If Fear Is the Opposite of Love

Fear Dr. King
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Courage Hurston
When I was younger I learned that hot was the opposite of cold, fast was the opposite of slow, and hate was the opposite of love.

However, over time, I have come to believe the words of Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Waythat fear, and not hate, is actually the opposite of love.

Cameron talks about the way fear blocks our clarity and inner truth. She says that all of us have a compass which shows us the way north – and that fear is like static which obscures the needle from us. Thus, fear is one of the things that blocks us from right action.

As I have written previously in “Restorative is Not Gentle“, one aspect of being restorative is being courageous. It is having the fierceness to face the elephants in our midst and tell tell truth with love. It is being able to have courageous conversations that uphold the dignity of all involved.

Thus, taking restorative action may mean having the courage to face something (or someone) we have been avoiding – with the goal of clearing away some of the brambles and making a path forward together. It may mean reaching out, reaching in, or reaching through our fear.

If truth sends us a letter, will we open it and read it as though it comes from a close friend?

The antidote to fear is action

What is the smallest courageous action you are willing to take this week?

  • writing an email or text that is overdue?
  • reaching out to you-know-who to have coffee?
  • expressing regret for something you have done?
  • expressing affection to someone you have been forgetting?
  • reaching out for support from a small group of like-minded people?
  • role-playing a difficult conversation with a friend – with care for the dignity of all involved?
  • taking a baby step towards something that has been heavy in your heart?

If fear is the opposite of love, let us celebrate this month by taking small courageous steps toward becoming un-stuck and un-afraid.

NEW FOR 2019

Elaine is honored to be part of a
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Webinars start at $15/month.
Small group mentoring starts at $25/month.

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Get small group mentoring with Dominic Barter, Kay Pranis, Joe Brummer, and others working on restorative justice in schools and communities.

Most session recordings are available to participants who cannot make the calls.

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Join the 2019 RJ Connection Series

Elaine is honored to be invited as one of 12+ global RJ Guides for the 2019 Connection Series.

A 12-Month Ongoing Opportunity to Connect, Share, Solution-Build and Participate with a Diverse  Faculty & Global Community via Web- and Telecast.

The year-long series allows participants to choose from a monthly menu of webinars and small group mentoring sessions with globally recognized Guides in the fields of restorative justice and peace.

Membership starts at $15 per month.

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Get Kids Involved in Interviewing an Elder

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Download PDF version of Get Kids Involved.


StoryCorps Education World: lesson plans and resources to help young people:

  • Discover the power of their own voice
  • Learn about the importance of listening
  • Gain empathy and understanding for people who are different from themselves
  • Find strength in stories of people like themselves who succeeded despite personal challenges and social barriers.

One Small Step Project: supporting people across political and social divides in listening and civil dialogue.

StoryCorps Justice Project: preserving and amplifying the stories of youth and adults who have been incarcerated.

Carolyn and Kay

2 Steps to Better Parent Teacher Meetings

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or both, parent-teacher conferences (and meetings throughout the year) do not have to be stressful.

Instead, they can be an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page on how to best support our children.

This is because, underneath all the facts, figures, and rubrics, we care about the same fundamental things.

We want to support kids in values such as:

  • TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for their work
  • PERSEVERING when things are tough
  • being a TEAM PLAYER

We want to have adults in the kids’ live who will:

  • HELP and GUIDE them

The other thing we share as a “team” of adults are underlying feelings – such as WORRY, FEAR, CONCERN, HOPE, CONFUSION, and GRATITUDE.

These fundamental SHARED VALUES and SHARED FEELINGS can create a connecting language for us during parent-teacher meetings. 

What Are the 2 Steps To Improving Parent Teacher Meetings?

Pair Share-2

When YOU speak, tell the other adult how their actions (or the child’s) are affecting shared values such as learning, belonging, care, dignity, team-work, and support.

This is more powerful than focusing on what rules are not being followed or how someone’s actions are “right” or “wrong.”

This is because human beings are more motivated by values and care more about how actions help build community. Rules and negative judgments are poor motivators for many people – and can create defensiveness and resentment.

If you have feelings to share about the situation, be clear and crisp about it – without expressing contempt or sarcasm. Connect the feelings to the values to make it clear that you are focusing on what’s most important.

Ex: “I feel worried because Kayla is spending so much time doing X instead of Y. I want her to be able to learn with everyone else. And I want her to feel included in the classroom.”

