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Volume 3, Number 2, February 2003

Teaching and Learning in Circle
(Page 7 of 9)

Beyond the Classroom: Circles and Peacemaking in the School Community

In its January 2002 Newsletter, Catholic School Management identifies four "characteristics of a non-violent Christian Community." They are:

  • Respect: for ourselves, for others and for our relationship to all of creation.
  • Understanding: active listening for the sake of learning, of hearing another point of view.
  • Acceptance: recognizing and acknowledging the differences…among human beings.
  • Peacemaking and Creative Problem Solving: Confronting oppression in all its forms (including name-calling, teasing, insulting, disrespectful behavior, etc. as passive forms of violence) and doing it in a grace-full way.

Circles foster all of these values. At Mount Saint Joseph Academy we have begun to use the Circle Process in other aspects of School Life:

In May of 2002 a significant part of the "rising senior" retreat was done in Circle. The day began and ended in full circle as the class explored their personal gifts and the gifts they offered the school community. In smaller circles they explored two of the "Four Agreements."

We have also begun to use the Circle process for conflict resolution. In the 2001/2002 academic year four seniors went through the training at ROCA and facilitated seven Circles of Understanding to attempt to help students resolve interpersonal difficulty.

The following is a quote from one of these four seniors.

I had the privilege of being trained in conducting a circle last October so I can say a little about running them too. This process isn’t just a seating arrangement. It is a difficult task to undertake because it takes such an immense amount of effort and time to come to a conclusion by following the rules of the circle. It also requires a specific type of person to run them. They need to be incredibly patient and infinitely wise. They need to be open to new ideas, free of all prejudice, and extremely understanding. I tried to run some circles and found it frustrating and draining at times because the participants kept reverting back to negative behaviors that they have acquired. Speaking out of turn and harshly toward the other people in the group were common mistakes, but when they listened and took turns they were empowered to resolve their misunderstandings.

Hypothetically, if the world were to be run using this process, crime rates would fall dramatically and there would be elimination of war. It is a powerful tool and should be utilized. (Student evaluation, June 2002)

In a "healing circle" or "circle of understanding" disputants move toward reconciliation, empowered by active listening, from advocacy to inquiry. In every one of the Circles the participants have reported satisfaction and, surprise at how well it has worked. This doesn’t mean that all of the Circles brought about a resolution of the issues that caused the harm – but at least the participants felt that they got to speak and that they were listened to.

I taught forty juniors last semester. At the end of the semester I presented the opportunity to attend four days of Circle Training at ROCA. Those who completed the training would be the core team for conflict resolution for next year. Twenty-seven of the forty applied for the training. Three were chosen and completed the training in July. We hope to get several more of them into trainings during the school year.

As we move the Circle process out of one classroom and into other aspects of school life we begin to impact the entire system – moving toward shared vision and the development of a complete learning community.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence 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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