Why Didn’t I Include Restorative Circles in Every Workshop?

Over the past nine years I’ve created over 40 one-hour workshops in addition to full-day trainings on restorative practices in schools. I’m an absolute research nerd. People don’t typically get their doctorate if they’re not. I’m cognizant of how many hours of research I do for a given topic and keep the end goal in mind. The research provides the foundation for the workshops or seminars.

Combining Research

Although I love the research, the fun part is synthesizing it and creating a workshop structure with engaging learning activities and strong practical application. I ensure that it is all based on adult learning theories that pull everything together. Many of the workshops I developed include various restorative circles because of the workshop’s content, but not all of them.

Recently I’ve been contemplating how foundational community building circles are to creating relationships between staff and students as well as student-to-student relationships. For some reason, it has been challenging to convince many educators of the value of using circles regularly to build relationships that strengthen connections on campus.

The 80/20 Circles Principle

Sometimes an educator becomes interested in doing circles but not until a behavior incident occurred. The problem with this is that it goes against a foundational principle and usually doesn’t work. Here’s a quote that explains why it doesn’t work.

“Eighty percent of circles should be proactive. That means using circles to be collaborative, to engage students and get their input and opinions on things.”1

Dealing with challenging behavior fits the 20% types of circles, such as problem-solving or re-integration circles after a student returns from a suspension. For 20% of circles to work, 80% of circles need to be proactive circles that foster building relationships, like community building and decision-making circles.

Circles Build Relationships

If circles provide the relationship building foundation, why didn’t I include some form of circles in every workshop? Sadly, I missed opportunities to impact those my colleagues and I are training. At this point, I can move forward and take action. I’m creating circles for my upcoming workshops that don’t currently include a circle component. You can read about what happens in my next blog post.



  1. Costello, Bob, Joshua Wachtel & Ted Wachtel. Restorative Circles in Schools: Building Community and Enhancing Learning. International Institute for Restorative Practices. Bethlehem: Pennsylvania, 2010, p. 47.
  2. Image: The Pareto Principle [Flickr.com]

Using Circles to Review Homework Assignments, Part 2

In my last blog post, Using Circles to Review Homework Assignments, Part 1, I featured Frederick Community College’s circle approach around homework. Community college students struggle with completing assignments like many of our students do. Students need help meeting the challenges that keep them from completing assignments. One type of circle was featured in my last blog post. Today I’m featuring two more circles to address homework challenges.

Sentence Stem Circles Address Homework

A second circle is using a simple sentence stem check-in prompt at the beginning of class or a check-out prompt at the end of class. This offers students an opportunity to reflect on their learning. Sentence stems are short and specific. For this type of circle, students stand in a circle. For check-in and check-out circles, only one prompt is used at a time. Here’s a list of sentence stems to choose from.

  • “What is one thing you learned from last night’s homework?
  • What is one question you have about last night’s homework?
  • What is one thing you remember about the reading of _____?
  • What is one question you have about the reading of_______?
  • What is something you understand about ______?
  • What is something you don’t understand about _____?”1

 Traditional Circle for Completing Homework

The third circle I’m featuring is a more traditional circle. Because you will ask several prompts, it is typically too long for students to stand. Instruct students to move their chairs or desks into a circle usually around the perimeter of the classroom. Younger children can form a circle on the carpet.

Talking Piece. Select a talking piece which is anything that can be passed easily and safely from one person to another. Only the person holding the talking piece can talk. Those who don’t have the talking piece have the opportunity to listen intently. Over time, students will form a circle in less time than when you first start using them and learn more self-control to wait for the talking piece to talk. Choose three to four of these prompts for one circle time.

  • How are you feeling about completing your homework on a scale of 1 to 10? Ten means you complete all assignments.
  • What about homework makes it important or meaningful to you?
  • When is homework not important or meaningless to you?
  • When you don’t complete your homework, how do you feel?
  • How do you feel when other students don’t complete the homework?
  • When you finish your homework, how do you feel?
  • Thinking about homework assignments, what was a useful homework assignment for you?
  • When you think about homework, what is challenging for you?
  • Imagine that you’re the teacher assigning homework. What homework assignment would you give and why?
  • What could you do to improve your homework completion?

