tify and address harms, needs, and obligations in order to heal
and put things as right as possible.”
The exploration of these principles requires self-reflection on
the part of the learner in order to identify personal areas in which
we do not live restoratively, and to construct living examples for
others. Howard Zehr identifies “Ten Ways to Live Restoratively”
that include taking responsibility when we have caused oth-
ers harm, viewing conflict as opportunity, listening deeply and
addressing injustice in sensitive ways (Zehr, Amstutz, MacRae
and Pranis, 2015, p. 98). Leaders must be familiar with the basic
conferencing models used in restorative practice in order to iden-
tify when they are used at a service site or in the community.
Additionally, leaders should be able to articulate how overly
punitive policies, such as the “War on Drugs” and “Zero Tolerance” discipline in schools, contribute to the growth of the prison
industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline in the United
States (Jones & Mauer, 2013; Wadhwa, 2016). By internalizing
this information, leaders can draw connections with volunteers
when questions about incarceration arise before, during or after
INTEGRATION INTO THE PROGRAM
Next, there are simple, but strategic, ways that leaders can
integrate restorative practice into volunteer programming. A
well-structured, learning based volunteer experience includes
mindful preparation and reflection in order to assist volunteers
to apply their experience to classroom material, spiritual/
personal formation, and everyday life. These are perfect opportunities for facilitators to engage a group through Circle Process.
Circle Process is a structure for storytelling that creates a safe
space for expression. In the words of Kay Pranis, “Every person has a story, and every story has a lesson to offer. In the
Circle, people touch one another’s lives by sharing stories that
have meaning to them.” For first-time and seasoned volunteers alike, personal encounter with poverty and injustice can
be emotionally, intellectually and spiritually challenging. Circles
establish safe spaces in which every person has an opportunity
to speak openly about their experiences. A set of guidelines
should be established before the process begins so that the
group may agree upon how to honor the time and space for
one another. According to Pranis, “The physical format of the
Circle symbolizes shared leadership, equality, connection, and
inclusion. It also promotes focus, accountability and participation from all.” These are important skills for young persons,
especially, to cultivate. In preparation exercises, circles can
be used to voice expectations, fears, hopes, or assumptions
about the encounter.
Unlike faith-based short-term missions, service learning does
not typically emphasize the importance of adequate prepara-
tion. However, Nielsen and Collins describe the risks of volunteer
engagement without proper preparation. “[Teams] may be sin-
cere, but lack the cohesiveness that develops through team
preparation and therefore prone to interpersonal difficulties
and lack of focus. They may also lack cultural sensitivity and an
awareness of their own ethnocentrism […] and have a dimin-
ished capacity to understand the people and their needs.”
Preparation questions to use in a Circle Process might include:
• Why did you decide to participate in this volunteer experi-
• What are you hoping to learn or gain from this experience?
• What do you expect to happen while we are at the
• What fears or concerns do you have going into this
• What is something that you need from the group in order
to feel supported as we volunteer?
Exploring these questions together at the outset builds community and comradery among the group. Particularly if the group
formation is new or young, this helps volunteers get to know one
another and feel safe in what may be an unfamiliar environment.
It will also set a precedent for openness in post-volunteering
When a volunteer assignment is complete, Circle Process can
be used in similar ways for reflection. “Reflection is one of the
most academically rigorous components of a service-learning
course. Students who take the time to reflect on service-learning experiences will get more from those experiences. […]
Reflection helps students thoughtfully process their community work. It helps them critically assess and understand what
they are seeing and doing” (University of Minnesota).
Some general questions that a leader might ask in a post-
activity reflection circle include:
• What went well while volunteering today?
What was one of your favorite parts?
• What was most challenging about today’s volunteering?
• What surprised you about today’s experience?
• What is your biggest “take away” from our time at
the service site?
• What did you learn about yourself through this
Additional questions should address how the volunteer activity related to class or other contextual material. In the event that
an incident arose while at the service site (such as a challenging conversation with a client, or a trigger event that brought
up past trauma), and a volunteer became upset, reflection circles can help the group to process and learn from the incident’s
impact on each person, address needs, and establish safety.
Learning based volunteerism allowed my
peers and I to engage with disparities we
witnessed in our everyday lives, but seldom
discussed in our classrooms.