The Circle is one process used to enhance local community involvement by restoring justice. As with all restorative processes, the Circle is grounded in cultural values such as support, dignity, respect, trust, and accountability. Each individual in the Circle is treated as an equal. The process bridges the relationship between justice and the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the community and its culture.
The Circle involves the following steps:
- Opening the Circle
- Agreeing on Common Values
- Telling the Stories
- Consensus Building
- The Agreement
- Closing the Circle
How the Circle Works
Participants are seated in a circle of chairs or on the floor – not around a table. The leader, known as the Keeper, prepares for the circle by:
- Choosing the focus of the Circle based on the purpose of the particular Circle; and
- Identifies positive elements based on what the group needs in order to move through a conflict and come to a peaceful understanding.
The key to communication in the Circle is the talking piece. It can be almost any small item but usually is something symbolic of the situation or connected to a feeling experienced by the group.
Opening the Circle: The Keeper welcomes and introduces the participants then explains the guidelines and creates opportunities for all to speak.
Agreeing on Common Values: Participants each contribute the values under which the Circle will operate.
Telling the Stories: Participants share their story about the incident or events. Supporters, witnesses, members of the community and those directly involved talk about how the group can move forward to begin to repair the harm and restore relationships.
Consensus Building: The participants move toward a solution by addressing questions such as:
- What are the possible causes for the conflict?
- What ideas can the Circle come up with to restore the relationship?
- How can all participants be supportive in the solution?
Participants listen and explore options. They form a consensus, set expectations for each person involved, clarify roles, check the agreement to be sure it is reasonable and consistent with repairing the harm.
The Agreement: Together, members of the Circle form a plan for follow-up and accountability.
Close the Circle: The group connects in some way such as: hand shake, hold hands in the Circle, stand shoulder to shoulder, or stand foot to foot (a favorite with upper elementary students), and end by sharing a reading or reflection.
Follow-up: Participants reconvene on a schedule agreed upon in the Circle. Some incidents are successfully resolved after only one or two Circles. Others extend through various levels of healing, and may include Agreement Circles, Check-In Circles, and other purposeful Circles.
Suggested Questions and Comments for Keepers
Guide the Process:
“We ask you for suggestions to help the Circle move forward.”
“We all have something to contribute to the group that is meaningful.”
“We are all different but we have something to learn from each other.”
“We all have a responsibility for finding solutions to problems.”
Encourage New Ideas:
“Every idea is welcome and helps us work together to find answers.”
Seek Solutions to Benefit Everyone:
“How can we find a way to meet the needs of all participants?”