When I was in Ohio a few weeks back, I visited four different middle schools that recently started implementing circles. I had been asked to do some modeling, so that teachers and counselors who were expected to run circles with their students could get a sense of what a well facilitated circle process looks like. I wasn’t making any promises about what these circles would achieve, because I didn’t have a relationship with any of the students and there’s only so much that’s possible in a first-time circle.
In the Circle
A few weeks ago in Ohio, several of the teachers I was coaching raised a concern I’ve heard before. It’s about handling student emotions in a circle. “Was it safe to raise emotional issues in a circle?” these teachers asked “After all, they weren’t therapists.”
I’m not trained as a therapist either, I explained. Also, circles aren’t necessarily about raising emotions. Having said that, though, I think it’s in important to keep in mind that we all experience feelings, some of them more pleasant than others. It’s part of what it means to be human.
The news of the police shootings in Dallas on July 6 was still unfolding Friday morning, as I was getting ready to co-facilitate a restorative circle with colleagues at Morningside Center. The circle was to prepare us for the 5-day professional development training we’d be doing with educators over the summer — a new version of our training that includes material on “celebrating identity” and “standing up to oppression.” Extremely relevant, it turned out, in the context of the week’s events.
It was the first time we’d be together after wrapping up a busy school year, in which we’d expanded our restorative practices work exponentially. And it was the last time we’d be together before starting down this path of introducing restorative circles materials that help to celebrate the richness of identities in our school communities while addressing prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination, and exploring ways to stand up to oppression. Facilitating a session on implicit bias and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline would be another first for us at this summer’s training. We had our work cut out for us.
“Everyone is needed for what they bring” is one of the seven core assumptions of restorative circles. We all have stories, perspectives and ideas to enrich each other’s lives. In circles, we are all teachers and we are all learners.
As the talking piece goes around, everyone is invited to speak. The welcoming, equitable process in circles tends to empower students to bring their whole selves to the circle – including their wisdom when it comes to solving problems and “discipline.”
Note: This is the final post in a 3-part series on Trusting the Process. The series describes a four-day training session on restorative circles with a group of around 20 school staff members, some of whom had reservations about the training and the circle process. We hope it will be useful for circle keepers, especially those who are encountering resistance from circle participants. See Part 1 and Part 2.
Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part blogpost. The series describes a 4-day training session on restorative circles with a group of around 20 staff members from a school, some of whom had reservations about the training and the circle process. See Part 1 here.
This is Part 1 of a 3-part blogpost.
The circle process is powerful, transformative at times, but it can also be challenging and time-consuming. For teachers, sharing of themselves in a circle with students can be uncomfortable. Many also worry that the circle process will open up upsetting personal issues students are facing—issues that they as teachers aren't prepared to handle. They aren’t trained therapists, after all (nor am I).
Yet in my experience, adults who are courageous enough to try the process despite these concerns often discover for themselves why circles are worth the discomfort and time. I’ve facilitated circles for almost a decade, and I’ve learned to trust the circle and the people participating in it to address the worries and concerns that we bring to the process.
Much of the power of the circle process resides in the talking piece – the object that we pass in order from person to person around the circle as we invite each person to speak or to pass.
Introducing mindfulness into the middle school classroom has been an interesting endeavor for me this year. Mindful awareness (attending to the here and now, being fully present, with intention and curiosity, trying not to judge) is challenging for most people. It certainly has been for me.
I was working in Warren recently, a city hard hit by layoffs and shutdowns in the Ohio Rust Belt. One of the 8th grade teachers asked me if I could model a circle in her classroom. She was interested in engaging her students in a different way.
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