Restorative circles can be used in school to encourage students to share any issues or problems they may be facing.
Restorative circles: a safe and friendly environment
Introducing new techniques to help pupils deal with potentially challenging situations and circumstances.
Children can face a wide range of issues and problems throughout their formative years and they may need help or assistance in dealing with them. Students may be dealing with a variety of situations, such as, the divorce or separation of their parents, the death of a loved one, friendship troubles, bullying and even cyber crime.
Clearly, these type of stressful situations can have harmful or negative effects on young people. When students are facing difficult issues, either inside or outside of school, they may struggle to focus in class. When dealing with complex emotional issues students may be less present in class, more combative or argumentative with teachers, withdrawn in lessons and their grades may drop.
If teachers notice a change in the behavior of a student, they may want to ask the following questions in order to determine whether additional help or emotional support is required:
- Is the student’s behavior out of character?
- Has the pupil been absent from class more often?
- Is the individual still interacting with their friends and peers outside of lessons?
- Have their grades been affected and, if so, how?
In addition to this, schools can help students to develop skills they may need when they are faced with complex situations. Restorative circles are an ideal way for students to learn skills which can help them to deal with future difficulties and to develop empathy and understanding for other people who may be dealing with difficult issues.
How to manage restorative circles
1. Concerns, issues or emotions
Various topics can arise when a restorative circle task is taking place and teachers must be prepared for any concerns, issues or emotions which students bring to the group. Teachers should ensure they have enough rest time prior to these exercises so that they’re able to give each student the attention they need.
Furthermore, teachers must recognize their own limitations. If a teacher is dealing with complex personal issues, for example, an alternative teacher may be best placed to carry out restorative circle work with students. Alternatively, the teacher should feel able to seek support from their colleagues so that they are able to manage any situation which may arise.
2. Co-create and manage a safe and friendly supportive space
In order to be effective, restorative circles need participants to share their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly. It’s essential, therefore, that students feel able to do this. Of course, this level of trust won’t happen out of nowhere. It takes time for students to build relationships with one another and minimal disclosure may occur until students feel they can trust one another.
Teachers should ensure that participants are aware of the confidential nature of restorative circles and should emphasize the importance of privacy and trust in such an environment. Teachers may choose to begin by allowing students to create restorative circle strategies. This ensures that students are aware of how the process works and can modify it so that they feel comfortable taking part.
3. Students should feel heard
Students should always feel listened to and this is particularly important when they’re sharing something for the first time. Paraphrasing what the student has said and confirming what they meant is a good way to show you’re listening to what the student is saying and acknowledging how they feel about a particular experience or topic.
Teachers and circle participants should aim to be as empathetic as possible, regardless of which topic is being discussed. Teachers should also tell students where they can access extra help if they need it and reinforce the idea that they can seek help outside of the circle too.
4. Encourage student interaction
Although students should feel free to decline the invite to share an experience, teachers should encourage pupils to share when it’s appropriate to do so. Asking participants to describe a time in their life when something specific happened may be a good way to start.
For example, if the circle is focusing on the topic of confidence, teachers may ask students to give an example of when they felt in-confident in class.
5. Partner with students
Listening to someone when they’re dealing with a difficult situation can be extremely helpful and can be cathartic for the individual in question. However, being an ally can be even more effective.
When a student shares experiences and feelings, other pupils often admit to feeling the same way. This is an ideal time to encourage students to support one another outside of the circle and provide each other with practical or emotional help when it’s needed. If a student admits to feeling isolated outside of class, for example, another member of the circle may invite them to eat lunch with them.
6. Work with students
Working with students to decide which topics should be addressed within the restorative circle can be extremely effective. This approach allows students to suggest topics which may be important to them and ensures that each circle meeting has a specific focus.
Common restorative circle topics may include:
- How to feel more confident
- Family breakdowns
- Gender identity
- The use of social media
- Managing societal expectations
These topics can be addressed in an objective way but they also allow students to disclose personal experiences and anecdotes if they choose to. This helps more reticent pupils to take an active role and increases their feelings of trust for other people in the circle.
Adding an opening and closing ritual to the circle structure can also be beneficial to students. This could include a couple of moments of mindfulness, relaxation techniques or even the reading of a meaningful quote. This allows students to focus on the topics they have discussed or are about to discuss and also separates the restorative circle from other school activities.
7. Encourage contextual overview
As well as discussing experiences, teachers should encourage students to take a broad overview of any issues which may be fueling their feelings. Societal issues, such as sexism or racism, may be behind day-to-day issues which arise both in and out of school, and asking students how they think these larger issues are affecting their own experiences can help to put them into context.
Furthermore, this broad view helps students to see why these societal problems are so damaging and discuss what can be done to eradicate them completely. Positive ideas surrounding activism can also arise when a broad view of issues is taken and the circle may wish to work as a group to address these problems within the school environment.
With thorough planning and on-going support in place, restorative circles can be hugely beneficial to students, teachers and the school community as a whole. As well as helping individual students, restorative circles can create a stronger bond between pupils and facilitate a more supportive school environment.