Questions to consider when choosing a Circle keeper or trainer

Nancy Riestenberg, the Prevention Specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education, has developed the following suggestions for people who have come to her over the years asking for referrals for a restorative justice or Circle trainer. Naturally, many of these questions are relevant if you are seeking a Circle keeper as well. She writes:

When looking for a restorative justice trainer, consider the following:

Be clear on what you want.

  • Who do you want to be trained, and in what method?
  • Do you want the participants in the training to learn about restorative conferencing, Circles, or panels to repair harm?
  • Do you want the participants to be able to use Circles in the classroom or in a program to build community, to problem-solve, and to teach?
  • Will the participants be volunteers? High school students? Faculty? Administrators and staff? Law enforcement? Family members? A mixed group?

Check into the trainer’s experiences and practices.

If you are working in schools, find out:

  • Does the trainer have experience training educators and people who work with schools?
  • Does the trainer understand the role of a school liaison officer?
  • Is the trainer familiar with the landscape of education—things such as alternative learning centers, special education programs, and AYP?
  • Is the trainer familiar with either school bullying prevention programs or the ways in which restorative practices can be used to prevent bullying?
  • What experience does the trainer have facilitating responses to bullying incidents or consulting with educators who address bullying incidents using restorative measures?
  • Does the trainer have some familiarity with integrating RJ practices and philosophy in existing social-emotional learning or prevention programs?
  • What experience does the trainer have addressing workplace conflicts or school staff conflicts?  

What experience does the trainer have as a practitioner?

  • Who trained the trainer?
  • Who are the trainer’s favorite RJ thinkers, writers, or researchers? What did the trainer learn from these people?
  • How long has the trainer worked in the area of restorative justice?
  • What other related fields have they worked in, such as criminal justice, law enforcement, teaching, educational administration, community organizing, student support services, social work and counseling, medicine, youth work, mediation, or theology?


Discuss how trainers evaluate their work, and seek others who could provide evaluations.

  • Ask for references—someone who has worked with the trainer in the past or who has attended his or her training. Call the references.
  • How do the trainers use their evaluations? Can they give an example of changing or enhancing a training based upon the feedback they received from participants?
  • Talk to more than one trainer, just for a comparison.


Of course, you need to work out the details of setting up a training.

  • Request or draw up a letter of agreement.
  • How much is the training fee?
  • What are the expenses? This may include travel, accommodations, and per diem for the trainer. It may include materials for the training, such as copies, handouts, books, rocks, feathers, magic markers, paper plates, snacks, lunch, or breakfast.
  • How many days is the training? Most trainers recommend some version of three to four days for conferencing, and four days for Circles. This can be four days in a row or over time. Ask them to explain why they train over the amount of time they do.
  • What kind of training room is needed? Is it important that there be breakout rooms for small group practice of Circle keeping?
  • How should the training room be equipped? Some trainers use a power point and screen, tables, and an open space; others want a room with fifteen chairs in a circle. More equipment does not necessarily mean more value. Trainers differ in their use of technology.
  • Make a contingency plan for snowstorms in the winter if you live in the Midwest.

Broader logistics

Restorative justice and Circle trainings are mostly experiential and provide a significant educational experience.

  • Check to see if the training is organized in such a way that everyone can practice facilitating a conference or keeping a Circle.
  • If the training goes on over a series of months, will there be assignments between the meetings?

Check to see if they can offer continuing education credits for faculty, student support staff, or administrators, or POST credit for law enforcement.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Williams