• Renee Farrell

I Will Talk About Me: Using the Restorative 'I' Message

Article Writer: Renee Farrell

Blog Editor: Mark Barry

As I explored the concepts of restorative justice through my graduate course, I experienced strong emotions. Though there are many reasons for these emotions, I will focus on how my socio-economic status has made me feel vulnerable. It still defines me and is a part of me. I fight against my instincts to write from an objective and detached point of view. A traditionally academic point of view is my default but as Graveline helped me understand, that would result in “doing the very thing that I have identified in myself as being oppressive -…avoiding talking about anything that made me feel a little uneasy” (p. 144.). So I will talk about me. I will use the “Restorative ‘I’ Message” as a framework to approach what I have learned so far:

(Hopkins, p. 176.)


I am a product of a single mother and I grew up in dire poverty, but I have always fought against stereotypes of “white trash” and of being seen as someone who needs help in order to succeed. People do not want to be seen as an “object of need” and I do not believe in any institution that claims to be a “vehicle through which poor children could be saved” (Noguera, p. 5.) I have always felt that personal and first-hand experience were the greatest of teachers and it resonates with me that RJ “recognizes that each individual case is unique and brings with it a unique set of challenges and learning opportunities” (Anfara et al, p. 57.) It aligns with my own values in that everyone has their own experiences and their own perspectives and it is these unique properties of the self that need to be explored.


The questions “how has this affected me?” and “what do I need?” reflect a deep understanding of the fundamental first step of RJ: that we are humans, not objects; that “we are worthy and interconnected” (Vaandering, 2019) rather than obligated to some greater whole of humanity because we are the same species. Though the individual experience of the human condition is so vastly different, we can all relate to and feel bridges of connection in our experiences, even when they are not the same. Noguera’s example of grandmothers in schools may not speak a universal truth about all of our relationships with our grandmothers but then again, maybe it does. Perhaps we can have a shared loss of a loved one (shared by students in our class) or be worried about self-harm or suicide like the boy who brought a loaded gun to school because he was worried about losing his father. We are parents or grandparents, or aunts and uncles or teachers who are fiercely committed to the children in our lives. We can start here, at the connections that already exist between us and walk on these bridges toward one another.


Restorative justice “must ask difficult questions about how things come to be, whose interests are served, and what school and community structures are perpetuating harm” (Anfara et al, p. 60.) I am proud and I have always made my own way in the world and set my own path, but most people from my childhood neighborhood are not as blessed as I have been with education and success. My people don’t beat the system—they join it. They carry their hardship on their backs and in their minds and their self-talk is negative and their coping strategies are negative and they suffer in addiction and pain. And sometimes, they die and they never have a chance because they were never given a chance. Not everyone, of course, but so many of them.


I know myself in that I am a “fixer” and I feel compelled to help when I see that harm has occurred. But how do you help someone who has lost someone in death? How do you solve an addiction that is not your own? Repair dignity? Restore innocence? Or fix someone whose body is broken beyond repair? What then? I too need to unlearn the “activist mentality” and “stop competing, analyzing or trying to change or ‘fix’ [people]” (Graveline, p. 147) and instead learn how to be a “witness” to the telling of their truth. I need to be a witness to my own truth as well. I need to focus on the relationship rather than the behavior in order to open myself up to the possibility of connection without measuring these truths and focus on “what happened NOT why” (Vaandering, 2019.) This is the hardest part for me because I want the answers to WHY. Why did this happen? Why can’t they do something different? Why does it have to be this way? But I rarely get answers, and I never get any satisfaction from them if I do.


I can only concur with Absolon (1994) in Graveline (2003) when they say that “there are no quick recipes for zapping sacred knowledge into the essences of who we are” (p. 140.) I think that learning how to be restorative will likely be a lengthy process for me, but one that is necessary. What I have learned so far is that it takes courage and repetition and persistence and practice. I want to be brave and I want to share. But I also want to listen and to witness. I think that I still need time to gather up what I want to share and to carefully select words to support my own healing and sense of belonging. I can only hope that when I am ready, there will be a circle. For now, I want to participate in the circle we have and honor those who are ready to share.


Anafara, J., Evans, K. & Lester, J. (2013). Restorative justice in education: what we know so far. Middle School Journal 44(5), pp. 57-63.

Graveline, F. R. (2003). Talking circle as pedagogy. In Circle works: transforming Eurocentric consciousness. Blackwood, NS: Fernwood Publishing, pp. 136-172.

Hopkins, B. (2011). The Restorative Classroom. London: Optimus Press.

Noguera, P. (12 January 1997). Preventing violence in schools through the production of docile bodies: why popular strategies for discipling students have proven to be largely ineffective. In Motion Magazine, pp. 1-14. Retrieved from

Vaandering, D. (2019). Class #3-4-RF’19. [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from

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