Restorative Circle training encourages civil conversations

The Etownian September 29, 2016 0

The Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking recently cosponsored an event named ‘Kay Pranis – Training for Using Restorative Circles with Young People.’ The event took place from Thursday, Sept. 22 through Saturday, Sept. 24 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

According to, “Kay Pranis is a national leader in restorative justice, specializing in peacemaking Circles. She served as the Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1994 to 2003….Since 1998, Kay has conducted Circle trainings in a diverse range of communities – from schools to prisons to workplaces to churches, from rural farm towns in Minnesota to Chicago’s South Side.”

Pranis facilitated the training throughout the event. Those who attended the training participated in a restorative circle of sorts Thursday and Friday in order to better understand the process. Then on Saturday they moved away from the actual circle setting to learn to conceptualize the process.

Multiple models of circles were taught as well as multiple uses such as the use of circles for celebration and recognizing of achievement versus just to resolve a conflict.

“The peacemaking circle is a dialog process useful for increasing understanding among different perspectives and for creating effective solutions to long-standing issues of conflict or disconnection,” the event information said.

These circles consist of a group of people sitting in a circle and discussing and resolving issues. There is a moderator who helps to facilitate conversation and ensure the conversation remain relatively civil.

Each circle has an object called a ‘talking piece’ which can be any small object – often a stick of some sort – that allows the person holding it to talk, specifically it allows them to share their feelings on the issue being discussed. The talking piece helps to regulate the conversation and prevents it from falling into chaos.

According to Jonathon Rudy, peacemaker-in-residence at Elizabethtown College, the restorative circle models that the training is based upon stem from traditional circles used by Native Americans throughout their history.

“I think, First Peoples have a real intrinsic sense of this. This way to restore persons who have harmed the community in some way,” Rudy said.

Three members of the Etown community participated in the training: Director of International Student Services Kristi Syrdahl, Area Coordinator of the Dell community Cody Miller and Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities Susan Asbury.

“I’ve been interested this academic year in looking into additional resolution pathways for resolving issues, particularly when there is some interpersonal issues going on as well,” Asbury stated.

“I was interested in attending this workshop in order to kind of garner information that maybe we would be able to use to facilitate different methodologies when working with students.”

Miller spoke about the possibility to use these circles to encourage a sense of community within dorm settings and among the general College community. He also mentioned the potential to use this training in situations such as interpersonal conflict, roommate agreements and anytime an incident occurs that students may feel hurt or impacted them.

The circles – traditionally – can vary in size and length of time spent discussing. Sometimes circles can be very short – potentially less than an hour – other times circles can disband and reconvene about the same issue for years.

In a college setting such as Etown, it is not feasible to assume a circle can last for years – or even weeks – so if this practice is implemented, it will need to be modified, something of which the trainees are conscious.

“I’ve been thinking about ways to allow the process to be full and complete but also to fit within the amount of time that students would be available,” Miller said.

This event was cosponsored by the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking and the Center for Community Peacemaking in Lancaster. This allowed the event to be open to community members from various fields including education, restorative justice workers and various others who work in fields where conflict reconciliation is often necessary.

“We want the College to be seen as a center of peacemaking activity, not just for our students and faculty but also for the larger community. We want to be seen as providing opportunities and expertise in this regard,” Director of the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking David Kenley stated.

Kenley specifically discussed the importance of this training in situations in which something hateful has been said or spread in some way and has created an atmosphere not conducive to learning and interacting.

“[This training allows us] to see how we might be able to make an offended individual feel like there has been some element of justice and fairness and that their concerns have been heard, and give the person who may be responsible for the offense the chance to see things from a new set of eyes and hopefully work on some restoration and some harmonious feelings,” he said.


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