Practitioner Interview with Linda Wolf, Executive Director Teen Talking Circles. (there will be a link back to your bio on the TTC website) I met Linda in May 2006, she facilitated a Sacred Circle Retreat in Yelapa Mexico. Linda’s been doing this work since 1993, her books are excellent and you’ll enjoy her website.
Kris: Linda, thank you so much for taking the time do to a blog interview with me. Can you share what orginally drew you to the Circle process?
Linda: I was fearful for my daughters coming into their teen years and wanted to do something to help them and help me figure out how to be there for what I saw as possibly being as difficult for them in the ways that it was difficult for me. I thought about it a long time when it came to me to do a book for them, inviting a lot of the women who’d helped me through my teen years and afterwards to be part of the project. We started a “focus group” to focus on the issues girls would want in the book as we moved forward. That was to last 10 weeks before writing the book. But the girls wanted the circle to continue, they loved it so much, that we just didn’t stop. Now, it’s nearly 16 years later. The book came out and brought a lot of other people to us who wanted to know how we did it. So we created a training to help them start circles in their communities. And it just kept growing.
Kris: For someone just beginning, what suggestions do you have for developing a deeper understanding of the process?
For someone who is just beginning to do Circle reading our books as well as the great books out there is a wonderful idea. Kay Prantis’s book on Circle is a great source. Simple and profound. Our Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Handbook is really chock a block full of everything one would need to know to start a circle of any kind. Talking with other women or men who are in a circle is good. Anyone can phone me up and I’d be glad to demystify the process! 206-842-3000.
Kris: What words do you have for a teacher that would start using this in a classroom setting?
Linda: That’s very particular. I would suggest that the teacher learn about Compassionate Listening(sm) and talk with other teachers in schools around the country who have brought C.L. Into the classroom. I know of a few I can suggest. You don’t need to invent the wheel, so connect with other teachers and schools where Circles are happening. We have resources lists of them that you can get from our website. www.teentalkingcircles.org. For example, the Puget Sound Community School heard about our circles when our first book came out, Daughters of the Moon Sisters of the Sun: Young Women and Mentors on the Transition to Womanhood. The school brought a group of girls to the book reading we had in Seattle and then started doing Circle at school. That was 1998 and since then the school uses circle processes daily or whenever needed. I think it’s really important to ask others doing Circle in schools how they are doing it and what the pitfalls are because there are really different criteria for doing them outside institutional settings and doing them inside. You can contact Andy at email@example.com for information about the Puget Sound Community School.
Kris: Do you have a favorite Circle story for us?
Linda: I suppose I have to mention this one. We started circle one afternoon and one girl was missing and had not called us to say she wasn’t coming. It was a middle school girls circle that has been ongoing for a couple years. About 1/2 way through circle she arrived pretty upset. She had gone to a local store near where we met and stolen some bracelets that all the girls were wearing at the time, bangles…she’d been caught and she’d been at the police station with her parents. Needless to say we all stopped “check-in” and listened to her. After she told her story, a couple other girls admitted they had stolen the same jewelry from the same store and other stores in the same complex and showed us their wrists. Suddenly a number of girls came forth and admitted that they had also stolen jewelry. My co-facilitator and I were really surprised. We inquired what caused these girls to steal from local small stores? Why did they feel they needed it so badly? What was causing them to feel that they would rather give up their integrity for the object? We spent the next 1/2 hour dissecting all the reasons, not making anyone wrong, just listening to the unraveling of their stories and how connected their actions were to the feeling that they needed that jewelry to make them feel good about themselves in the face of other people at school. Pretty clearly everyone realized how absurd it was because they all had a lot of guilt that even tho it was shoved in the back of their minds really was there. We talked about what this did to the fabric of our community to injure the women who owned these stores. I suggested they take off all the jewelry that they had on which was stolen and we walk up the street and give it back. So we did. That night I invited the girls to bring everything they had stolen over to my house and we’d box it up and send it back to the stores. We did this. A month later, I received a letter congratulating me and our organization from the office of juvenile justice in my community saying that they had never seen anything like this before. It was a first. They credited our circle process and our work as the factor that had made this impact.
Kris: How do you think being a Circle facilitator and trainer has impacted you personally?
Linda: I’ve learned just as much as anyone else in Circle about how to hold sacred space, how to care for myself, how to be transparent and vulnerable even when I make a mistake or feel ashamed about myself and how deeply this heals me and forwards me in all the possibilities of my life. I’ve grown to be a much less defensive listener when I’m in conflict, and my ability to hold all sides of an issue or all perspectives –even those I don’t agree with- has improved vastly. I have let go of so many issues that have dogged me and kept me stuck. I’ve come to love myself so much more and in so much better and more whole way. I’ve been so blessed to be in circles and be able to heal issues from my own teen years with teens themselves. I feel deeply blessed that the girls and the guys who have been in my circles have let me into their lives. It has been one of the greatest things I’ve done with human beings other than my family. It’s brought so much joy to me and so much depth. I love training others also. To see them open to this process and have the successes that I’ve had is heartening. Right now I’m feeling really good about my work because there is a new generation of women and men doing it with our nonprofit…some of whom were teens in circles themselves! But right now not only have my whole board of directors (except 2 people), and staff done our facilitator’s training, but we have our own Women’s and Men’s adult circles…so we have really brought this into our daily lives in a huge way. PS what I appreciate most of all is that my family has all done circle and we do circle together and Compassionate Listening whenever we need it. To know that when there is something we need to communicate about with each other that we have a way to do it that brings us closer 100% of the time is really very special.
Kris: thank you so much, I can’t wait to see you again. Keep up the work, you’re amazing.
Linda: I so love you. Thank you for asking me to do this.