and Learning in Circle
(Page 4 of 9)
November and December I began to think about facilitating
one of my classes for an entire semester in circle format.
In the Senior program we have a semester course in Life
Transitions, and I had the idea of facilitating the honors
section in Circle. The day that second semester began
I decided that it wouldn’t be fair to the other
senior class to do one in circle and one at desks. The
second day I decided that it wouldn’t be fair to
my two junior classes to leave them out. By the middle
of the semester I began a campaign to have the desks removed
from my classroom.
the fall of 2001 I began doing my classes at Cambridge
College in Circle. Students coming to the "Violence
in America" course found a Circle set up and me ready
for opening and "check in." Initial responses
ranged from apprehension to wholehearted embrace. The
adult learners were a little more reticent at first. One
asked me if this was somehow related to a cult. By the
end of the first day the support for the process was unanimous
and unqualified. Many of the learners at Cambridge College
had stopped out of the learning process for one reason
or another. Cambridge College puts a special and unique
emphasis on experience. Students at the College bring
a lifetime of learned experience into the classroom. This
called out to be shared in a Circle format. I have continued
to use Circle in all of my courses at Cambridge College.
Several of the students have begun to incorporate Circles
into their workplaces. It was particularly gratifying
to see the concentration bulleting board devoted to the
Circle process this past spring.
this writing I have taught eight high school and five
college courses in Circle. They have all been successes.
Benefits of Teaching and Learning in Circle
learning impacts the mind, the body, the emotions and the
spirit. It involves introduction, trust-building and preparation,
exploration of issues, and moving towards action. Deep learning
moves a person, through creative tension toward harmony
and balance. Deep learning moves people from debate to shared
vision. The learner’s focus shifts from positions
and learning in Circle does all of this. It is student-centered
education that calls out critical thinking skills and higher
thought processes. Students use a talking piece that moves
around the circle in a clockwise direction. The student
who has the talking piece is invited to speak, the students
who don’t have the talking piece are invited to listen.
holds in the circle. This is part of circle tradition, but
is very important to adolescents. What is said in the circle
stays in the circle. This has been breached only twice in
the past two years, and there were repercussions. On a positive
note, I knew that the Circle process had "arrived"
when the principal at the Mount held a student accountable
for "violating the circle."
Parts of the Classroom Circle
there is an undeniable magic to the Circle Process –
good Circles don’t just happen. Just rearranging the
chairs into a Circle and passing a talking piece isn’t
a circle process – it is a classroom management tool.
There also is no magic formula – unless it is "prepare…prepare…
have to be carefully prepared. A teacher can’t just
come to school in the morning without a plan and substitute
a circle. Circles should be logged in a planbook so they
can be modified and refined in future sessions.
my training for Circles one of the major underlying concepts
that helped me understand how to prepare a Circle was the
teachings of the medicine wheel. The Medicine Wheel and
its teachings are explained very well in The Sacred Tree
by the Four Winds Development Project. I am grateful to
Carolyn Edsel of the Suffolk
University Center for Restorative Justice for the following
learning about Circles, four is a sacred number, corresponding
to the seasons of the year, stages of human life, cardinal
directions, races of people, and elements of nature. The
Medicine Wheel, found among most Native American and First
Nations people, teaches the relationships between the
four parts, how they hold each other in balance around
a sacred fire, each following in sequence, and each comprising
an essential part of natural existence.
Medicine Wheel, is not only four, but a cycle of fours.
Within the four ages of human life (childhood, adolescence,
adulthood and senescence), we live the cycle of annual
and personal growth over and over with each year, relationship,
and phase of learning. Each time we participate in a circle,
we go through the four phases of ritual opening/introductions,
check in and sharing, discussing issues, and summary /closing.
At the same time that circle is part of a series of circles,
which has its own, longer relational phases of introduction,
building trust, arriving at issues, and deciding on action."
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.
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