What’s Restorative?

Restorative refers to a way of being that acknowledges our interconnectedness, with the understanding that well-being is interwoven; our capacity to flourish is rooted in the well-being of the collective—so we strive to create communities knit together with empathy, compassion, accountability, and joy. This means re-imagining justice, replacing retributive models with processes of accountability that acknowledge systemic injustices and dismantle root causes of harmful behaviors while affording individuals the opportunity to inhabit our full humanity. Restorative means making daily choices that nurture and nourish planetary well-being. As Wendell Berry writes,

Teach me work that honors Thy work,

the true economies of goods and deeds

to make my arts compatible

with the songs of local birds.

purple finch, state bird of New Hampshire,
Maple Nation

Practice refers to the daily practice of being restorative. I find it helpful to root myself in four restorative verbs:

notice, wonder, acknowledge, appreciate (which can connote understanding more deeply and/or feeling gratitude).

Why Circles?

Circles establish shared values and guidelines and utilize a talking piece to ensure that each participant has the opportunity to speak, be heard, and listen attentively.  Circles model a cooperative way to relate respectfully with each other and the issues that challenge us. Because everyone has the opportunity to participate, circles ensure a diversity of perspectives and experience. When we share our stories, we can hear in each other the longing to belong, to matter, to feel safe, understood, and appreciated. Recognizing universal human feelings and needs allows us to build relationships on a foundation of connection and commonality. Circles open and close with a simple ceremony to remind us the time we devote to nurturing community is sacred.

The application of circles includes but is not limited to the following:

  • circles of support (bringing a person, group, or institution through a difficult passage be it  grief, loss, medical treatment, unemployment, change in identity, recovery, familial abuse)
  • community-building to develop and enhance relationships, accountability, and shared interest (during discord or after a contentious event; to gain momentum for a community initiative; to focus collective energy on a goal; to afford deep listening across cultures to inform policy)
  • conflict transformation circles bring parties together to capture the creative energy of conflict that promotes growth and accountability
  • reconciliation circles that address empathy, accountability, redemption (freedom from harm), and restitution
  • re-integration circles to reunite an individual with family, co-workers, or community members after a breach in relationship has occurred (this circle might also include a reconciliation circle process as well)
  • circles of celebration, memorialization, or ritual to recognize accomplishment, passages in life’s journey 
  • restorative/healing justice practices within or in response to a criminal-legal context (this could include a circle of support and accountability for all stakeholders)
  • constructive consequence circles in schools and colleges to foster empathy, accountability, and belonging that replace punitive, ineffective responses to student and staff behavior
  • workplace circles that provide an appropriate setting to acknowledge and process psycho-social factors in behavior, creativity, and interpersonal dynamics; respond to grievances; deepen understanding around bias, and the difference between intent and impact; staff renewal and leadership training
  • congregational circles to transform conflict; craft/revise mission and vision statements; explore theological underpinnings to social justice and peacebuilding; enliven worship; to better embody the values and principles espoused

While circles constitute a key form of restorative practice, restorative extends beyond a singular practice to encompass moving through the world responsive to the needs of any given situation. Sometimes being restorative means offering warm accompaniment, and holding space. It could entail community members creating violence-prevention and crisis response teams; support centers for recovery; and spaces for embodied trauma healing. Being restorative invites us to re-imagine the world and its possibilities—summoning us to learn by foregrounding curiosity, practicing humility, and expanding our fluency in languages beyond human words.

Services I offer:

  • CIRCLE-KEEPING—restorative circles where harm has occurred; circles to explore Whiteness; community listening circles; grief circles; circles to introduce and deepen restorative practice
  • RESTORATIVE TEACHING—consultation, training, and immersive learning experiences to identify, develop, and practice relational pedagogy
  • APPLYING RESTORATIVE PRACTICES—working with individuals, groups, workplaces, and institutions to identify and engage in restorative practices with intention and accountability

I was honored to be a presenter at the RJ World 2020 Conference, and again in 2022. You can find my video presentation on the importance of tenderness (2020) here and my 2022 presentation on restorative teaching here.