For the Teacher:
Before talking with students about the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA on August 11–12, 2017, it may be helpful to review some of the history and background leading up to this violent gathering of white supremacist groups. Please see this Charlottesville backgrounder.
When upsetting events like these occur, it is important for people to be able to share their feelings, talk, and be heard, in a supportive environment. If your students are familiar with the restorative circle process, this is a powerful format to draw on in times like these.
In a circle process, students sit in a circle. They pass a "talking piece" (any meaningful item, from a string of beads or a shell to a stuffed animal) from one person to another, in order. Whoever has the talking piece is invited to speak, while everyone else is encouraged to listen deeply. A center piece, containing values and other meaningful objects and words, is placed at the center of the circle to serve as a focal point. The circle facilitator (in this case, the teacher) is called the "circle keeper." The keeper is both host and participant. See further circle guidelines here.
If the restorative circle process is not something you or your students are familiar with, set the stage for supportive sharing by setting some guidelines about active listening and speaking from the self; being open and non–judgmental as people speak; and encouraging people to bring their best selves to the space.
As the circle keeper/teacher, it is also important to keep the space free from comments and beliefs that, whether because of ignorance or intolerance, make it unsafe for others in the room. Bigoted, racist, oppressive remarks have no place in the circle, wider classroom or school, and need to be countered immediately.
For ways to counter oppressive behavior, please see Morningside Center's Guidelines for Stopping Oppressive Behavior.
Activity: Reflection Circle
Invite students to take a moment of silence as they think about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11 and 12. What feelings did it bring up for them? Ask them to take an index card and write a feeling or two on it that they experienced in reaction to the events in Charlottesville.
Go Round 1
Ask students to share how they feel about what happened in Charlottesville and explain why. As each student shares their feelings, before passing the talking piece to their neighbor, invite them to place their index card in the center piece. Only when they get back to their seat should they pass the talking piece to the next person in the circle. This allows for a pause after each student has shared, allowing the rest of the circle participants to contemplate the feelings that the events in Charlottesville brought up for those in the circle.
Go Rounds 2 & 3
After the first go round, consider sending the talking piece around again inviting students to share any "connections, reflections and additions" to what they heard from their peers, in a second and/or third go round. This gives students a chance to continue processing feelings brought up by the events in Charlottesville. As the keeper participant, share your own feelings, but also acknowledge the feelings in the room when the talking piece comes back to you. Invite students to remember to breathe as they listen, bear witness, and speak for themselves.
What We Know
Once students have had a chance to share their feelings, reflections and connections, suspend the talking piece and ask students to share what they know about what happened in Charlottesville and the events that led up to it. What has been the fallout since then? Elicit and explain what happened, using some of the information from the Backgrounder as needed.
Moment of Silence
Invite students to take a moment of silence for the people who were injured and lost their lives during the conflict in Charlottesville.
In a final go round, invite students to share: What is one thing you learned today or what is one thing you'd like to learn more about because of today? (If the latter, chart what students want to learn more about and consider finding times throughout the school year to continue learning about these issues and themes.)