Restorative Circles in Brazil

Dominic Barter: Restorative Circles 2.27.09

Hello all,

Thanks for making this list a place I learn and grow from.

I want to share some of what I have been doing over the last few years, in bringing NVC to schools and young people excluded from them, or studying in prison. In March I will be offering talks and in depth presentations on that work in the US and Canada, so my hope is that this conversation can continue with some of you in person in coming weeks.

Also, I hope this information will support all our work with systemic change, serving as an example of how NVC can guide that process, in Education, but also in the systems that impact education (such as the economic, government and justice systems we chose).

The work I do is called Restorative Circles. It is a way of 'making NVC concrete' for those who are experiencing conflict. There is no study involved. Participants work with their own, live issues, with each other. Facilitators and participants can come from anywhere in the school (or learning) community and be of any age. We have found simple responses where participants have no, or low, reading skills. The process prizes inclusion. Set up can take as a little as a few hours, and from then on the process runs itself, integrating into the normal running of school/family/community life, while powerfully influencing relationships and behavioral choices. It's not magic, but it works consistently, and in a wide variety of cases, when those caring for it stick to principle.

The Circles have been shared in projects which are themselves innovative, in that they bring together groups not normally used to working together: the federal Ministry of Justice, regional state education departments, municipal social service agencies, prisons, police and local, shantytown communities. We've found the work to be effective irrespective of the nature of the offence caused. My experience has been here in Brazil. Increasingly, people are applying the work in other countries.

During the last 4 years I've personally been involved in 89 high schools, each with between 1,500 and 4,000 students. Both public and private schools have participated. Those I've trained have also brought the process to junior age students as young as 5 and adults, with similarly effective results.

I call Restorative Circles an 'application' of NVC. The intention, principles and some dynamics of NVC are present on 3 distinct levels:

Firstly, in the 'systemic container' of the process - which gives all those in a community explicit decision making power over using, initiating and participating in a Circle;

next, in its design - which promotes horizontal power relationships between those who decide to use it; then, in the communication dynamics it uses - which guide those present through understanding and connection, to self-responsibility (needs awareness), and then doable action.

This systemic aspect makes the work an opportunity to learn how NVC may guide intervention in a system such as a school, supporting inter- personal changes that may already be in place, or may be struggling due to organisational forces which give very different messages.

It also supports our ability to measure what we do, and talk about it in normative ways. This can be an edge for autonomy-loving giraffes like me, but I have been reassured by my experience and have gained new respect and understanding for administrators and others who crave such clarity when dealing with something as important as growing humans and budgets.

Being able to measure has increased our visibility: we have been nationally recognised for effective innovation in both the areas of Justice and of Education. Restorative Systems have been adopted by diverse local communities. The Circles have been statistically shown to reduce in up to 50% the number of cases in which youth come before a judge. Independent research has found over 90% of cases have been resolved to the satisfaction of those polled. Last month a 2 page article on these projects appeared in 'Veja', the largest circulation weekly news magazine in Brazil, with a distribution of over 1 million copies.

For me, getting real about systemic change involves, in part, learning to measure our results (statistical research), so that we can learn and grow, and celebrate and share with others what we find - and I am delighted to be able to share the above initial findings with you all.

Another aspect is giving open access to the results of this learning. So I would like to share information on talks and in depth presentations I will be offering on this work in North America and Canada in March:

On March 9th and 10th I will be in Washington, DC and Fairfax, Virginia - at a school mediation conference.

On March 11th in Toronto - at a large, private boy's school.

On March 13th, 14th and 15th in New York City - at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

On March 20th, 21st and 22nd in Montreal.

On March 23rd, 24th and 25th in several public schools in Vermont.

For more information on all these visits please write to contact [at] restorativecircles [dot] org We can receive and reply to inquiries in English, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Dutch.

While a couple of these events are being funded by asking for individuals to make financial contributions, I believe it is no one's intention that participation be decided on the grounds of access to money. If there are economic issues for you, and you have a strong desire to come, PLEASE let us know. We will all be enriched by you doing so.

I hope greatly to strengthen the tools and options available to educators working with, or wanting to work with, NVC in educational settings. As a former school teacher, I'm awed by anyone who even tries. My experience suggests to me that some institutions such as these value definable procedures, and that, as such, Restorative Circles can be a useful support for NVC work in schools, or a way to open the door.

With a smile, but quite seriously, I let schools I speak to know that, if they let me, I'll use the Circles as a Trojan horse. I want much more than to offer a more effective means of supporting social cohesion and peace skills. But I understand that the stakes are high, and suggest they test out the doability of a non-violent ethos for education, before they let something like NVC begin transforming classrooms and school structure in a profound way. The Circles have been a useful first step for some. I hope they will be for you.

Um abraço,

Dominic

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