Restorative Talking Circles


I have been reflecting this week, as it is International Restorative Justice Week and also Native American History month.  Across North America, many of the U.S. Native American tribes and the First Nations people of Canada, have used the talking circles as a traditional practice. The talking circle has served as a way of bringing people together for the purposes of teaching, listening, and learning. The use of talking circles has been a traditional form of education from early childhood through adulthood and provided a way to pass on knowledge, values, and culture (Sams, 1990). Now, several schools are getting to experience the benefits that many of our ancestors have practiced as a way to bring more peace and justice into their settings.

The talking circle is an essential piece of implementing restorative justice practices and is a powerful way to teach social-emotional learning, empathy, positive behavior, mindfulness and to build strong connections. These strong connections can happen between students, adults and students, adults to adults and the school to the larger community. These strong connections and feelings of mutual respect and dignity become the core of building an ethos of care in schools.

The talking circle serves as a nonhierarchical space where one person holding power over another is removed and replaced by everyone having power with each other. Student learn to become circle keepers and share the power equally with the adults. Everyone in the circle has the opportunity to both speak from the heart and listen from the heart. Thus, the talking circle can be used as an instructional approach, to foster self-awareness and multicultural awareness which honors both individual differences and group as a community of learners (Wolf & Rickard, 2011). This helps to develop more equitable learning environments.

If schools only turn to restorative justice practices as a tool to solve issues around behavior, they miss the true value of these practices, which is to build a place where every person can feel seen, heard and valued. That’s the power. Student’s show up in schools for the connection and that connection serves as a powerful force to preventing conflict, increasing learning and building skills that will serve every student across their lifetime.

Sams J.  (1990) Sacred path cards: the discovery of self through native teachings. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco.

Wolf. P.R., & Rickard, J. A. (2011) Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. Wiley-Blackwell. 31(1) pg.s 39-43

Lori Lynass Ed.D.

Owner & Executive Director of SOUND SUPPORTS. Dr. Lynass has 22 years of experience working to support student, families and schools. She has worked directly with over 1,000 schools, in over 100 districts and 3 state departments of education on their implementation of academic and behavioral systems of support. Read More >