Elevating Justice: Widening the Circle

In June, NICE staff had the opportunity to attend the 2019 National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRJ) Conference in Denver, Colorado.

The 7th NACRJ Conference, Elevating Justice: Widening the Circle, focused on a broader sense of justice that includes more voices of minorities and from groups all around the world, and encompasses how dignity and respect for one another allows for peaceful society.

In a series of blogs, we’ll be sharing our biggest takeaways from some of the sessions we attended, hoping to spark further discussion and raise awareness of some amazing findings.

Implementing Restorative Practices School Wide: Lessons Learned through Practice and Collaboration

Panelists discussed a Kansas City, MO high school, at which two former teachers built a Restorative Justice Department from the ground up, and presented a framework for organizing and implementing school-wide plans.

The NACRJ has created a guide for implementing restorative justice programs in schools in response to widely acknowledged data showing that punitive disciplinary approaches are frequently unsuccessful and often counterproductive—as well as data that punitive disciplinary approaches disproportionately impact students by race, ethnicity, and gender.

The NACRJ highlights a three-tier intervention pyramid, which emphasizes the importance of restorative justice practices being universally woven into school life. It also describes a spectrum of restorative practices, from informal aspects of school culture, to formal interventions when dealing with conflicts of higher intensity.

The NACRJ seeks to raise awareness of these restorative practices, among educators and policy makers. They call on all educational bodies to strengthen relationships within the school community, allow for increased student-governance, and foster a more positive school-wide climate through the outlined restorative practices.

Read the NACRJ’s entire policy statement, complete with step-by-step implementation guidelines, here.

The Benefit of Meditation in Schools


The practice of meditation is becoming increasingly popular in schools as research shows that having a regular meditation practice enhances physical and mental health, and overall well-being. Meditation leads to a feeling of calm and clarity, thereby reducing the effects of stress on the mind and body.

NICE’s training will equip teachers with the ability to educate students in how to describe what they feel and want, take in the perspective of others, generate options that are mutually acceptable solutions, and select options that are mutually convenient and/or acceptable. The classroom community learns to deal with conflict constructively, thoughtfully, and deliberately; these advanced skills contribute to a more peaceful, cooperative, and focused student learning environment.

The Effects of Bullying in Our Schools

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Effects of Bullying  

Students who experience bullying are at greater risk to succumb to poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression (Center for Disease Control, 2015).  Students who are both targets of bullying and engage in bullying behavior are at greater risk for both mental health and behavior problems (Center for Disease Control, 2015).

Bullied students report that bullying has a negative effect on how they feel about themselves (19%), and an adverse effect on their relationships with friends and family, and their confidence in completing their school work (14%). This is in addition to having negative effects on their physical health (9%) (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016). Bullied students are twice as likely as non-bullied students to experience negative health effects such as headaches and stomach pains (Gini & Pozzoli, 2013). Students who blame themselves for the abuse and determine that they deserved to be bullied are more likely to face negative outcomes, such as depression, extended victimization, and difficulties with adjusting to school environments (Perren, Ettakal, & Ladd, 2013; Shelley & Craig, 2010). The percentages of youth who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their life have nearly doubled (18% to 34%) from 2007-2016 (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016).

Bullying contributes to suicide, mass shootings, and school violence
Researchers find that there is an association between bullying and suicide-related behaviors. This association is often coupled with other factors such as depression, violent behavior, and substance abuse (Reed, Nugent, & Cooper, 2015). Students who bully others, are bullied, or witness bullying are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than students who are not involved in bullying (Center for Disease Control, 2014). Students who’ve experienced bullying are nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide than students not facing bullying (Gini & Espelage, 2014). A particularly disturbing shift is that, while men are three times more likely to die by suicide, the rate of suicide in teenage girls has doubled from 2007 to 2015.

Studies have also shown a correlation between school shooters and bullying, in instances where mass shooters felt provoked to commit their heinous crimes. Approximately 71% of school shooters felt “persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured” leading up to their school attack, according to Secret Service data. Bullied high schoolers are also more than twice as likely to bring guns or knives to school as their non-bullied peers.  

What the Students are Saying: The Benefits of Circles

Recently we reached out to students in our programs in different schools, where there are girl circles, boy circles, and multicultural circles. We wanted to hear from them the benefits and effects of the circles.

Student Quotes from Ramapo Girls Circle:

  • “Girls Circle has helped improve my relationship with my mother and sister. We now have a better relationship because of this group.”
  • “People have noticed that I am more positive and have a positive outlook on life.”
  • “Through Girls Circle I have been able to foster better relationships with my peers.”
  • “It made me stronger as a person. I became more calm and collective. Also more understanding.”
  • “Girls Circle has motivated me to speak up in class, get out of bad relationships, and I also made a lot of new friends.”
  • “In Girls Circle, a different topic was introduced every week, which opened me up to various types of people and different cultures.”
  • “I have noticed that I became more positive and started pushing negative energy away.”