BONUS: Begin with a gratitude for something specific you appreciate about the other adult (their hard work, their patience, their care).


When others speak, seek to understand before sharing what’s important to you. Listen for the SHARED VALUES and FEELINGS – even if they are speaking in judgments. If you are willing, say back to them what you believe is important to them as a guess – not as an open ended question. This gives them the sense of being heard at a deeper, connecting level – and also gives them a chance to correct things if an mis-understanding is developing.

“Ex: Ok, so let me see if I understand you. You are saying that you want the kids to be able to work better together – like a team?”

That gives the person an opportunity to say that yes- they are focused on team work – or no – they are focused on the child being able to handle frustration without exploding.


Pair Share-2   Listen

The main issue is that John is talking too much (right vs wrong focus). He is a bright kid but he needs to stop (not inviting problem-solving together). I have talked to him several times and he’s continuing. It’s actually disrespectful to me and the whole class (labeling behavior instead of talking about the impact or how it gets in the way of learning, collaboration, etc).

I’m worried about John because he is a bright young man and his talking is getting in the way of his learning and other people’s learning. I want him to be able to express himself but I also want him to know when it is time to settle down and work. I would like to put our heads together to figure out a way to support him (inviting parent as ally or partner instead of always having all the answers).

Jeremy told me that you embarrassed him in front of the whole class (passing judgment instead of inviting teacher to collaborate). He doesn’t even want to go to school any more. I don’t know what’s going on in there but you people need to get your act together (judgment without curiosity). If you have something to say (aggressive), you can call me or you can talk to him privately. That kind of behavior is not acceptable from a teacher (right and wrong focus instead of how it impacts the child or family).

I am pretty frustrated (honest feelings without contempt or aggression) because Jeremy says that you talked to him about his behavior in front of the whole class (opening up possibility that there was a misunderstanding; not saying the teacher “embarrassed him” but just the facts). I know he can be impulsive sometimes (taking some responsibility) and that can get in the way of learning (focusing on shared value of learning in school). I don’t know what actually happened (humility, openness to dialogue) but he feels embarrassed about it (sharing feelings without saying teacher caused the feelings)and doesn’t want to go to school any more (fact). I’d like to hear your side of it (curiosity, openness) – and more importantly – I want to problem solve together (inviting collaboration) how we can support Jeremy in being his best self in the future (shared values).


Restorative Self Reflection sheet picture

Many people tell me this sounds intriguing but they could use a little help with getting in touch with their feelings and values. This way of communicating is based on Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication (NVC).

This handout lists common feelings and values (called Needs there) on one page.

If you want to do a bit of prep before the meeting, this Self-Reflection sheet can help you get ready. You can even be brave and ask the other person to fill one out at the meeting.

Good luck and I’d like to hear how it goes.

How helpful was this 2-step guide to better Parent Teacher meetings?

Email me at: elaine@conflict180.com


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Build Community Faster With These 5 First Week Activities

Family Tree
Welcome back and welcome new readers!
We all (kind of) know how important relationships and community building are to our classrooms, teams, and buildings. We know strong relationships help students and faculty feel safer and more included – and are a vital part of culturally responsive teaching and trauma informed practices.

But how important is upfront community building, really?

According to Kit Miller of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, some schools in Rochester, NY put it to the test.

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In a pilot last year, some teachers spent their ENTIRE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL DOING ONLY COMMUNITY BUILDING ACTIVITIES. No curriculum. No academic content. Just relationship building, classroom norms, getting to know each other, and building trust.

The outcome? By November these classrooms were caught up with their non-participating colleagues. By December, the restorative classrooms were ahead. 

I bet that took some faith and courage to do, as August, September, and October came and went and it LOOKED like they were “behind’ on the curriculum.

However, those who practice relationship building in their teams and classrooms are probably not surprised. We now know that people in organizations that feel connected and interdependent learn faster, are more creative, more productive, feel more included, connect better across differences, experience less time on conflict, and get through their conflicts more constructively and effectively.

All Rochester schools have now committed to spending the first week of school building relationships and investing in their school communities.


Below are five activities you can do in your first week (or two) of class to begin building a positive classroom environment.

There are FOUR MORE below that for those who want choice or want to keep it rolling.

Name Game

Day 1: Play a Name Game


As Kit Miller says “Contact without connection breeds hate.” A classroom has a lot of potential for contact without connection!

