Restorative Circles - How do they work?

Restorative circles have three phases.
The first is called the pre-circle. There, whoever wants to call together a circle, tells the facilitator what has happened that he (or she) wants to bring in a circle, what that event means to him (or her), and who else is needed in the circle. The facilitator reflects what he (or she) hears, which needs are expressed and checks whether this is the core of the matter. Then, the facilitator invites the other people who are needed in the circle to tell what the event means to them. They are heard in the same manner, and can add who else is needed in the circle. In this phase, the main aim is to give each of the participants the feeling they are truly heard and understood, allowing them to reach more clarity on the issue itself and what they want to convey to the others involved.

The second phase is the restorative circle itself. The dialogue in the circles fosters mutual understanding, taking responsibility, and reaching agreements. The facilitator supports the conversation, in such a manner that each participant who wishes to do so, can express himself (or herself) fully and feels heard and understood by the person he (or she) addresses. That is brought about because the receptor is asked by the facilitator to give back what he (or she) has heard, until the speaker confirms that all that he (or she) wanted to express has been said, heard and understood. The facilitator guides the participants throughout this process, ‘holds the space’ and asks a few basic questions, otherwise remaining at the background. The facilitator does not search for solutions nor provide proposals.

In the third phase, the post-circle, participants check in and speak with each other in the same manner as in the circle. They exchange whether additional measures or agreements are needed and celebrate what is working out well.

The Restorative System
When members of a community (for example a school, a club, an organisation, a business, a family) agree they want a restorative circle to be invoked when a conflict arises, a restorative system is founded. All members of the community thereby confirm their intention to deal with conflicts in this restorative way. The issue is not who is to blame, but rather to hear in a restorative way, what the events meant to each person involved and to go forward from there. Agreements are made on how to start a restorative circle, who facilitates and where the circles are to be held. All members of the community are informed. The facilitators usually come from within the own community and they take turns facilitating.

The Essence
The main thing is that, through the specific form of exchange used, each person can express themselves fully and truly feel heard and understood by the other person. Whatever occurred cannot be undone, but in many instances some restoration is possible, creating a new space to go forwards.

Want to know more?
If you want to read more about the origins of Restorative Circles and about people's experiences READ under More info