Student Quotes from SVHS Young Men’s After School Circle:

  • “It has impacted us because we know every week that we can open up and talk about our week and relate to other people in the group.”
  • “It allows students to interact with one another especially if someone is shy, and gives students an opportunity to talk about what is on their mind.”
  • “My experience with the Boys circle has been great. It allows me to discuss hot topics and get different students point of view and adults point of view and advice.”

Student Quotes from Ramapo Multicultural Circle:

  • “We like it because we learn about topics we do not touch at school and it’s like a place where we feel good about being able to talk about ourselves and what happens to us during the day. This is an open space which makes us trust people to solve our problems and talk about things that sometimes with our parents we cannot talk about.”
  • “I like it because we learn a lot about our home countries and we also learn about different Latin American cultures like the Dominican, Honduras, and other Central American countries. They also teach us many things about meals and we also learn about what happens in the United States with immigrants and for me, that is very good because some people do not know what happens in our country or in other countries, for example, what is happening in Venezuela. I like the group a lot because I share with my classmates and the people who come to visit us and have a good time.”
  • “I like the multicultural group because we learned about different things. We do activities and we have a communicative bond.”

Social Emotional Learning – Trends in Education

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What is SEL?
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Framework for Systemic Social and Emotional Learning
The following SEL practices will be the focus across the network:

Cooperation skills are essential in today’s collaborative school and environments. Through the use of interactive exercises, NICE equips teachers with the ability to create cooperative learning classrooms where students work together for a purpose, fostering interdependence among students, collective problem solving, and shared goals. This approach has positive effects on students’ learning by catering to different learning styles and preparing students for personal and professional success.

Communication skills are fundamental to productive interactions. Teachers will be able to support and maximize students’ ability to express complex ideas and emotions, they will be able to teach students to separate difference of opinion from personal attack, helping them learn to express themselves while maintaining respect for others, and minimizing defensiveness among peers. This will create safe classroom environments where students become more comfortable with self-expression and will be more motivated to explore new concepts and engage in dialogue.Affirmation builds on cooperation and communication to help participants feel positive about themselves and others. NICE’s approach validates each individual’s contribution and highlights strengths and commonalities. Educators can use check-in activities, opening and closing ceremonies every day or every class. These rituals create a sense of routine and emotional caring that can help students transition from the chaos of the hallways to the more focused and intentional learning environment of the classroom.

Conflict resolution principles frame conflict as an expected, natural part of life and a pathway to growth, learning, and connection. NICE conflict resolution activities help participants expand their “toolbox” of strategies for responding to conflict; teachers will both learn these skills and how to bring them into the classroom and pass them on to their students. Having a system for conflict resolution in place for the classroom can have several benefits: it will reduce the amount and intensity of the conflicts that occur, it will help students build useful skills to solve their own problems, and it will promote a deeper sense of community among students.

Bias Awareness and Bullying Prevention and Intervention is key in understanding and responding to conflict. NICE activities create a safe environment in which participants explore and celebrate their cultures; examine personal, cultural, and institutional forms of bias; and develop strategies to effectively respond to bias. Bullying prevention and intervention: Participants learn definitions of types of bullying behaviors including physical bullying, name calling, relational aggression and many types of cyberbullying. Sessions include practice in responding to various bullying situations. The interrelationship between bias and bullying is examined.

Creative problem-solving skills enable participants to generate creative solutions to conflict. In addition to learning to develop social contracts within classroom communities, teachers will effectively address the inevitable infractions of community agreements by finding creative solutions to classroom problems. Educators will model and help develop self-control in emotionally charged situations and they will guide the use of effective communication.

Mediation: NICE’s training will equip teachers with the ability to educate students in how to describe what they feel and want, take in the perspective of others, generate options that are mutually acceptable solutions, and select options that are mutually convenient and/or acceptable. The classroom community learns to deal with conflict constructively, thoughtfully, and deliberately; these advanced skills contribute to a more peaceful, cooperative and focused student learning environment.

Restorative Practices: Teachers will understand the range of restorative practices being used in schools, when to apply them, and how they help with classroom management. Key points: (1) Restorative practices assist with social-emotional learning and reduce classroom disruption; (2) Developing deeper relationships with and among students provides a solid basis for creative problem solving; (3) Empowering students to take ownership in the classroom helps them to take ownership throughout the school community (and beyond).

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Teachers will understand how the various cultural backgrounds of their students play into students’ motivation and thinking processes in the classroom.  By acknowledging and embracing these cultural differences, teachers will begin to create an equitable classroom culture where all learners are engaged. Participants will learn more about their own and other cultures and, learn more about types of bias they have experienced and learn from others’ stories about how different biases are similar and different.