It turns out students take longer to learn each other’s names than we think – and knowing a bit about each other is the first step in creating that connection.


Always think about the vulnerability level of a question when doing ice-breakers and community building circles. Getting too vulnerable too soon may open some kids up for ridicule and teasing before they have a chance to bond with each other.

For instance, I might leave a “deeper” name game like “What does your name mean to you or your family?” for October.

For the first day of class, I might play a simple (and positive) name game such as “Say your first name and one thing you like that begins with the same letter.”


Ask students to sit where they can see everyone’s faces. Give everyone a couple of minutes to come up with their answer first – so they are able to listen to each other. Then go around, one at a time, starting with yourself.

Example: “I’m Miss Elaine and I like Empathy.” “I am Cherise and I like Cats.” “I am Phil and I like Playing soccer.”

Then, be the vulnerable one and go first – trying to remember everyone’s names and what they like – in order. Laughter and ease will spread through the room as you make mistakes. After that, have other students try it until there is comfort with everyone’s names in the group.

Family Tree

Day 2: Classroom Values


Lots of research on motivation and change has shown that underlying values are more effective at creating change and increasing positive interactions than rules or guidelines. For instance, people are more likely to quit smoking or keep jogging in order to stay alive for their grandchildren (or to help their dog lose weight) than because they are shamed into it or afraid to get in trouble.

Classroom values can also be used all semester long when people are struggling. It’s powerful to point to a value hanging on our wall and remind students what our community created at the start, rather than talking about a handbook or school rule.


For adults or older students, hand out paper plates or other shapes (fish, leaves) and ask them to finish the sentence “I want to be in a classroom where…” or ‘I want to be on a staff team where…” or “I love learning in a classroom where…”

For those who cannot write, use a marker board to generate a list and create the plates or leaves yourself.

Hang the words around the space you are in. Use the values to give appreciations and reminders throughout the semester. Add to them as needed!


This is also great exercise to do with staff teams or in your family. The tree pictured above is one that we created with our kids a few years back (it’s actually time to update it!). The top says “We want to live in a family where…” and the leaves are contributions from everyone in our family.

Would You RatherDay 3: “Would You Rather”

I love using this activity with adult and young people. It can be adjusted to be emotionally safe, pretty deep, or on academic or relevant topics.It allows introverts to show how they feel without having to speak – while allowing the more outgoing people to talk about their choices.

As a facilitator or teacher, I always learn a lot about the group and myself when I do this exercise.


Begin with these questions and add your own.

Clear a passageway in the space for people to stand. Make the first choice in every pair a specific point in the space (e.g., window) and the second choice in every pair the opposite point in the space (e.g., bookshelf).

Start with a few easy warm up questions. Then go on to some deeper ones if you think your group is ready. End with some pointed ones about learning styles or academics.

Let people know they can stand anywhere between the two points to show how they feel. After each question, ask a few people from each cluster to volunteer why they are there. Then go on to another question. Model being non-judgmental and curious. Ask people what they notice about the way the group is lined up and help amplify learning and connection (e.g., “That’s right. We got a LOT of night people here but it’s a morning class. We will need to be patient with each other!” or “Look how diverse our learning styles are! We will need to help each other learn.”

This activity is a great one to keep in your pocket for those unruly or gloomy days. You can always throw in academic questions along with the fun ones.

Community Building CirclesDay 4 and 5:
Community Building Circles

For day 4, choose three or four questions from this tried and tested list of 42 Youth Led Circle Questions from Restorative Rochester and circle up!

Aim for an opening and closing question, with one or two in between.

On day 5, let a student (or two) lead a circle with 3-4 questions they choose. Consider doing a youth led circle such as this one every Friday, even if it is one question per week.


1. Two Facts and a Myth (more culturally sensitive for kids where “lying” is not ok)
  • Can make great variation as academic game about math, science, geography, history, etc.
2. Blobs and Lines (a variation on Would You Rather described by Jennifer Gonzalez)3. Commonalities and Uniquities (great team building game)

4. Never Have I Ever  (to build community reverse the game to show SIMILARITIES between people by having them step forward if they have ever… been to Chicago, killed an insect, helped out a friend, gotten brain freeze, etc.)

HAVE A FAVORITE ICE BREAKER THAT WORKS WELL WITH KIDS? Tell me about it and I will feature it in future Restorative News and Tips.