With three circle choices to address completing homework or assignments on time, I’d love to hear which circle(s) you chose to do and how it went.


  1. How to Create Circle Questions for Classroom Learning. No author. January 25, 2021. https://www.pathways2rc.com/news/2021/1/25/how-to-create-circle-questions-for-classroom-learning
  2. Image source: Excuses sign [openclipart.org 221434]






Using Circles to Review Homework Assignments, Part 1

Do your students struggle with turning in their homework?

Could your students use some strategies to help get their homework competed on time?

What are students learning from their homework?

Frederick Community College in Maryland features 16 faculty instruction guides on a variety of topics. The one that caught my eye is, “Restorative Circles.” I know that higher education is using circles, but this is the first time I’ve seen a faculty guide on the topic. Here’s the list of types of issues addressed in circles.

Using Circles to…1

  • break the ice
  • create ground rules
  • check the class climate
  • make students aware of potentially offensive language
  • address hot buttons
  • gauge students’ understanding
  • end class on a positive note
  • encourage questions and mistakes
  • for peer review

Do any of these sound-like topics that are relevant and applicable to the students you work with? Recently I posted a new blog, Using Academic Secondary Concentric Circles for Test Reviews, hoping to encourage secondary educators to try restorative circles. I hear that some schools are discontinuing homework, but if you still assign homework this blog post is for you. Using Circles to Review Homework Assignments can be used with all grade levels, but it is another simple circle option secondary teachers may want to consider.

Challenges with Homework

Even though this is a community college, their students struggle with completing their assignments on time, as did many of my students at the high school and college levels. Numerous students face life management challenges that prevent them from submitting assignments on time and are in need of strategies to meet those challenges head on. I’m featuring three different circles one can consider using on the homework topic. The first one is in this blog post. The other two options will be in the next blog post. Choose one or use them all! First is Frederick Community College’s circle approach.

Using Circles to Complete Homework Assignments2

  • Ask your students to list three things that they find get in their way of completing homework or assignments on time.
  • Next, ask the students to write down three strategies that can help them complete their homework/assignments on time.
  • Then ask the students to find a partner to share their responses with. Instruct them to choose their top distraction and their top strategy for completing assignments that they will share in the large group circle.
  • Finally, direct students to create a large standing circle, usually around the perimeter of desks or tables. Go around the circle and have each person share their response to their top distraction and their top solution for overcoming the distraction.

Don’t miss part 2 of this blog post!


  1. Restorative Circles. https://guides.frederick.edu/restorative
  2. https://guides.frederick.edu/c.php?g=955051&p=6908723
  3. Image source: Homework math [Flickr.com]



Tier 2 Restorative Practices Intervention Cuts Tardies from 100 to 25 a Day

I arrived at a K-6th grade elementary school after the tardy bell rang. Wrapped around the corner of the building from the office, tardy students waited in line. Not just a few. But many students. And more late students arrived. One after another. There were too many to count.

When I met with the restorative practices site lead, I said, “I saw lots of students in the tardy line. How many tardies do you have?”

“We have over a 100 tardies a day. It is a real problem.”

I ask the question, “Understanding that tardy students are typically a parent/caregiver challenge, what could we do with the students to get them here on time if their parent/caregiver isn’t able to?”

We brainstormed and came up with an idea. We didn’t know if it would work, but with over a hundred tardies a day, it was worth a try.

The school site began offering “Tony’s Tardy Table.” A centrally located outdoor table was chosen for the actual tardy table. Tony, one of the yard supervisors, manned the tardy table during the first recess every day for 1st – 6th grades. Recess was by grade levels, so the tardy students weren’t there all at one time. Teachers started sending a few tardy students every day to the tardy table.

