A recent comment mentioned a struggle when someone in a Circle consistently declines or is not moving at the same pace. I work really hard at keeping the Circle equally engaged. Here are some thoughts regarding equal engagement in Circle.
I teach and train keepers of Restorative Justice Circles, to promote equality in dignity and worth. This means in language and speech about describing the Circle. Saying phrases that might seem cheesy, yet promote this sense of community and connection. For example “lets sit equal distance from the Center” , “next to each other, knees and shoulders”, “if we were a tire we would go down the road smooth and round”. If you request it kindly, gently and from a good heart, people hear it that way. There are other ways to promote within the space, making sure if you are in the room you are in the Circle. Not having a different chair, or some people using bean bags. I co-create with the space I have, moving furniture if needed.
When explaining the talking piece I talk about equal opportunity, because it will be going around the entire Circle. I speak to sharing, explaining I am looking for a word or phrase. I also move deeper and explain the second stage, looking for a paragraph or two. A skilled Circle teacher I know will even address it kindly and inclusively outside of Circle. She’ll approach the student, state her observation (without judgement) “I noticed we didn’t get to hear any of your stories, maybe next time” or state that she hopes to hear these.
The next thing I teach and train, is to monitor the emotional climate, making it safe for everyone to share. I am a firm believer in role modeling and honoring the talking piece as the keeper. If not, you are not promoting that equality and equity that a Circle provides. The Circle does the work, not the facilitator, and facilitator is specifically a word I do not use. If people pass or elect not to share. In a respectful way, I reframe a bit, “here’s a question we can all answer”. Don’t move on without engagement of the entire Circle. Create safe space. Always create safe space.
I recommend that schools do community building circles first. This means holding Circles to model and teach the process. This means taking time to get people close and connected. Follow the PBIS triangle, and get the skills before addressing a potentially or harmful event.
Treat and encourage each and every person to be the strongest edge of the Circle, teach and know that each person is contributing to the Center of the Circle in their very unique and individual way. When the Circle works, like spokes to the Center, and the distance between each person and the Center is equal, amazing things happen.
This model held and practices, teaches an individual responsibility. It strengthens each students relationship with themselves by the bolstering the skills of speaking and listening. In turn each student engages, every voice is heard. When there is equality in participation, there is equality in engagement and community is built.
It seems like a lot of effort, or these Circle take a long time. It can be done quickly and effective when this (equality/connection) is the context of who you are and what you represent. Circlekeeping is a more than just a skill-set you turn off and on, Circlekeeping is how you relate to others.