The Circle Series: What I know and how I use restorative practices… Part 1 of 3

6 Jan

There are three components of restorative practices that are most important to my work…

1)    The Circle

2)    The Restorative Questions

3)    The Talking Piece

Today, The Circle…

Here is what I know and how I apply this practice with youth:

The Circle –

In every gathering, classroom or meeting space, I always have the people involved sit in a circle.  I have facilitated circles as small as five people and as large as sixty people.  I always find the reactions of the participants amusing when they learn we are sitting in a circle.  My students often respond with comments that they are not kindergarten kids, adults often are reluctant and make witty comments about camp fires and sharing feelings.  Regardless of age, everyone hesitates when finding a seat.  In any setting where people gather, I find they will place themselves in the room based on their willingness to participate and their perceived importance within the gathering itself.  For example, how many staff meetings have you been to where the majority of the people attending sit in the back of the room even though the front row of seats or the seats closest to the speaker are available to be sat in?  Why does that happen? Are people uninterested in participating? Are they afraid of being asked to participate? Do they feel unworthy of being so close to the action?

When I work with youth, I often find myself telling them to make a choice and own it.  Do something, don’t do something; it’s up to you because you have the power to make choices and own them.  To me, if you are going to attend a gathering, a class, a meeting, whatever, then you should be there not just physically but also mentally.  This is one reason why I sit everyone in a circle.  There is no hiding away from what it is we are there to accomplish as a group.   There is also no divide in power.  Traditional classrooms have the teacher at the front of the room and the students sitting in rows facing the teacher; office meetings and workshops or lectures often function the same way. When sitting in around a long boardroom table, there is still a clear distinction of roles even though people are sitting in-the-round.  This traditional setting does not allow for conversation or the inclusiveness that circles can provide.  In a circle, there is no distinction between “teacher” and “student” roles.  We are all equal and everyone placed the same distance from the center of the meeting as everyone else.  In a circle, we can see each other and others can see us.  In a circle there is no natural beginning or ending; it doesn’t matter where you sit in the circle.  I think this equality scares people, because there are responsibilities to being part of a circle that do not necessarily exist in a traditional “teacher” and “student” setting.  When you disappear into the density of people sitting in the back of the room, it is much easier to zone out, play on your cell phone or hold a separate conversation without facing the same social repercussions as you would if you engaged in those behaviours while sitting in a circle.  When everyone is sitting in a circle they are forced to not just make the choice to be there both physically and mentally, but to own their chosen behaviour and understand that there are consequences for choosing to not fully participate.  Jill Bolte speaks about her experiences with a stroke in a TED conference talk, where she explains the difference between how our right and left hemispheres of the brain function.  The traditional “teacher” and “student” setting is, in my opinion, a left brained practice because we are individuals, who choose to participate as it suits our needs.  The circle setting is, again in my opinion, a right brain practice because in the circle we are a community, accountable to each other and equal in relationships to one another.

As a drama teacher, I begin all of classes with a circle.  The class begins with a check in, a simple exercise that creates community and empathy among students.  I also conduct lessons in circles because they allow for open discussion and shared learning.

As a program facilitator, I have had to co-organize an orientation night with the purpose of introducing new students to the function and purpose of our program.  Sixty students, parents and facilitators sat in a large circle and participated in community building games which took place in the center of our large circle.

I have facilitated a staff meeting with fifty teachers sitting in a large circle.  We discussed the uses of restorative practices in the classroom and the conversation allowed for a variety of opinions and ideas on education and teacher/student relationships.

This is a picture of me teaching a drama class to thirty kindergarten students at an inner city school in Mississauga.  To some, the idea of engaging thirty 4-6 year olds in drama games would be hell on earth.

In the circle, the students were easy to manage and everyone was involved.  The teachers commented on how open and willing some of their more shy and quiet students were in the circle setting.  They also commented on how shy some of their more lively students became in the larger circle.  Interesting…

Have you participated in a circle? What was the outcome? How did you feel as a participant in the circle?

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