The Vice-Principal gave the yard supervisor on-going guidance. She suggested, “Find out what obstacles the children are facing. Talk to them with gentleness and kindness so they don’t feel bad. Let them know we’re there to help them.”

Tony started by asking each student, “What’s the reason you were late to school today? What are other reasons you’re late to school?”

Since complications from home life challenges can cause chronic tardiness, you can imagine the types of answers he heard from students.

“My dad had his friends over last night. He drank too much. I had to wake him up.”

Another said, “Our car is broke.”

“I couldn’t find my shoes.”

“My sister is supposed to wake us up, but she forgot to set the alarm.”

“The lights aren’t working. My mom couldn’t wash my clothes.”

There were legitimate reasons some students were occasionally late. And there were always students with tummy aches and anxiety about going to school. Author Stacey Zeiger stated the problems with tardiness. “The most crucial learning hours of a school day are the morning hours, because they are when students are most attentive. Students who are tardy miss the beginning of their morning classes, and they also cause a distraction when they arrive late to class.”

Tony began talking with several students each recess. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.

Word got around, as it often does in urban schools. Some parents gave students their phone number with instructions to call if they needed a ride. Some students learned to set alarm clocks or set their clothes and school items out the night before. Others rode a bike or called a friend for a ride. Slowly more students showed up on time.

By the end of the year, there were fewer than 25 tardies a day! These students learned excellent life skills and took responsibility even though a parent/caregiver was not accessible to get them to school on time. Imagine how proud these students were that they got to school on time. Not only that, but they stopped the negative effects of tardiness that can contribute to poor school success. Kudos to all involved who helped with a school-wide challenge.


Zeiger, Stacy, eHow Contributor. The Impact of Tardiness on School Success. [No date]. Harley Elementary School. https://www.blaineschools.org/

Image Source: Late Clipart [clipart-library.com_clipart_448084]

Using Academic Secondary Concentric Circles for Test Reviews

As a restorative practices trainer and consultant, I challenge educators to build relationships with students. When working with secondary educators, I often hear, “I don’t do relationships, I teach …”

But there’s good news. When I do training, I use concentric circles to review restorative practices principles. The easiest circle secondary teachers can use is the concentric circle. This is a perfect strategy for doing a review before a unit exam. Elementary teachers call this strategy inside outside circles.

Concentric Circles Structure

To create two concentric circles, ask the students to form two circles, an inside circle and one outside circle. The easiest way to get students into two circles is to have half the students form an outer circle usually around the perimeter of the desks. Then instruct the remainder of the students to find a partner in the first circle and face each other. Let students know that they are not staying with this partner for very long or they take too long to select someone. This creates the inner circle. The first time you ask students to do this, it will take a few minutes. With practice, students will get into concentric circles quicker.

How to Do the Review

Each student on the inside is paired with a student on the outside; they face each other. If you have an odd number of students, one “pair” will have a third student. This strategy engages students who may not typically work together. When the students are in their circles, the teacher asks a review question to the whole group. Each pair discusses their response with each other. This engages all the students simultaneously. Students with limited English proficiency can easily participate. What I love about this strategy is that if the partners don’t know the answer, they may naturally eavesdrop on those nearby.

When the noise level drops, you’ll know that it’s time to instruct the students on the outside circle to move one space to the right so they are standing in front of a new person. Next, the teacher poses a new question, and the process is repeated. This works well for about six to seven review questions. As students get accustomed to concentric circles, you can lengthen the time by asking more questions.

Parallel Line Option

This strategy can also be done with two parallel lines instead of circles. When I use lines, I call it “Line-up Review.” Depending on your classroom space, two parallel lines may work better than a circle.

If you’re a secondary educator, I encourage you try the concentric circles for review. I’d love to hear how it goes.


To learn more about this read Inside/Outside Circles or Circle Conversation created by Spencer Kagan in 1994 at https://teachingrecipes.com/wp-content/insideoutsideactivity.pdf.

