When I was in Ohio a few weeks back, I visited four different middle schools that recently started implementing circles. I had been asked to do some modeling, so that teachers and counselors who were expected to run circles with their students could get a sense of what a well facilitated circle process looks like. I wasn’t making any promises about what these circles would achieve, because I didn’t have a relationship with any of the students and there’s only so much that’s possible in a first-time circle.
In the Circle
A few weeks ago in Ohio, several of the teachers I was coaching raised a concern I’ve heard before. It’s about handling student emotions in a circle. “Was it safe to raise emotional issues in a circle?” these teachers asked “After all, they weren’t therapists.”
I’m not trained as a therapist either, I explained. Also, circles aren’t necessarily about raising emotions. Having said that, though, I think it’s in important to keep in mind that we all experience feelings, some of them more pleasant than others. It’s part of what it means to be human.
Introducing mindfulness into the middle school classroom has been an interesting endeavor for me this year. Mindful awareness (attending to the here and now, being fully present, with intention and curiosity, trying not to judge) is challenging for most people. It certainly has been for me.
I was working in Warren recently, a city hard hit by layoffs and shutdowns in the Ohio Rust Belt. One of the 8th grade teachers asked me if I could model a circle in her classroom. She was interested in engaging her students in a different way.
I recently heard the educator and writer Parker Palmer talking about silences with Courtney Martin on NPR’s On Being. Palmer said that we need to “learn to listen deeply to each other…and ask honest, open questions to hear each other into speech.” We need to create a safe space where this can happ
To say I've had powerful experiences using restorative circles in schools is an understatement. Circles are radically changing the way staff and students interact with each other at some of my schools.
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