growing and being embraced by school districts, youth courts, youth prisons, neighborhoods and homes, presidential candidates and major news networks. Restorative Circles are winning awards and changing circumstances, changing lives, changing how people think about and live with conflict.

Not a solution to everything. Not panacea, utopia, peace and love for all. But a fundamental shift in the collective understanding of what might be possible.

A Restorative Revolution.  It’s coming.

Wanna get on board?

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3 Steps That Transform Sibling Conflict Into Sibling Camaraderie

Click here for German Translation of this post by Sven Hartenstein

Click here for Dutch Translation of this post by Émile van Dantzig

Click here for Russian Translation of this post by Nashev

My two kids, ages 4 and 9, seem to have lots of minor conflicts. They argue in the backseat of the car because one of them wants “quiet time” while the other wants to sing or tell me about their day. They argue about the seating arrangement for dinner (who gets the special wooden chair, who gets to sit next to which parent). They argue about one being in the other’s physical space (“Stop touching me!”) and over toys and markers (“I was using that first!”)

Over the years, I have handled these disputes using a combination of different strategies, including “letting them work it out”, “teaching them effective communication skills (ha!)”, “separating them”, “giving each of them empathy,” “mediating,” “refereeing”, “problem-solving” and “punishing.”

None of these have been as effective, efficient, and satisfying to me (or to them!) as the method described below, a family-friendly form of Dominic Barter’s award winning Restorative Circles, which go by many different names around the world and are called Micro-Circles in our family.

What I love about the Micro-Circle process:

(a) it is fast and present-oriented– usually 6-10 minutes

(b) it is empowering for those involved – By engaging participants in hearing each other and creating their own solutions, you decrease both the sense of helplessness (we don’t know how to solve this) – and powerlessness (we don’t have choice in how things are gonna go) – which often result from having a third party (even a well-meaning one) be judge and jury to one’s conflict.

(c) it seems to restore harmony and connection between participants – rather than leaving one or more of them feeling resentful or revengeful (as tends to happen when a third party, even a well-meaning one, imposes a solution)

(d) it is another way to live what I now believe to be the Most Important Thing To Know About Conflict



Take a deep calming breath and interrupt the dispute as early as possible in its cycle, if you believe it is escalating. If you have talked about using Micro-Circles ahead of time (which I recommend), offer a Micro-Circle and invite participants to sit down where they can see each other.

Optional: I have also found it helpful to set the tone by reminding everyone why and how you do Micro-Circles (ex: “Just a reminder that we choose to do Micro-Circles in our family [classroom, etc] because they help us hear each other – and come up with ideas that work for everyone. We will try to hear the meaning underneath each other’s words and body-language. Everyone will get a turn to communicate and be heard.”

For this phase, you have each participant take a turn sharing something they want the other(s) to know – followed by the Listener saying back their understanding of the message. I like to start with the person I believe is least able to listen (sometimes due to age, sometimes due to how upset they are).

Your tools for this phase are:

“What do you want Listener to know?” 

“What do you think Communicator wants you to know?”  (to discourage “parrot-phrasing” you can also do variations such as: “What is the meaning you hear underneath Communicator’s words?”). Once people learn the idea, you can also use “What do you hear Communicator saying?” as shortcut.

“Is that it?”  (or “Is that what you wanted heard?”)

Then, same exact questions in reverse (Listener communicating, previous Communicator now Listening).

Refusal to Speak or Reflect Meaning

If the first invited Listener says they don’t want to reflect the meaning, no problem. Ask them to speak and the other to reflect. After they feel heard, they are likely to be more able to listen.

If a person says nothing in response to “What do you want X to know?” I still ask the Listener to express their understanding of the underlying message – since non-verbal communication is just as powerful (if not more so) than verbal communication.

For instance, my son has learned that when his sister has her arms crossed silently, with a scowl on her face, he may reflect something like “She wants me to know she is too angry to talk?” – which I follow with “Is that what you wanted heard?” and so on from there.


Once all parties have said they feel understood, you get THEM to come up with ideas for moving forward – while you sit back and enjoy.

Your tools for this phase are:

“Does anyone have any ideas for how to move forward with this?”. I try not to use the phrase “solve this problem” because we want to emphasize that conflict is not a problem but an opportunity to work together, re-connect and understand each other better.