You can also view the six-minute video Discovering Voice: Inside-Outside Circle. In this video, the teacher numbers students as a one or two. Students move in opposite directions until the bell rings. When they hear the bell, they stop and talk with their new partner.


Image source: students-inside-outside-circle 238-2383883 [clipartmax.com]

Using Academic Content Circles to Explore Presidents Day

Do your students know why they get two days off from school in February? Many lower elementary grade teachers do activities that center on Presidents George Washing and Lincoln. As students move to upper grades, educators can still focus on the meaning of Presidents’ Day. Academic content circles are a perfect way to re-mind students of why they have holidays. You’ll find 20 circles prompts listed by grade levels ready for you to use. 1, 2

 Prompts for K-2nd

  1. What is the president’s main job? (one word)
  2. What character trait makes a good president? (one word)
  3. Some students are required to memorize all the presidents’ names in order. Do you think this is important for people to know? (Yes or no?)
  4. Celebrating Presidents’ Day is important because…
  5. If you could ask the president any question, what would it be?

Prompts for 3rd & 4th  

  1. What is the president’s main job? (one word)
  2. If you could have dinner with any president, alive or dead, who would it be? (one name)
  3. __________ was the best president ever because…
  4. If I were the president, I would…
  5. How would you make a hard choice if you were the president?

Prompts for 5th & 6th

  1. Why do we think of Abraham Lincoln as “honest Abe”?
  2. Why is Abraham Lincoln one of the most important presidents in U.S. history?
  1. Abraham Lincoln’s powerful words led our country through its most difficult time. Why is learning about Abraham Lincoln important to your life?
  2. Abraham Lincoln is remembered as one of the greatest men of all time. He overcame many difficulties and was a determined learner. When America goes through a tough time, what does the president needs to do?
  3. What’s a difficulty you’ve overcome?

Prompts for Secondary

  1. The president symbolizes…
  1. Why is George Washington one of the most important presidents in U.S. history?
  2. What do you think was an advantage to being our country’s first president?
  3. What do you think was a disadvantage to being our country’s first president?
  4. If you were the president, what issue would you focus on?


  1. 53 Presidents’ Day Writing Ideas for Kids. [No author or date].


 2. Granata, Kassondra, Education World Contributor. Writing Prompts for Presidents’ Day. [No author or date].  https://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/writing_prompts_presidents_day.shtml

  1. Image source: Presidents Day Free Funny Images [presidents-day-2020.com]

Do Restorative Questions Work with Kindergarteners?

My colleagues and I train school site staff in an alternative to traditional punishment called Restorative Practices. The most basic skill is asking children and adolescents affective questions. We often assume we know what happened, but many times we don’t. We only see part of the story. Sometimes I get asked if restorative questions work with kindergarteners. Absolutely! Here’s how I used restorative questions with a five-year-old.

The first of the restorative questions to ask is, “What happened?” Most children can explain from their perspective what happened.

The second question is, “What were you thinking at the time?” This question isn’t a rhetorical question expressed in anger, but a question to promote the child’s reflection on the incident. You may think a young child can’t answer this, but many can.

Recently I asked a five-year-old kindergartener, “What were you thinking when you took a toy home from school?”

Her reply, “My friend was taking one home. I wanted to be like her.”

If the length of time from the incident is an hour or more after the incident actually happened, you may ask older children and adolescents, “What have you thought about since?”

The next question is, “Who has been affected by what you did and how?”

With the five-year-old I modified the question. “What will happen when your teacher finds out you took the toy?”

“She’ll be sad.”

The last question is, “What do you think you need to do to make things right?”

I asked the kindergartener, “What could you fix this?”

“Say I’m sorry.”

I ask, “What are you sorry about?”

“That I took the toy.”

“Who do you need to apologize to?”

“The teacher.”

“What else do you need to do?”

“Take the toy back.”

“That’s right. The toy needs to go back to the school because it belongs in the classroom. Next time you want a toy that belongs to someone else, what can you do instead of taking it?”