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Community building circle at READY Alternative Program in Champaign, IL

More tools, tips, articles and handouts at Conflict180.com/tools

Subscribe to Restorative News and Tips here

Six Ways to End the School Year on a Positive Note


Recently, a teacher invited me to observe his classroom to see if I had any suggestions for how to end the year in a better place. After a 90 minute observation, he and I talked for about 30 minutes and came up with specific things to try for the last few weeks of school. I applaud his courage and openness to do something different now – in May.

Teachers, students, administrators and even parents can feel frazzled and out of steam by May. It has been a long haul and a lot still needs to be done. Also, summer break is not a welcome time for all students – and this anxiety can manifest itself in many ways.

However, it is never too late in the semester to dust off our restorative tools and try something new (or old) in order to end on a positive note.

Recently, at a presentation about trauma-informed schools by Karen Simms of Meridian Consulting, I was reminded, once again, that restorative practices combine research and methods from many fields, including neuroscience, trauma, diversity science, organizational studies, culturally responsive teaching, leadership and effective communication. This is why high fidelity restorative approaches can transform classrooms and buildings over time.

With that in mind, here are SIX REMINDERS to help end the semester on a better note:




As I talked about in my last newsletter, values (just like ethics and morals) are more powerful human motivators than rules.

“People who want to kick [a] habit for reasons that are aligned with their personal values will change their behavior faster than people who are doing it for external reasons such as pressure from others,” says Elliot Berkman, Ph.D. Director, Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon.

Rules and policies come and go. Today the dress code says no hats. Tomorrow it says hats are ok. However, values like kindness, lifting each other up, dignity, compassion, creativity, gratitude, support, and growth are universal – – and timeless.

May is a great time to review the positive messages on your walls and doors – and make a whole-class commitment – for the rest of the school year – to work on our values.

Examples of this, used by real teachers, are below.


This is a small shift, which can have powerful effects. Studies have shown that people are more successful at shifting behavior when they can focus on what to do rather than what to avoid. Doing this in a calm manner without rancor also creates clear expectations and minimizes confusion, guilt, fear or defensiveness – which will all interfere with learning. If you can remember, include yourself in the reminders – as we are all working on our patience, gratitude, etc.


  • “That is NOT the part of the book that we are supposed to be on” can become “Right now, let’s focus on THIS part of the book.”
  • “Please stop talking to her” can become “Please bring your listening and attention back to our speaker – just like it says on our classroom agreements up there.”
  • “That was disrespectful” can become “Remember, we are practicing kindness to each other. What is a kinder way to say that?” or “Remember, we are practicing kindness to each other. Let’s use kind words and polite tone when we speak to each other.”



This idea builds on the power of internal motivation created by shared values – and supports the idea that part of being “on task” is living our values. When kids are doing anything that supports classroom values, notice it and make a comment about it out loud to reinforce that this matters to you. If you created class agreements together, or have positive messages posted on your walls, this is a great way to bring attention to them. When you try to re-direct kids using criticism, they are more likely to shut down for the next task. When you remind kids to be their best, it is easier to get re-focused with one’s dignity intact.


  • If kids seem off topic, but they are being creative, enthusiastic, or curious – validate those positives out loud, connect them to a value, and then ask them to use those positives to move on to the next task. “I see you guys using your creativity to make up some jokes. I know creativity is something we value, especially for [our lab experiments; our poetry; our understanding of history] So, I appreciate that. Now – let’s use our creativity to re-focus on the assignment on the screen.”
  • If you notice someone saying please, validate it: “I appreciate you using a kind voice and kind words to ask your buddy for a pencil – because that supports our class value of kindness.”
  • If someone is standing up for a classmate, even if not in a polite tone, rather than telling them to mind their own business or stop, you can say, “I appreciate you standing up for each other, because that is a value that is up there. And now it is time to settle down and focus on our writing assignment.”
  • If someone admits doing something – even if they are making excuses for it, you can say: “First, I appreciate you taking responsibility for what you did. That is important to me and supports our class values. Now, I know we are all working on our patience here. Let’s refocus and work harder on our patience right now.”



Conflict research shows that we actually need to LOWER our threshold for behaviors that have a negative effect on classroom climate, rather than waiting for the behaviors to escalate past a point of intolerance, when we need to do a more serious intervention. We still want to respond with patience and kindness, but we want to do it sooner. Again, you can use your shared classroom values to your benefit here. This also supports students in learning new skills – without completely doing it for them.