“Does that work for everyone?” (for me, the threshold here is “can everyone live with that idea” –  rather than “is everyone overjoyed with that idea?”)

To demonstrate how this may look in real life, below are two transcripts of actual micro-circles I facilitated with children. As you will see, the kids don’t have to be siblings – but it helps if they (and their care-takers) know you and trust you.



(Aaron 8; Rachel 3.5; Zach 6.5)

Rachel: “Mom! Aaron and Zach won’t let me play with them!”

Me: “Aaron, can you come here please? Thank you. Rachel, what do you want your brother to know?”

Rachel: “I want to play with you guys!!”

Me: “Aaron, what do you hear your sister saying?”

Aaron, rolling his eyes, his voice sounding annoyed, “She wants to play with us. But…”
Me, interrupting gently: “Hold on, just a minute. Rachel, is that it? Is that what you want your brother to know?”

Rachel: “Yes!”  [this completes one round – now we go to other child]

Me: “Ok, Aaron, what do you want your sister to know?”

Aaron: “I don’t want her to play with us right now. I want some privacy. Not privacy, but like, Zach and I have not had a chance to play by ourselves all day. I just want some time with him.”
Me: “Rachel, what do you hear your brother saying?”

Rachel, sounding quite sulky and unhappy: “He wants privacy. He wants to play with Zach alone.”
Me: “Aaron, is that it?

Aaron: “Yes.”  [this completes round 2 – now we go to first child]

Me: “Rachel, is there anything else you want your brother to know?”

Rachel: “No.”

Me: “Aaron, is there anything else you want Rachel to know?”

Aaron: “No.” [this completes Mutual Understanding. Now go to Action Plan.]

Me: “Ok, Thank you. Now, does anyone have any ideas for how to solve this issue?”

Rachel: “NO.”

Aaron: “Well, she can play with us if she doesn’t ask any questions. About the game or like what we’re doing.”

Me, feeling rather astounded, which is how I usually feel at this phase: “Rachel, your brother says its ok to play with him and Zach if you don’t ask any questions about the game. Does that work for you?”

Rachel, sounding quite satisfied: “Yes.”

Me: “Ok great. Thank you guys.”

The 3 kids then proceed to play succesfully together for about an hour. Aaron later reported that it worked out “ok” and that Rachel only asked one small question.



(Rachel: 3.5; Isaiah: 3.5)

We are at Isaiah’s house and he has never participated in this process or observed it before.

Rachel: “Give me some! I want some!”

Isaiah: “No! Stop that!”

Isaiah’s mom: “Hey guys. There is no need to fight. There are plenty of legos.”

She gets up and gets a different container of legos and gives the new container to Rachel.

Rachel: “No! I want THOSE legos!”

Isaiah’s mom: “Isaiah, can you share some of your legos with Rachel? Or take some of the ones from this box?”

Isaiah: “No! I want these. I was using them!”

Rachel is starting to screw up her face for some crying.

Me, coming over tentatively: “Do you mind if I try something different?”

Isaiah’s mom: “No, go ahead.”

Me: “Guys, guys. Hold on a second. I want to try something to help…
[after getting their attention and a pause in the noise] Rachel, what would you like Isaiah to know?”

Rachel: “I want to play with his legos! In that box!

Me: “Isaiah, what do you hear Rachel saying?”

Isaiah: “Stupid doo doo!”

Me: “Rachel, is that it? Is that what you want Isaiah to know?”

Rachel, mildly amused: “No. I want his legos.”

Me: “Isaiah, what do you hear Rachel saying now?”

Isaiah “She wants the legos. And all that blah blah blah stuff I don’t want to hear.”

Me: “Rachel, is that it?”

Rachel: “Yes.” [this completes the first round; now we go to other child]

Me: “Ok, Isaiah, what would you like Rachel to know?”

Isaiah: “I don’t want her to have the legos. I am USING them.”

Me: “Rachel, what do you hear Isaiah saying?”

Rachel, sadly, “He doesn’t want to share.”

Me: “Isaiah, is that it? Is that what you want Rachel to know?”

Isaiah: “YEAH!” [this completes the second round; now we go to other child]

Me: “Rachel, is there anything else you want Isaiah to know?”

Rachel: “I am FRUSTRATED and ANGRY.”

Me: “Isaiah, what do you hear Rachel saying?”

Isaiah: “She is frustrated and blah blah.”