“I can ask if I can borrow it.”

“That will work much better so your teacher won’t be disappointed, and your classmates can play with it at school. Tomorrow I’ll ask what happened when you took the toy back and what your teacher said. I know she’s going to be happy you returned the school’s toy.”


How do you think this will work with the kindergarteners you know?


Image Source: Welcome to Kindergarten Clipart #1798945 [clipart-library.com]

Building Circles & Community Around Picture Books! A Restorative Practices Book Review

Last spring, I attended a virtual workshop led by Carmen Zeisler on Building Circles and Community Around Picture Books. I was so inspired, I began creating circles scripts for kindergarten through third graders on social justice books and developed a new workshop on the topic for the school district I work with in Modesto, CA.

Carmen’s new book, Building Circles and Community Around Picture Books! Let’s Learn From Others: A Focus on Biographies, features 25 scripts. She begins her book with a powerful quote by Brene Brown.

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

Zeisler understands the power of transforming conflict by using community building circles proactively along with restorative practices approaches. She begins the book with a community circle overview, five universal circle guidelines, and the flow for a community circle. The flow for every circle is welcome/opening activity, round 1, round 2 and round 3, and closing the circle.

The 25 scripts focus on biographies. Several that I’m unfamiliar with and sound interesting are:

  • Balloons Over Broadway – The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade,
  • Daza! Amalia Hernandez, founder of Ballet Folkorico de Mexico, and
  • Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire.

A feature I like are the links to the publisher’s page that provide additional resources, like a picture of an event, listen to ocean waves, a song, or dancers from Mexico. These will enhance comprehension for the children. I also like the opening activities that help introduce the topic.

I was disappointed that the author used the same round 1 check-in question for every community circle. The check-in question is, “Are you mad, sad, glad or afraid today and what is that mostly about?” I prefer that the check-on question is directly connected to the topic. The publisher does provide a link to an eight-minute video that focuses on the check-in question. [essdk.me/ckeckins]

I can’t wait to do my first workshop, Building Circles and Community Around Picture Books for kindergarten to third grade teachers using the social justice books scripts I created and featuring Carmen’s excellent book that is powerful and easy to use.

About the Author

Carmen Zeisler is the Learning Center Director at ESSDACK, an educational service agency. Building relationships with teachers and students is her passion. Carmen specializes in restorative practices in education, creating community circles, a restorative circles facilitator as well as a children’s book expert.

About the Book

Building Circles & Community Around Picture Books! Let’s Learn From Others. A Focus on Biographies by Carmen Zeisler, ESSDACK Resilience, no date. The book is available as a download or paperback for $8.00 at https://market.essdack.org/products/building-circles-and-community-around-picture-books-25-building-community-scripts Also available, Building Circles and Community Around Picture Books- Back to School Edition (Digital Download Only), $6.99.

Site Team Member’s Responsibilities & Training for Implementing Restorative Practices in Schools

In a previous blog post, The Role of the Site Team Lead & Consultant in Implementing Restorative Practices in Schools, I suggested that schools wanting to implement restorative practices use a site leadership team approach under the direction of a vice-principal or assistant principle typically designated by the school principal. In turn, the site team lead is responsible for selecting seven to nine classified and certificated staff members for their site team.

I found it helpful for potential site team members to know what the expectations are prior to deciding to join the team. This way they can make an informed decision and are more likely to stay engaged. Here’s a list to consider using for the site team member’s responsibilities.

