Everyone involved gets a chance to be heard for what is important to them, with the process being guided through past, present and future.
In the present section, participants focus on how they feel impacted by the event that took place.
In the past section, they reflect on the intentions behind what was said or done.
The future section is for making agreements and offering next steps to restore harmony.
To convey understanding and build empathy, the circle follows the following format:
- person A speaks to person B
- person B then reflects back what they heard person A say - the facilitator(s) may need to remind person B to hold back their own thoughts and reactions, and try to focus only on repeating what they heard, reassuring them that they will get a chance to speak afterwards.
- Person A then confirms whether person B’s reflection was accurate and may clarify details and add anything else that they wish to convey at this stage.
- When person A indicates they’ve been heard for what they were trying to express, someone else takes a turn to speak, and a new person takes the role of listener.
Each speaker shares one aspect of their experience at a time rather than voicing everything they want to at once. Participants continue to take turns to speak until the facilitator(s) are confident that meaning has been exchanged, and that participants have a new understanding of each others’ perspective. The facilitator(s) guide the process, and may intervene at times if they perceive something important is not being picked up on.
Restorative circles are designed to support mutual understanding, and are focused on healing and moving forward, rather than blame and punishment. Restorative circles are community-owned practices based on the principles of restorative justice. They can be equally effective to restore harm following crime (when there is a victim-perpetrator dynamic) and to repair relationships damaged by inter-personal conflict, (when two or more parties feel equally wronged by the other). In schools, restorative circles are often used as an alternative disciplinary strategy.