  • When bickering first begins, rather than waiting patiently for it to stop so you can begin the lesson, or asking them to cut it out, you can try saying something positive before it escalates: “Hey you guys. Let’s take a quick look at which of our classroom values we are supporting right now. Are we being kind? Are we building each other up? No we are not. Let’s focus on what is important here – which is supporting each other and helping each other succeed.”
  • Or “I see you are both trying to argue for your point. I like that you are thinking deeply about the article. However, I am concerned that the name calling and put downs do not support our classroom values of respect, kindness, and lifting each other up. Can we try standing up for our points while also being kind and respectful?”



We sometimes worry that if we validate that someone is struggling we excuse their behavior or we lower the standard. Or, we can get into a power struggle about how much of a certain behavior is under a student’s control (choice) versus beyond their control. However, research shows that (a) when people feel accepted, they are more ready to change; and (b) framing something as an opportunity supports a growth mindset.

The following three examples are from teachers talking to students privately in the hallway for a few minutes:

  • “I hear you are frustrated. This is not easy. It’s hard work. I know you can do it, though. I believe in you. Let’s figure this out together.”
  • “I know it feels like you can’t control your temper. What I hear in that is that it’s hard for you. There are things that are hard for all of us. Let’s take a breath together and think: what helps you to be patient when you start getting irritated?”
  • “It’s ok to feel angry or sad. I worry, though, when we put our anger and sadness on other people. Remember, one of our class values is safety. I want you to feel safe. [pause to let it sink in] I also want everyone else to feel safe. Can we go back in there and work on safety for everyone?”



For many of our kids, summer break is the prize at the end of a long journey. It is a time for family, enjoyable activities, summer food and relative freedom. However, there is a subgroup of our kids for whom any breaks from school are a tough time of uncertainty, instability, lack of friends and supportive adults, and hunger. As Karen Simms reminds us, one of the best ways to help kids with this reality is to allow structured activities that help them process and prepare. This may look like a small group conversation or listening circle. It may also look like a writing assignment or other project. It is important to talk about break in a way that includes the reality of all students, without making anyone feel ostracized or different.

Writing Example:

“I know many of us are looking forward to the end of the school year, because: no more homework! However, there are many positive things about school that some of us will miss. Fold your paper in half. Now – on one side, make a list of things you will miss about school. On the other side, write down what can help you this summer even though you will miss these things? We will share out loud for those who want to.”

A Circle Example:

At the end of November last year, some teachers and I did a processing circle like this before winter break. Using a talking piece, the students answered:

  • What are you looking forward to about winter break?
  • What will be challenging or hard about winter break?
  • What is one thing that can help you have a better break?

Students talked openly about “hollering”, “hunger” and “hurt feelings” and were able to quietly support each other.

These kinds of circles or assignments also allow teachers to reach out to school personnel in order to connect kids to summer community resources – and to talk to the class about programs such as free food in the community, without mentioning any names.

As always, please reach out to me via email if you have questions or concerns. It’s never too late to go for a great ending. If you live in the Urbana-Champaign area, it’s also not too late for a classroom observation and private consultation with me.

Restorative is Not Gentle

People often share with me how they have handled a difficult situation, with the following caveats:
“Elaine, this was probably not restorative, but I told her:  ‘I don’t want to be spoken to that way. It’s not ok.’ “

“So I did NOT use my restorative voice. I used my loud and stern voice and I told them they need to stop running like that. It is simply NOT SAFE.”

“I was certainly NOT my restorative self at home yesterday. I was so tired of the mess and not being supported. I was really angry.”

These comments tell me that many people are thinking of “restorative” as synonymous with “gentle”, “passive”, or “therapeutic.”

I would like to challenge this belief.

I believe restorative is not necessarily gentle. I believe restorative is FIERCE, HONEST, AND COURAGEOUS.


The form of restorative justice I have studied and shared comes from the work of Dominic Barter and colleagues in Brazil – and can be considered a form of nonviolent action – as practiced by MK Gandhi in India and South Africa – and by Dr. King in the U.S.

Because of the frequent misunderstanding – in the West – of nonviolence as passive or gentle, Gandhi coined the term “satyagraha” to describe the heart of nonviolent action.

“Satyagraha” is a combination of the Sanskrit words satya (meaning “truth”) and agraha (“holding firmly to”). Gandhi wrote in 1968:

“Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders, and therefore serves, as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence… (see: Satyagraha in South Africa by MK Gandhi).

