3, Number 2, February 2003
and Learning in Circle
(Page 3 of 9)
Elements of a Classroom Circle
classroom circle includes the following elements. They are
adapted from a 1998 Document from the Minnesota Department
of Corrections "Peacemaking Circles: Introduction."
students are the center - not the teacher. All are teachers
- all are learners. From the beginning it is clear. Everyone
has something to offer. There is true equality of opportunity
in a circle. There is no back row, no alphabetical order,
no strategic placement. Responsibility is shared.
The individual is valued within the context of the group.
In Circle the whole really is greater than the sum of
its parts. All of the participants bear responsibility
for and to the Circle.
Circles encourage storytelling. People (and institutions)
are moved more by stories than by data.
For many years when students have come back to visit,
or written to me, it is the stories that we told in class
that they remember. Circles encourage storytelling. Most
of us, if given the opportunity, love to tell stories.
In circle people are in visual contact at all times, they
are focused on the speaker without the distraction of
desks, books, pens and paper, etc. Stories naturally flow
in this environment. The stories build connection among
the learners – setting up a self-reinforcing loop.
The Center. Traditionally the center of the circle marks
the space as sacred. What is put in the center of the
circle should have meaning for the class. One may use
a rug, a mat, a throw, a scarf. In the Day Reporting Center
we had the participants spend time painting and drawing
symbols of themselves on a four- foot square of duck cloth.
For today’s presentation I asked my daughters to
create the mat for the center. In the center of our classroom
circle we have books with thoughts for the opening and
closing, examples of student projects or other work, flowers,
and a jar in which students can contribute thoughts, quotes,
etc. on slips of paper. We also have a Tibetan Singing
Bowl, which a student rings to open class – marking
the time as separate from the rest of the day.
Talking Piece is essential to any circle process.
may be a feather, a stick or anything that has particular
meaning for a community. The talking piece is passed
facilitate and share speaking time. The talking piece
always moves clockwise – in the direction of
the sun. No one speaks without the talking piece.
has the talking piece she may speak, or pass it without
speaking. Everything in the circle is an invitation
silence deserves respect. The talking piece goes around
and around until all have had their say.
holding the talking piece one speaks "from the
with respect for others, briefly enough so that everyone
will have time to speak. One doesn’t "dump
and run".  She
drop a conversational bomb and walk out of the group.
August of 1990, after spending some months on the Chelsea
Revere Peacemaking Planning Committee I was invited to participate
in a four day Basic Circle Training at ROCA Inc. Trainers
were Harold Gatensby, First Nations Leader from the Yukon,
Judge Barry Stuart, Chief Justice of the Yukon Territorial
Court, Don Johnson, Assistant District Attorney from Minnesota,
and Gwen Chandler-Rhivers, Community leader in circles from
Minnesota. Along with Molly Baldwin, Saroeum Phong and Anisha
Chablani from ROCA, they have been my mentors in Circle.
For four days, thirty people - learned about circles and
the possibilities they hold for bringing people together
"in a good way."
the end of the four days I was absolutely convinced that
Circles was the way to go – and had no idea how to
go there. I continued my work on the Peacemaking Planning
Committee, and we began to incorporate Circles into our
group processes at the DYS Day Reporting Center. We began
a weekly talking Circle and I began to facilitate the Anger
Management group in Circle. We observed a marked change
in the tenor of the groups. Anger Management had often compelled
me to work on my own anger issues – I came out of
the group more frustrated and angry than the young people
were when they came in. The use of the talking piece and
the values made for a much healthier process. In October
of that year I participated in a "keeper’s training"
with Kay Pranis. After this experience I felt empowered
to think about doing a Circle in a formal classroom.
late October, while examining the grief process in a Death
and Dying Class at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, I introduced
the concept of circles to the class and suggested a Talking
Circle. The class was amenable to anything outside the norm,
so we tried it. It worked very well. We decided that once
every eight class days we would go to the library and have
class in a circle format. It continued to work well.
project of Campus Conflict Resolution
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo
to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.
send comments, bug reports, etc. to the Editor.
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