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Restorative Circles in the Classroom

Early in my teaching, I was never satisfied with the outcome of sending my students to the office, because I felt like the consequence wasn’t ever appropriate. Even as a new teacher I rarely sent my students to the office because in my opinion it was counterproductive.

As a result of my dissatisfaction, the way that I discipline the students in my classroom has become very nontraditional. Nontraditional meaning I no longer have a behavior ladder or rules and consequences in my classroom. In school, they encourage teachers to create the rules with your students, so that they feel more connected with them. Regardless of how they come about I still end up with my three rules:

  1. Stay in your seat.
  2. Raise your hand to speak
  3. Respect others and their property.

Since I changed my classroom management plan I’ve found that my students pay more attention to how they interact with one another. Changing my rules in my classroom was only the first step in right direction.

What is Restorative Justice?

Restorative practices originated in the 1970’s as mediation between victims and offenders. By the 1990’s, it was broadened to include communities of care as well, with victims’ and offenders’ families and friends participating in collaborative processes called “conferences” and “circles.”

Facilitated conferences, take place in a circle and offenders who have admitted to their crimes are invited to explain what they have done, whom they think they have affected and what they see as the consequences of their misbehavior. Victims then have a chance to explain how they have been affected by the offender’s crimes and how they feel about it. The families and friends of both the offender and the victim are given a chance to speak as well. Lastly, the conference poses the question of how the harm might be redressed, and agreements are created.

Addressing Behavior Using Restorative Questions

In my classroom, I often feel like a referee when a disagreement breaks out between a student or a group of students. Each group of students feel like they’re actions are justified and continue to go back and forth without ever finding a solution.

Under normal circumstances I try to allow my students to come up with solutions to their own problems, but most of the time I end up intervening and solving their problem.

Trying to help my students solve their problem almost always puts me at odds with one of the students. Most of the time one of the students thinks I’m taking up for the other student or vice versa.

Most of the time conflict in your classroom will involve students who have hurt one another. The questions below are basic restorative questions that help students focus on solutions to making things right, rather than assigning blame and looking for justification.

The basic questions for responding to challenging behavior are:

What happened?

What were you thinking about at the time?

What have you thought about since?

Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?

What do you think you need to do to make things right?

The basic questions for helping someone who has been hurt by another’s actions are:

What did you think when you realized what had happened?

What impact has this had on you and others?

What has been the hardest thing for you?

What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

When used regularly these questions will gradually help students take responsibility for their actions and find a solution to restore the relationship with the other party.

Restorative Circles

Building relationships with my students is the foundation of my classroom. My relationships with my students help me with classroom management and determine the amount of effort the students put towards learning.

I’ve always been big on relationships between myself and the students. Restorative Circles not only builds relationships between the students and the teacher. It also fosters relationships between students and builds a community within the classroom. There are three types of Restorative Circles that can be used in your classroom.

Sequential Go-Arounds

This is a circle in which a question or discussion point is raised and students answer in turn, proceeding around the circle in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. A volunteer may offer to go first, answer the question and choose the direction to proceed (to the volunteer’s left or right). The teacher may be the first to answer the question and choose the direction. Or a teacher may ask a certain student to begin.

Non-Sequential Circles

Non-sequential circles are more freely structured than sequential circles. Conversation proceeds from one person to another in no fixed order. This type of circle allows a discussion to evolve organically and can be used effectively for problem solving, as well.


The fishbowl allows certain participants — in the inner circle — to be active participants, while those in the outer circle act as observers. Fishbowls can be structured entirely for the observers’ benefit so that they can observe a specific process or certain interactions. They can also be set up for the participants’ benefit, allowing observers to share their feedback at the end of the activity.

Taking a restorative approach to addressing challenging behavior is a step in the right direction. Restorative Justice is only one piece of the puzzle in your classroom management plan. It’s not a magic pill that will cure all of your students’ behavior problems or change their perspective overnight.

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I help math teachers who teach high need students to effectively manage their classrooms and deliver high quality math instruction. Learn more about me


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