Welcome to NACRJ

The National Association of Community and Restorative Justice promotes effective forms of justice that are safe, just, equitable, sustainable, reparative and socially constructive, addressing not only crime, but conflict, incivility, injustice and all forms of harm. NACRJ hosts the biennial National Conference of Community and Restorative Justice, and provides supports for members.

"Shaping Justice for the 21st Century"

Vision

We envision a safe and equitable world where restorative interactions transform individuals, relationships, communities and systems through the prevention, repair and deep healing of harm.

Mission

We advance community and restorative justice as a social movement by serving people and organizations committed to building community and addressing harm.  NACRJ provides guidance and support to establish high quality practices with fidelity to restorative principles.

Community Justice for Schools: Tier II Restorative Practices

Topic Circle Series: A Tier II Restorative Practice for School Communities

Created and written by Kathy Rockefeller, J.D.

Q: Restorative Practices are great for building community and resolving conflict, but how can Circles help when harmful behavior shows up as a “topic” of behavior, not an “incident”?

A: Use a Topic Circle Series (TCS)! This new tool, grounded in Restorative philosophy and Circle practice, helps students recognize how a behavior affects community and what they can do to make things better.

Many schools use a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework to efficiently and equitably distribute student intervention and support resources. MTSS divides interventions into three “Tiers”.*

Under MTSS, all students receive Tier I supports. For example, “Schoolwide Expectations” are a universal, Tier I support for all students. (PBIS**) When implemented with fidelity, Tier I tools are proactive and effectively manage behaviors of about 85% of a student population. About 10% of students, however, need additional supports, MTSS Tier II interventions. Finally, 5% of any student population will require Tier III, intensive, individualized interventions. (See Figure 1)

MTSS RP

Most Restorative Practices currently being used in schools are MTSS Tier I or Tier III, leaving a gap in Tier II. Typical Restorative Practices either build community or repair an incident of harm. But what can schools use to address a behavioral trend -- when multiple students are separately doing the same “harm”? School leaders often ask how to restoratively address such trends, and Topic Circle Series (TCS) offer an appropriate, Restorative, Tier II intervention.

Why use a Topic Circle Series?

A Topic Circle Series (TCS) provides adult and peer support as students think and process solutions to a problem together over time. They are especially helpful with students for whom it is difficult to sit for lengthy Circles, or those who need more processing time than a single Circle allows. A full TCS, like other Circles, begins with safe questions and moves to deeper ones. The difference is that the movement to deeper questions happens over four short Circles, rather than one long Circle. The goal is to help students recognize and connect their behavior with a broader “topic” of behavior, to discover how that behavior affects others, and to make a plan around making things better.
Following are two examples of situations for which a TCS might be a helpful Tier II intervention***:

Example 1: Reviewing discipline data, staff notes increased hall wandering in the 7th grade hall. The hall wanderers are not together but are each spending a lot of class time in the hall. Six students with the highest referrals for hall wandering are selected and personally invited to join a TCS. This invitation includes an honest explanation about why they were selected, with a positive spin on the topic. (For example, wanderers are often bored in class or unable to focus for the whole time, so the topic could be “perseverance,” and the invitation would be to join the Perseverance Circles.)

Example 2: Data shows an uptick in 8th graders’ verbal altercations with teachers. When asked why, students insist the teacher “won’t listen.” The school invites the five students with the most disrespect referrals to join a TCS. When inviting them, Keeper(s) explains that they are invited because of their disrespect referrals because that often means students feel unheard by teachers. The topic could be “respecting authority” and the TCS called: “How to Talk so Adults Will Listen.”

How are Topic Circle Series Structured and Planned?

A TCS uses four, intentionally designed, small Circles, that roughly track the same learning path of the Five Restorative Questions. Circle 1 is devoted to building community among the members using light questions like “What is your favorite day of the week and why?” The questions in Circles 2 and 3 begin to move toward helping students recognize the various communities in the school and understanding how their actions affect others in those communities. Circle 4 features a “culminating question” that focuses on individual accountability regarding the behavior and inspires personal commitments to behavior change.

