The Courage to Be Playful

As you’ve probably noticed, this month’s theme has been courage.

One of the origins of the word courage is the Old French “cuer,” meaning “heart.” We have marked February by opening our hearts to love and history, and by asking our hearts to take small difficult steps towards something we have been avoiding.

We began the month by delving into the idea that fear, and not hate, is the opposite of love. We then looked to the science of courage, which showed us how to practice our “couraging” by connecting to our values and taking small do-able steps.

We will conclude the month by talking about the courage to be playful and how it can be another doorway into difficult conversations or reconnection.

Traditionally, at least in the midwest states where I do much of my work, February and March are two of the toughest months of the school year. One administrator calls this period “Funky February”, claiming that the days between President’s Day weekend and Spring Break are always the longest and hardest for both staff and kids. 

This also appears to be true for our household. February and March seem so long and gray and dreary. That is why now – more than ever – we need to remember the importance of playfulness.


It turns out that play is a human need, much like touch. Remember those orphan babies that failed to thrive because they did not get held enough? It seems that humans, including adult humans, also need play.

Play helps adults be more productive and improves their mental health, while play deprivation in rats and monkeys has been linked to poor social development. Playfulnesshas even been shown as a preferable quality in romantic partners in one European study.

Incorporating play into education can also help middle-school and high school students learn content.

Just as importantly, playfulness can help us get over the hump of a rough day or turn a criticism into a connecting moment – by creating laughter or lightening the mood.

Although being silly or goofy is NOT natural to me, I have been trying to include playfulness in my work and home life this month in small purposeful ways. As you can see below, these playful actions built on each other, eventually shining their way into difficult conversations and making heavy things a bit lighter. Some examples from this month are below:

For some of you, being playful with your students, at home, or with colleagues is a natural way of being and you just need a reminder to do your thing (OK – GO DO YOUR THING!)

However, as I mentioned, I am not playful or goofy by nature. Sure – our family does “Full House” Appreciations and 180 Questions at meal times. However, even our “connecting activities” seemed to sag under the gray clouds of February.  

It seemed that I needed a bit of en-courage-ment to bring more playfulness into my life. I needed to just start somewhere. 


A couple of years ago I read an essay in the NY Times in which the author granted people permission to make a change they really wanted (based on a study by Freakanomics author Steven D. Levitt). It seems that many of us need a Permission Fairy – someone to grant us the permission to make our own wishes come true.

I have talked to teachers who say they long for the days when the curriculum was less confining and they could drop what they were doing (on a bad day) and just play a game with their students. I have talked to parents who wish they were having more fun with their kids or parenting was more joyful. I believe that we need those games and moments of lightness MORE desperately now than ever.

So please, consider this letter to be your permission to courageously begin injecting more play into your work and home life.

And yes – feel free to borrow any of our goofy dinner ideas as a start!

Finding the Courage to Start

Courage Rosa Parks

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Faith is taking first step_King

This month’s theme is “small courageous conversations” because fear, and not hate, is the opposite of love.

Courage is often described not as an absence of fear, but as the ability to act in the face of fear.

The science of courage tells us that we are better off taking small courageous steps and building a HABIT of courage – than planning large courageous acts that are too daunting to attempt.

Science has also shown that we are better able to overcome our fear when we link small courageous acts with organizational or personal values. By being value-driven, our courageous acts become moral or ethical acts – bolstering our determination to act.

It is also important to remember that courageous conversations are not a synonym for “conflict conversations”. Asking for something we need, getting feedback about our work from an ally, or reaching out to get support are all examples of small courageous conversations.


As a personal example, one series of small courageous conversations I have been practicing this month is asking people for feedback on a Restorative System model I have been working on for almost a year. The model is a wheel with 12 spokes which describes 12 commitments that can help people create a more restorative organization or classroom. Ironically, shifting to seeing feedback as a “gift” is one of the first commitments.

As you can see below – another commitment is “trying small courageous conversations.”

Breaking Good Feb 9 2019
Restorative Wheel PDF

Receiving honest feedback on our work is a courageous act for many of us, especially when we are trying out something new.

Becoming clear about how the model was linked to my values helped me gather the courage to start bringing it into the light. Specifically, one of my value-driven goals is to “nurture the creation of restorative systems”. This means that in addition to coaching individuals to be more skilled with conflict and communication – I want (very much!) to support the creation of restorative organizations and classrooms.

By thinking of the model as something that was clearly yoked to my personal values, I gained the courage to start showing it to one person, then another, and finally to whole groups of people. This resulted in great feedback and many improvements to the model – which further supported my goals and values – and boosted my courage to keep going.

In this way, small courageous steps can help us practice “couraging” and build our courage muscles.

What are some of your value-driven goals?

What are some small courageous steps you can take this month to support these goals?

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Still looking for last minute Valentine’s Day gifts?

Try a gift that has been shown to increase happiness (reprinted from 2018):

Which Gifts Increase Happiness_2018

NEW FOR 2019

Elaine is honored to be part of a
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Webinars start at $15/month.
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If Fear Is the Opposite of Love

Fear Dr. King
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courage angelou.png
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
year-long RJ Webinar and Mentoring Series
with 12+ global Guides.
Webinars start at $15/month.
Small group mentoring starts at $25/month.

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Learn more and register here

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.

Choose from 4 Membership levels:

Timely Topic
Intimate Circle
Deeper Dive
Connection series group membership

Learn more and register here

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.

Learn more here.

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Get Kids Involved in Interviewing an Elder

National Day of Listening.png
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:


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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.

Contact without connection breeds hate.png

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

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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: