Restorative Justice, Circle & SEAD

Restorative Practices Basics

Restorative practices are victim centered ways to resolve conflicts or address from a trauma or crisis. The purpose is not to restore back to what was but to transform the conditions in which it was done. Restorative practices take into account the perceptions and ideas of all harmed and affected in order to address the harm done  and to hold the person who did the harm accountable.  The focus is on the impact of the behavior, or harm, and also on solutions or possibilities for moving forward in a positive direction for those harmed, who did the harm and for the community.

I first became interested in studying and practicing restorative justice and circle in the mid 1990's. I was interested in it as a missing piece of prevention and for more effective, earlier interventions that could be used in schools, workplaces and communities. My experience with staff development and interventions pointed to how often serious tension and stress was not caused by the work itself, but by political/systemic and/or interpersonal issues that were not addressed or were not resolved.  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 do need to recognize how we are all connected, the impact of our behavior on others. Everyone needs to understand they can be part of the 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.

Circles are often used as part of  restorative or transformative justice efforts. 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 to recognize the impact on the entire community.   Circle is a process to allow for fair, inclusive and respectful dialogue.  Circle allows 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.

 A key concept of restorative practices is for the leaders and decision makers to do “with”, not to do “for”, or “to.”

Business consultant Peter Block  challenged participants at a training to consider, “How do I bring myself into the Institution?  What is the methodology of transformation?  How do we move 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:

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

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

     Potential participants agree to be involved in the circle.


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?

Basic introduction to Circles

“Circles create a scared space that lifts barriers between people, opening possibilities for collaboration and understanding. Circles provide a safe place to have the difficult conversations.”

Alice Lynch, Restorative Justice/Circle Practitioner and Founding Director of BIHA (Black, Indian, Hispanic and Asian Women in Action), 12/6/49- 1/11/18

Foundation of Circle:    Circles are from Indigenous people around the globe. For many tribes, circle is way of life. Indigenous leaders gifted circle and trained others, to use this sacred and powerful resource with other communities for common good.

Circle rational:  

When circles are used for problem solving, it’s a way to bring together those harmed, those who did the harm and the broader community. Circle allows for a compassion for those harmed as well as care for those who caused the harm. Circle offers those who caused harm a way to take accountability, to more fully realize the impact of their behavior and to find meaningful solutions for all.

  • All voices are heard and valued
  • Everyone is part of solutions
  • There is respect for all in the circle
  • Circle allows for dialogue to help all move forward in a positive way


Values includes, but are not limited to: ability to listen as well as to have a voice; value the perspective of others, value the knowledge and life experience of each participant, solution focused.

Part of the power of circle is to strengthen community and to address problems, or move forward in a positive way, with the input of all in the circle rather than relying on the authority to punish, or to dictate the answers.

Circles for Prevention

Circles offer many ways to build resilience and protective factors including: building caring connections, respectful communications, (listening, being heard), a way for all to make a positive contribution, feel competent and connected.

Some elements of circle include:

  • Sit in a circle; ideally with no barrier
  • The keeper and/or the participants develop a “centerpiece” of the circle that adds meaning (e.g., each person brings something of meaning to them personally or that represents who they are and/or why they are in the circle. Each person places it in the center when they introduce themselves and explains their object of meaning)
  • Common courtesies are established in preparation for the circle and/or at its beginning. They are then practiced throughout. (e.g., speak from the heart, listen with an open heart to others, say what you need to say but be mindful of time so all in circle have the same opportunity to be heard, deep breaths -stay present, etc.)
  • Use a talking piece – this is far more than a gimmick --(whoever has it has the opportunity to talk while others listen without side comments or interruptions); the TP has a meaning to the keeper and/or the circle and in some cases, it is a sacred object.
  • The talking piece is passed in order around the circle. Each person has the option to pass, then the TP continues to be passed in order around the circle rather than jumping around to whomever has something to say.
  • Participants are asked to say whatever they believe needs to be said, but to be mindful of time 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, in the moment, when they have the talking piece. What they may have planned to say, may well change as they listen to others and the TP makes its way to them.
  • Discuss the behavior or issues without labeling the individual. Keep in mind that you can love or support an individual, while not supporting specific behaviors.
  • Role of the circle keeper is to “serve the circle.” They help the circle welcoming & safe for all participants, set the tone, help the circle establish “common courtesies;” invite each participant to identify themselves & share some element of who they are. The keeper also closes the circle (e.g., may involve story/quote, summary or clarifications of agreements made.) The keeper may invite someone else to do the closing and/or have all participants add a closing comment. The person who keeps the circle is not there as the circles therapist, authority or answer person.
  • Planning, preparation and questions are done by the Circle keeper but reflect and change to meet the needs of the Circle.

Possible Questions:

  • Say your name and how you feel about being here today and/or a hope you have for it. 
  • (NOTE: “how you feel about being here today or hopes” is only an example. The idea is to, along with the name, have each person say something about themselves that helps to build connection/understanding/circle values)
  • 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?

Circle training generally is 4 days; but there are many variations on how training is done including the length of training. Most are mindful of participants being in circle as much as possible to have the opportunity to more fully experience it. Circles are used for building community, intervention, healing and much more.



Circle in the Square, Nancy Riestenberg (2012) Living Justice Press

  • 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


MN Department of Education : (for an extensive list of restorative justice resources)

Respecting Everyone’s Ability to Resolve Problems: Restorative Measures, Cordelia Anderson, MN Department of Education.

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 student’s 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
  • Issues/Needs
  • Comments

Sample/Potential topics include:

  • Bullying/Cyberbullying
  • 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)
  • Language
  • Dress code
  • Positive and Negative Peer Pressure
  • Cliques
  • Male/Female “gender” roles/expectations (positives/negatives)
  • Racism & White Privilege
  • Diversity, Oppression & Privilege
  • 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
  • Gangs
  • War (anxieties; perspectives of best way to peace)

Contact: Cordelia Anderson
Sensibilities Prevention Services
1166 Granada Street
Clearwater, Florida 33755

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