The circle; a closed plane curve consisting of all points at a given distance from a point within it called the center.
The definition is lacking and in no way encapsulates my own personal relationship with the simple shape or its significance to cultures around the world. The circle is associated with inclusion, wholeness, unity, nurturing, cycles, perfection, everything, womb, centering, infinity and completeness.
As a drama student, it became an everyday norm to sit in a circle before beginning our warm ups. I never once considered that by simply sitting in a circle I was participating an activity that would shape my perception of education and my abilities to be a positive communicator. This realization was nothing special; it’s old news that talking circles are indicative of open learning and communication. The First Nations people of North America understood the power of a communal circle and slowly but surely western society is coming around to the idea of one very important practice known as restorative justice.
The First Nations Pedagogy Online website does a much better job than I ever could of explaining the importance and function of the circle…
Talking Circles or Circle Talks are a foundational approach to First Nations pedagogy-in-action since they provide a model for an educational activity that encourages dialogue, respect, the co-creation of learning content, and social discourse. The nuance of subtle energy created from using this respectful approach to talking with others provides a sense of communion and interconnectedness that is not often present in the common methods of communicating in the classroom. When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction.
Talking Circles originated with First Nations leaders – the process was used to ensure that all leaders in the tribal council were heard, and that those who were speaking were not interrupted. Usually the Chief would initiate the conversation, with other members responding and sharing their perceptions and opinions of the topic under discussion. The process provides an excellent model for interaction within the learning environment as well. It is also very adaptive to any circle of people who need to discuss topics and make decisions together.
…Several varied objects are used by different First Nations peoples to facilitate the talking circle. Some peoples use a talking stick, others a talking feather, while still others use a peace pipe, a sacred shell, a wampum belt, or other selected object. The main point of using the sacred object, is that whoever is holding the object in their hand has the right to speak. The circle itself is considered sacred. First Nations people observed that the circle is a dominant symbol in nature and has come to represent wholeness, completion, and the cycles of life (including the cycle of human communication). As well, many talking circles were traditionally “opened” through a prayer and smudging. A sacred space was facilitated by these reverent acts and observances.
As an educator, I believe in the power of the circle and the lesson it teaches about respect through its traditional processes. This is the first post of many in which I plan to investigate the uses of talking circles and restorative circles in education.
Do you have experience with talking circles or restorative circles? How did you feel before during and after the process? What resources can you share?