Me: “Rachel, is that it?”

Rachel: “Yes.” [this completes third round; now we go to other child]

[After both children say they have nothing else to share, we go to Action Plan]

Me: “Thank you both. Now, does anyone have any ideas about how to solve this issue?”
Rachel: “NO.”

Isaiah: “Yeah. Take that fish tank and spill it out and FLOOD this floor!”

Me: “Rachel, does that work for you? Will flooding the floor help solve this issue for you?”

Rachel, smiling a bit, “Nooo.”  [incidentally, the ideas need to work for EVERYONE, so anyone can jump in and say that a certain idea does not work, including the moms! Also, at times, other kids who have been listenging will jump in with ideas. I simply take these and ask “does that work for everyone?”]

Me: “Ok, does anyone have any other ideas to help solve this issue?”

Isaiah, without speaking, takes the lego structure he was building, breaks it in half, gives one half to Rachel, reaches into her box and takes a bunch of legos out of that box for himself, and sits down looking satisfied. Rachel looks very happy too.

Me, astounded as usual: “Ok. Does this work for everyone?”

Both kids: “Yes.”

The kids then seem to experience a complete shift in how they were interacting with each other. They begin to play together, sharing legos back and forth. At one point, Rachel scoots over to Isaiah and pets his hair. They play happily like this for another 20 minutes.

What happens if it doesn’t work?

It is important to me that micro-circles are a choice. Thus, if no one wants to reflect, I sometimes reflect one or the other for a few rounds or ask the kids if they want to do something different instead (ex: eat, separate). What’s interesting is that many of our “failed” micro-circles (the ones that seem to fall apart before we get to Action Plan) wind up being successess – meaning the kids are actually “done” with the conflict and ready to do something positive – together or separately.

The important thing for me is to just keep offering it (and participating in it myself, in our case) week after week. Over time, it has become a part of how we do conflict in our family – along with yelling, threatening, sarcasm and “come here you crabby old thing and give me a big hug!” Hey – we’re only human after all.

Other Caveats and Lessons Learned:

The Restorative Circles (RC) process, whether in its fullness (see below) or shorter forms (like Micro-Circles), tends to be more “restorative” when it is a choice – or one possible way the participants can approach conflict.

RC (and other restorative practices) tend to be more effective when you remember to attend to basic needs like safety, sleep and comfort. Or – as my son put it when he was asked by Barter (at an RC Learning Event) what he’d like to share from our family’s micro-circles experience: “Make sure everyone eats first!”

Micro-Circles are a form of RC that may work well for smaller conflicts and attention spans. For more painful conflicts with symbolic meaning attached to the “act” (like when forgetting to take out the garbage becomes “you can’t be trusted with anything”), we find it useful to engage in a longer form of RC (what we call in our home Restorative Conversations, which take 30-40 minutes).

For very painful conflicts with lots of symbolic meaning (including violent acts and long-standing family conflicts) we find that a “full” RC process, as developed by Barter and colleagues, helps create the most effective container for the conflict to be addressed. To facilitate the “full” RC process, we have found that apprenticeship learning with experienced RC facilitators has been key for us.



Restorative Circles (RC) is a community-owned process for moving through conflict developed by Dominic Barter in Brazil, where RCs are being used in hundreds of school districts, juvenile court systems, organizations and families. Recently, RC was recognized by a leading social innovation think tank (United Kingdom’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) as one of the 10 most “radically efficient” public services around the world.

RC uses facilitated dialogue to help members of a “conflict community” hear each other and come to shared agreements. In it’s “fullness,” RC involves several phases (pre-circle, circle and post-circle) and stages (mutual comprehension, self-responsibility and agreed action).

The Micro-Circle process (sometimes referred to as Cirandas Restourative in Brazil) is a shorter and lighter version of RC which can be used to address smaller disagreements – or disagreements between smaller people – while still (ideally) embodying the underlying principles of RC (e.g., voluntariness, shared power, conflict as an opportunity to grow rather than something to avoid, dialogue as a way of re-humanizing each other, etc).

Learn More: Check out videos and events on the RestorativeCircles.org website, participate in discussion and news on the RC Facebook page, or learn about nuts and bolts on the Restorative-Circles Yahoo group.


March 2011 Update: In response to questions from readers and friends trying out the process, I have written Part 2: Frequently Asked Questions.

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