Site Team Member’s Overall Responsibilities1

  • Demonstrate willingness to learn about restorative practices (RP) with a teachable attitude
  • Model RP in your daily responsibilities
  • Promote RP at your school, the District, and community
  • Provide leadership within your school site (such as: role model, lead small groups on specific implementation tasks, share your stories with staff, parents & community, present RP to others, train staff, etc.)
  • Demonstrate willingness to take risks, try new skills, learn from mistakes, and transparently by sharing your journey with others, including staff, parents & community members
  • Meet monthly with the site team lead & site team members; communicate regularly

Site Team Member’s Annual Responsibilities

Depending on what trainers the site team chooses will determine specific responsibilities for site team members. Here’s ‘a list of potential requirements for site team members during the first year:

  • Specify trainings site t4eam members will be required to attend
  • Meet monthly with site team lead & site team members to facilitate implementation
  • Follow any implementation plans created during training
  • If the training includes a site team’s 15-minute presentation featuring the past year’s highlights, participate in the planning and presentation
  • Optional: “job shadow” someone in similar role at another school site implementing restorative practices

What other responsibilities do you foresee for a site team member?


Source: 1. Information adapted from Positive Behavior for Learning: Book One Introduction, New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2014, pp. 13; 15. www.education.govt.nz

Image: team [freesvg.org]

Encircled: Bringing Family Virtue Circles Home – A Restorative Practices Book Review

Before I learned about this book, I met one of the authors, Genevieve Price, through a referral from Restoration Matters. I was looking to talk with someone who is actually doing restorative practices with preschoolers. I was so inspired listening to her stories about how she adapts the concepts of restorative practices and how she does circles with preschoolers. I was delighted when she shared about her book, Encircled: Bringing Family Virtue Circles Home, co-authored with Ann Polan.


This book is connected to the virtues Lynne Lang developed called Values-Based Restorative Discipline (VBRDTM) to promote a positive school climate and parish communities while expressing Catholic values and beliefs. I love that this book is a tool to incorporate virtue education and discussion amongst families and is based on Colossians 3:12-15. Paul calls us to “clothe ourselves” in heartfelt compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, kindness, love, patience, thankfulness, and unity (p. 5). If you’re parenting and your belief system resonates with these virtues, this book is for you.

Restorative Circles

Many public and private schools are using restorative circles to build relationships within the classroom and school. This book helps bring families closer to one another and to God by using circles at home.

To give you an overview of circles, every circle includes these components: an opening prayer, a one-word check-in, the circle topic, discussion or an activity, a one-word check-out, and a closing prayer. I was disappointed that the opening and closing prayer is the same for every circle. You may want to involve your children in saying their own prayers. Typically, a circle can take 15 to 30 minutes.

How to Do Circles

After some introductory pages, the authors explain how to get started with circle guidelines, information about virtues, the Colossians virtues, and a one-page materials list for the circles. Most families will find that these materials are easily accessed within the home.

Pages 14 to 120 contain the meat of the book – the step-by-step circles that families can do together. Since the format is the same for all circles, parents and caregivers and their children and teens will quickly learn circle basics.

The Talking Piece

Part of every circle is to use a talking piece. This is a common item that can be passed from person to person. The purpose of the talking piece is to allow only the person holding the talking piece to speak. I can tell you that my experiences with educators using a talking piece is challenging. It may be even more challenging for children, but I’ve seen students quickly adapt to talking one person at a time.

The reason I brought up the talking piece is because creating a family talking piece out of popsicle sticks is one of my favorite circles activities. Another favorite is creating virtue rocks for each of the Colossian’s virtues. This book can be done in the order it is written or families can skip around and do the circles that best fit what the family is currently experiencing.

As parents, you can now experience the positive impact that students experience at school with your children and teens at home. I’d love to hear your stories about using virtue circles in your school or home.

About the Authors

Ann Polan, MA, MCC, is a certified school counselor in St. Louis, Missouri. For over 10 years she’s been working with elementary and middle school students in Catholic education.

Genevieve Price, BS, ECE, currently teaches Pre-K. She has six years of experience in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. She has experience facilitating circles and restorative practices with Pre-K to 8th grade.

About the Book

Encircled: Bringing Family Virtue Circles Home, by Ann Polan and Genevieve Price, Imagine That Enterprises, LC, 2019, 128 pages. This book is available from https://www.restorationmatters.org/product-page/encircled-bringing-parent-virtue-circles-home Email at [email protected]