Information based on “How Circles Work” from Circle Forward by Kay Pranis and Carolyn Boyes-Watson
Essential Elements of Constructing the Circle
The visible structure of the Circle is built on the foundation of our shared values and the core beliefs that everyone is worthy of respect and that everyone desires to be connected to others in a good way. The Circle’s structure creates the space to encourage all participants to speak their truth respectfully to one another on an equal basis and to seek a deeper understanding of themselves and others. These structural elements include:
- Seating all the participants in a circle (preferably without any tables)
- Mindfulness moment (to calm the amygdala and become present)
- Opening (ceremony/ritual/routine)
- Centerpiece (for focus and to represent our work together—can be optional)
- Talking Piece
- Identifying Values
- Generating guidelines (common agreements for behavior) based on the values
- Guiding questions
- Agreements by consensus (if the Circle is making decisions together)
- Closing (ceremony/ritual/routine)
Creating Balance in the Process
The Circle process is divided into four equal parts based on the framework of the Medicine Wheel. The four parts must operate in balance – the four parts of Circle, and the four parts of us as human beings. In Circle dialogue, this means that time is spent on getting acquainted and building relationships before moving on to exploring the issues and developing plans.
In a school setting, getting acquainted and relationship building usually occur over time in many smaller Circles (Community Building). Without relationship building, dealing with difficult issues will be less successful, regardless of the method used. In order to repair harm (which ultimately is always to relationships), and restore these relationships, there must be a community to restore individuals to.
Make sure you allow time for each quadrant. In the case of a Circle to build community such as a Check-in Circle at the beginning of class…you are laying groundwork for the day. Even though you may not choose to teach your class in Circle…essentially the class time becomes the third and fourth quadrants – Addressing Issues and Taking Action. When a class period, or a Circle is not successful, check to see whether you made adequate time at the beginning for relationships.
Planning the Specifics of the Circle
- Who will be part of the Circle?
- What time?
- What will be the Talking Piece?
- What will be in the Center?
- What opening (ceremony) will be used? (A reading; an activity?)
- What question will be used to generate values for the Circle?
- If the group already has identified values, what value will you revisit? How?
- What question will be used to develop the guidelines (common agreements)?
- If the group already has established their guidelines, do you need to revisit?
- What question will be used for an introduction or check-in round?
- Is there a need for further relationship building before getting into the issue (purpose) of the Circle? If so, how will that be done? (One way is through stories: either through reading a story and then having a round to offer insights or sharing our own stories)
- What question(s) will be used to begin the dialogue about the key issues?
- What further questions might be useful if the group is not getting deeply enough into the issues?
- What questions will be used to begin crafting an agreement if that is necessary in the situation?
- What question will be asked for a final, closing round?
- What closing (ceremony) will be used? (A reading; an activity?)