Gandhi has also referred to this term as “soul-force”, “love-force”, and “truth-force.”

While we do not want to over-generalize from one non-violent movement to another, I think there is much for us to gain from the conceptualization of satyagraha.

When we are restorative, we fiercely commit – first and foremost – to truth-with-love.

That means finding “containers” or “vehicles” to share our truth with others in a dignity-enhancing way – instead of avoiding them, attacking them, or writing them off as less “human” than ourselves. That also means being open – truly open – to the possibility that their underlying truth may be unknown to us and will impact how we move forward.



Restorative Circles, facilitated dialogues, and other restorative practices – are all CONTAINERS that help us have COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS about CRITICAL TRUTHS (Dominic Barter).
We sometimes need facilitators and restorative containers in order to tell truth with love – because we may need help compensating for a lack of trust, power differentials, inability to hear each other, or hopelessness about the possibility of right action.

Loving kindness, mindfulness, healing work, and therapeutic approaches are all important practices that create positive outcomes. So is music, exercise, yoga, gardening, sleep, and a healthy diet, to name just a few.

However, these practices all have different goals and different means than restorative action.



Satyagraha also contains within it the philosophy that HOW we get to an outcome defines – or co-creates – the outcome.

Just as the tree grows out of the seed, our restorative outcomes must grow out of restorative actions.

When truth-force happens, it may look fierce and passionate. However, it will not be disparaging or disdainful. Passion is not disgust. Truth is not disdain.

Dr. King, has expanded on this sentiment, saying that “the means we choose must be as pure as the ends we seek… [but] it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.” (Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963).

Thus, neither restorative actions nor restorative outcomes can be dignity-denying. They must both be dignity-enhancing.

Restorative may not always be gentle. However, with the right container and the right people, restorative can get us to the truth-love-force — and to the right action.

High School Students Come Together and Heal After a Racial Conflict


– Written by IIRP staff

After racial tensions erupted during a high school football game, the conflict hardened and spread throughout the two competing schools. Both communities feared that the situation would escalate and grow violent. But the two groups participated together in restorative circles and dispelled the issue, breaking barriers in ways no one expected…

Read more here or watch video below:

The Fishbowl: A Classroom Circle Story

This is a TRUE story told to me by Ms. Goforit – whose 7th graders had a small conflict (some name calling) the day before. Let’s call the involved students Angry, Bored, and Clever.

Ms. Goforit knew she did not have time to prep all the students for a circle – but wondered what would happen if she invited some of the students that were NOT involved in the conflict to do a circle prep/exploration meeting with Angry, Bored, and Clever.

Ms. Goforit then told the class that she was learning to facilitate circles and asked if they wanted to try one, since it was a pretty small conflict and a good one on which to practice.

She then got three student volunteers and sent each of these “Peacekepers” out into the hallway with Restorative Self-Reflection sheets, asking each Peacekeeper to go through the Reflection sheets with either Angry, Bored, or Clever.

After they returned, Ms. Goforit received consent from all the students to conduct the circle fishbowl style (since everyone had been there for the conflict the day before). Some students watched, and some continued to do their work in a different part of the room.

Ms. Goforit used Dominic Barter’s “time traveler” recipe (how are you RIGHT NOW; what were you wishing for BACK THEN and where do we go NEXT). Students heard each other, created new understanding, and expressed regret for their harsh words.

Afterwards, Ms. Goforit gave all the students the 5-question circle feedback cards – which showed high satisfaction for everyone involved.

The bonus was that after the circle, one of the Peacekeeper students asked if SHE could fill out the self-reflection sheet with Clever about a conflict she was having with another girl — who was not even in Ms. Goforit’s class.

When we combine high expectations with high supports for our young people – they can really shine!

by Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D.

(c) 2017 Conflict 180

How Four Mornings of Dialogue Transformed Two Months of Misery

janene_prothro_iceberg_hutui6It was Monday morning and Mr. Keaton was not looking forward to his 6th grade first period.

Johnny and Ricky had been at it for two months, with no sign of letting up.

Last Friday had been typical. In the first 10 minutes of class, Johnny had interrupted other students 3 times to share something urgent. Ricky took it upon himself to teach Johnny some manners:

“Shut up already! It ain’t your turn!”

Johnny spun around and cussed Ricky out. Other kids joined in. Kelli was hissing “shhh”, Louis was laughing at Johnny, and Bernard was attacking Ricky:

“Man! YOU shut up! You making it WORSE!”

