Over the past nine years I’ve created over 40 one-hour workshops in addition to full-day trainings on restorative practices in schools. I’m an absolute research nerd. People don’t typically get their doctorate if they’re not. I must be really cognizant of how many hours of research I do for a given topic and keep the end goal in mind. The research provides the foundation for the workshops or seminars.
Although I love the research, the fun part is synthesizing the research and creating a workshop structure with engaging learning activities and strong practical application all based on adult learning theories that pull everything together. Many of the workshops I developed include various restorative circles because of the workshop’s content, but not all of them.
Recently I’ve been contemplating how foundational community building circles are to creating relationships between staff and students as well as student-to-student relationships. For some reason, it has been challenging to convince many educators of the value of using circles regularly to build relationships that strengthen connections on campus.
The 80/20 Circles Principle
Sometimes an educator becomes interested in doing circles after a behavior incident has occurred in class or on campus. The problem with this is that it goes against a foundational principle and usually doesn’t work.
“Eighty percent of circles should be proactive. That means using circles to be collaborative, to engage students and get their input and opinions on things.”1
When a challenging behavior occurs, educators and/or peers can help students restore their relationships with other students and/or staff. If a student is not connected to others on campus, there isn’t really a relationship to restore. The reason it doesn’t work is because spending 80% of circle time on proactive circles like community building and decision-making circles and 20% of the time on other types of circles, like problem-solving or re-integration circles after a student returns from a suspension, don’t have a relationship foundation in which to operate.
Circles Build Relationships
If circles provide the relationship building foundation, why didn’t I include some form of circles in every workshop? Sadly, I missed opportunities to impact those my colleagues and I trained. At this point, I can move forward and take action. I’m creating circles for my upcoming workshops that don’t include a circle. You can read about what happens in my next blog post.
- Costello, Bob, Joshua Wachtel & Ted Wachtel. Restorative Circles in Schools: Building Community and Enhancing Learning. International Institute for Restorative Practices. Bethlehem: Pennsylvania, 2010, p. 47.
- Image: The Pareto Principle [Flickr.com]