Bully Intervention and the Power of Circles. Guest Post by Matthew Kuehlhorn

Today’s post is provided by my friend Matt, we met through social media at first, he’s providing some great reflection on Circles in Schools.  Check out his work athttp://middleschoolcounselor.com/  I recommend his book Bully, if you work with teens!


Bullying Intervention and the Power of Circles

My literal stumble into <a href=http://www.middleschoolcounselor.com>teaching about bullying</a> was prompted with a colleague of mine, who is a Middle School Counselor, when she told me she wanted a book that taught Restorative Justice to her students.  Back then my reply was “Restorative Justice, what’s that?”

The journey began on that day and has not stopped since.  That was in 2008.  Since this time I have had several conversations with industry leaders, Kris Miner being one of them, attended international and regional conferences, and read up on research and additional literature regarding restorative justice use, primarily in the schools.

What I love about the stories and the process is using the Circle.  Sitting down with people in a circle brings so much power to any situation.

I am an experiential educator and have taught for twelve years now.  I began my career in the outdoor classroom guiding classes through five day expedition trips.  I would teach about ecology, biology, and other academic focuses while also teaching outdoor skills.  We had to address relationships in our days as there was no Principal’s office to send students to when conflicts arose.

We used circles multiple times a day.  We sat around fires, we had group meetings, we made decisions, and we resolved conflict all in circle.  In the outdoors this is how people naturally congregate.

When working in a classroom I do enjoy circles still and will oftentimes find a way to get students working together within a circle.  Though desks can be awkward, we will stand, or arrange, the room before student’s arrival.

When students get into a circle I immediately notice a change.  Everyone is seeing the other students and the circle brings equalization to the room that was not there before.  The circle arrangement alone can offer prevention to behavior disruptions and relationship conflicts.  This can occur before any facilitation!

The next piece I incorporate with circles is a conversation around guidelines.  Many schools bring in Positive Behavior and Support (PBiS) programs which I really do love.  The PBiS model, as I understand it from a conversation with the Colorado State Director, is simply training students in guidelines for the school.  This is broken down into how we act in the bathroom, hallways, classroom, etc.  Then the teachers and coaches train the kids in these guidelines and good result follow.  What I find limiting to this model is that the guidelines are created by teachers, administrators and perhaps students from one year’s class (or partial class).  A more effective way to engage and empower the students you are working with now is to enroll them in the creation of their own classroom’s guidelines.

Once this is established, which may take three or more meetings to get detailed out, students and teachers have a system by which to hold themselves and others accountable.  Therefore, when Thomas steps out of line with the guidelines that he helped to created and signed off on, someone in the classroom can point this out to him and everyone knows exactly what the next steps are.  Thomas is not removed from the classroom and people learn to make mistakes, be accountable and take corrective actions.

This is all powerful prevention.

Bullying Intervention is built on top of this system.  When circles are used regularly, students and teachers learn about people’s needs.  When a person is bullying another there is an underlying need which is a driving force for the action.  It can certainly be a learned skill and under that skill is a need to prove oneself or to be accepted by another person.  The needs of people must be uncovered before bullying can be addressed and intervention successful.

Building a framework with circles is the powerful solution to being proactive and reactive when addressing bullying.  Regular use of circles can build community in the classroom that promotes people’s success, supported by every community member.