In the Circle: Building Connections

January 5, 2015

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.  

There's something about the tight structure of the circle, the simplicity of sitting around a meaningful center piece, facing each other fully, while passing a talking piece around from one person to the next.  There's something about the container that is created as people listen to others tell their stories, share perspectives and experiences of themselves and their communities.  Circles provide a space where everyone has a chance to share of themselves in personal and sometimes profound ways.  Circles promote connection, understanding and in some cases healing—all things, I believe, we need more of in our schools as well as in our world at large.

Just before the holidays we invited the parents at one of my schools for a holiday circle and party.  We had hoped to host between 20 and 30 people. What we didn't anticipate was the number of kids our families would bring with them, and I'm not just talking about the students at the school.  We ended up with over 50 people, ranging in age from 2 to over 80.  

We had parents, grandparents, students, graduates, younger brothers, sisters and other relatives in the circle.  It was amazing to see families spill into the space at the Red Hook community center in Brooklyn.  We quickly ran out of chairs and ended up with the smaller children in our laps to allow for more people to join. 

After providing people with an introduction to circles and how they are used at the school, we asked them to simply reflect on the images in the center piece representing the holidays.  We then sent the talking piece around, inviting people to share their thoughts and feelings about this time of year.  

What unfolded was beautiful. 

There were stories of loss and longing but there was also the loving gratitude of the family reunited with their son who had come home from the military just earlier that week.  Having been deployed abroad, he shared his deep appreciation of family and home.  We heard about a father, who had been the keeper of his family's Christmas traditions.  He had died a few years back leaving a void that was especially present for his daughter during the holidays.  There were money woes and families who weren't able to travel to be with their loved ones. A middle school student dreamed of a better world and there were several little ones who shared their excitement of holiday gifts or simply played with the talking piece before passing it on. Everyone in the circle was acknowledged, young and old, by having the talking piece go around from one person to the next.
The circle held the sadness, pain, joy and excitement of the holidays. It held the larger school community in a beautiful way, connecting us all.