My first Restorative Circle in the North: A Learning Curve.

Hello Frontliners,

This week was quite the learning experience for me. However, lets first discuss that I am huge advocate for restorative practices.

What does restorative practices mean? What does facilitating a restorative circle mean? It is an opportunity for the individual(s) who were involved with the harmful act to meet with the victim (the individual(s) who were targeted by the harmful act). The purpose of this form of communication style is when both parties willingly come together and discuss the past (what happened?), the present (How are you feeling now?), and the future (What can we do to repair the harm?).

So that was a little nutshell on Restorative Practices….

I’ve done a lot of them down south in respects to youth being diverted from the court system in which they are mandated to attend a circle. From these experiences, sometimes the youth begins to understand their harm and is ready to consider the emotions and feelings of the victim. However, sometimes, I see that the young person does not grasp the harm and says things that he/she believes us volunteers want to hear (they accept responsibility of the act but they don’t reflect on their victim’s emotions and feelings).

Fast Forward, and I suggest a circle to be done in the school for the purpose of reintegrating a group of young people who broke and entered into the school during one weekend. Administrators agree and we set a date for the circle to take place after their school suspension.

I was nervous. Being mindful of the cultural context and being mindful that questions might be approached in a different manner was a huge consideration before I facilitated this big circle.

Another consideration that came across my mind is decreasing any sort of lateral violence between families. As this involved all the students and their families, I emphasized that there should not be any sort of judgment and blame throughout the whole time.

When it came down to the moment that all the families came to meet, I began to “thank all of them for meeting us and ensuring that we are welcoming the students back with open arms.” I said, ” it is important that we come together to discuss the emotions and feelings that have been going on for the past week in which we can then turn the page to begin to repair the harm.”

Not going to lie, there was some hostility from some of the family members and the students towards the victim and administrator; however, I realize this might have been the first time the school had this large of a circle and as many restorative practitioners know sometimes the circle can feel intense (the feeling of facing your emotions straight on).

Although we finished the circle meeting with an action plan, personally it left a sour taste in my mouth. Did I do the best I could? Did I forget an extra step? Did the victim feel like their voice was heard? Was this a good idea in the first place?

After a week of reflection on my first ever restorative circle, I came to the conclusion that it really does beat saying “sorry.” It makes emotions and feelings so real when we put it into words.

We do not expect immediate change in mindset, but I would like to think that in the moment the young person learned a different perspective and worldview from their harmful actions. Its a teachable moment and a learning curve for everyone (including myself).

Thanks for reading 🙂

Marleigh

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