Participation in any Restorative Practice is always voluntary, and TCS are no exception. TCS Keepers must be trained to lead Responsive Circles, and the same Keeper(s) should lead the entire series. Ideally, the chosen Keeper(s) will see the students in various settings between Circles. TCS groups include between four and six students. When selecting students, staff begin with data, then review for compatibility. TCS students and adult(s) meet in Circle four times, approximately once a week. Each Circle should last about 30-45 minutes (shorter for younger, longer for older students).

Planning a Topic Circle Series begins with creating the “culminating question” and then backward-mapping. After each Circle, Keeper(s) revise the questions for the next Circle to reflect previous discussion. This can be challenging when student responses to questions do not send the conversation in the direction envisioned. Still, Keeper(s) must allow conversations to be as organic as possible, while keeping the series moving toward the culminating question.

For Circle 1, the Circle designed to build community, Keeper(s) draft four or five fun questions they predict the involved students might enjoy. It is important to keep Circle 1 fun to build community, become comfortable, and create buy-in for later Circles. Circle 1 questions do not include the behavior topic of the TCS.

Circles 2 and 3 are the most challenging to plan and are likely to see the most revision. Like Circle 1, all four Circles should begin with a fun question, but the goal for Circles 2 and 3 is to help students realize that their actions affect others, and how. We do this by tracking the general learning behind the Five Restorative Questions 2, 3 and 4:

2. What were you thinking at the time? (“What do you think students are thinking when they wander halls?”)
3. What did you think later? (“What do you think they think later, after referral or parent phone call?”)
4. Who was affected by your actions and how? (“Who is affected by hall wandering and how?”)

Circle 4 ends with the “culminating question”, the heart of the TCS. The culminating question is crafted during planning, before any Circles, and it echoes Restorative Question #5, “What can YOU do to make things better?” The Keeper(s) tailors the question to the behavior that led to the TCS. (For example, “What can YOU do to change your behavior and help decrease disrespect between 8th grade students and teachers?”)

With its culminating question around personal commitments to behavior change, Circle 4 is often a time that peers and adults offer support to help each other keep their commitments. For example, one Circle student could remind another, as the other starts to leave Math, “Don’t forget you wanted to do better in Math for your Gran.” Similarly, a teacher can quietly encourage a student he sees being tempted, “I am so proud you are really thinking twice – I remember in Circle it was a goal of yours.”

Caution: Topic Circle Series are NOT group counseling!

It is essential that Restorative practitioners in schools not allow TCS to become group counseling sessions. Not only are most Keepers not trained counselors, the TCS is specifically designed to help students target and improve a single behavior that is affecting the community. It is this community-centered focus that makes TCS quintessentially Restorative. TCS are a short-term intervention, and the four-Circle boundary is important. The temptation to allow a TCS to veer off purpose is great. Our students desperately want and need to be heard about all sorts of things. Keeper(s) must not allow students’ eagerness to share lead to deep, psychological explorations. It is up to the Keeper(s) to remember the end goal, and keep them on track.

*For seasoned educators, MTSS framework is a variation on PBIS or RTI.
**Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support
***For a collection of sample TCS scripts and topics, contact Kathy Rockefeller (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

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The 8th NACRJ Conference in Chicago is set for July 7-9, 2022. REGISTRATION is NOW OPEN. See the Call for Presentation Proposals (due before Dec. 1, 2021). 

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NACRJ 8th Conference, Chicago July 7 to 9, 2022

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The 7th NACRJ Conference in Denver (June 14-16, 2019) set a new record with over 1600 in attendance! Recordings of all major sessions from this year's conference are now be ready for all to hear on our Conference 2019 Recordings page. A YouTube recording the Motus Theater performance has recent been added.  This is a great way to extend the highlights of the conference to others.

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