From there, things predictably went down hill.

Over the past two months, Mr. Keaton had tried everything in his toolbox to put an end to the nonsense. He:

  • sternly brought the students back to task
  • reminded them of classroom norms
  • talked to each boy separately
  • sent them out of the room multiple times with referrals
  • showed his temper!

Nothing seemed to help. What had been a pleasurable 1st period at the beginning of the year was turning into a daily, dreaded headache.

Mr. Keaton realized there was one thing he had not yet tried.

Dialogue-Based Restorative Circles were a new school initiative and Mr. Keaton had heard circles took time. However, he felt like the conflict had aleady cost a ton of time, patience, and goodwill. They could afford to spend some time building community and peace.

That afternoon, Mr. Keaton emailed Ms. Noble, the school’s Restorative Practices coordinator. She took it from there.

time_memeDerivative of “Time” by Karen / CC BY / © Conflict180

Circle Prep Meetings

The goal of Dialogue-Based Restorative Circles is to get to the roots of the conflict. We do this by listening underneath for the deeper feelings and hopes that are not easily seen above the surface.

Mr. Keaton, Johnny, and Ricky first started exploring their underlying needs during individual circle prep meetings with Ms. Noble and Jacki (one of a dozen 8th graders learning to be circle keepers).

  1. Tuesday morning Ms. Noble and Jacki met with Mr. Keaton during his prep period. In this meeting, Mr. Keaton clarified, for himself, that he had been preoccupied with challenging events in his life (a wife on bed rest with twins; a sister back in rehab again) and that maybe he was not giving his students the kind of positive attention they needed. He wasn’t planning to share all this in the circle, and Ms. Noble wouldn’t “out” him. However, having clarity about his unmet needs would help him take responsibility for his choices later on.
  1. Wednesday morning  they met with Johnny, who chose to use a deck of Feelings and Needs cards to help him get clarity on what was happening for him.


  1. Thursday morning Ms. Noble and Jacki met with Ricky, who became clear that he wanted to stay out of detention and be a better student. This conflict was sinking his academic boat.
  1. Friday morning Ms. Noble and Jacki met with the whole class (minus Ricky and Johnny) to do a brief prep. When the boys came back in, the dialogue-based restorative circle began.

Everyone sat in a semi-circle, facing each other. A set of Restorative Questions were taped to the board for all to see.

Restorative Questions try to shift the focus from “What rule was broken?” to “How do we repair harm and restore community?”


Everyone took a turn answering each question, with an option to pass.

Many students shared that they felt frustrated and exhausted by the conflict. When Mr. Keaton shared that he sometimes made things worse by not responding to the boys quickly enough, the students seemed impressed that their teacher was taking responsibility for harm. Many students then shared ways they had made things worse.


When someone spoke directly to someone else, rather than to the whole group, Ms. Noble shifted from a traditional circle-sharing format to a “facilitated dialogue.”

For instance, at one point, Johnny, not meeting Ricky’s eyes, told him that he got to class upset most days because he was teased by a bunch of older boys on the way to school every morning.

“What are you hearing underneath that?” Ms. Noble prompted Ricky.

“That his patience is all wore out by the time he gets here,” Ricky said. Johnny nodded, looking relieved to be understood.

At another point, Mr. Keaton made a long speech to Ricky about how Ricky was a natural leader and even though he did not expect him to always be the peace-maker, he did have high expectations for him, and on and on in that vein. When Ms. Noble asked Ricky what he was hearing, Ricky looked a bit overwhelmed.

“That was a lot of words,” she said kindly, “What is the main thing you heard underneath?”

Ricky replied directly to Mr. Keaton: “That you’re proud of me. And you love me like a son.” “Yes, you got it” Mr. Keaton said, his eyes a little moist.

During the last round, the students agreed on 7 actions to make things better, including:

  1. Mr. Keaton will meet with Johnny 10 minutes before class every morning to connect and debrief.

  2. Mr. Keaton and Ricky will now have a “peace” signal.

  3. All students will wait for Mr. Keaton to address conflicts before trying to “help”.

  4. Mr. Keaton will have a weekly sign-up sheet for students to join him for a friendly lunch.

2 Months Later

 Two months later, Mr. Keaton reports that all is well. Johnny and Ricky have not become friends, but they are civil and there have been no more class conflicts.

In addition, to Mr. Keaton’s delight, Ricky has applied to be a student Circle Keeper.