This post contains some recommendations for those of you using Circle process in a school or classroom setting. You will want to develop the students awareness of the process. By using Circles to “build” community you prevent harm. The more you know about someone the less likely you are to hurt them. Hurt people hurt others. Community Circles can help students process their hurts. Conflict resolution circles, are specific to hurts that have developed.
You cannot hold someone accountable if you don’t have a relationship. Building relationships is crucial to everything we do. Relationships influence us, even if they are at different degrees. Relationships of influence are ones from Consequential Strangers (other CS posts) to family members. By building up relationships and using Circle, you create a safe space to talk about the difficult topics. Students get a feel for processing in an equal and structured setting. This is very different from other types of settings. You infuse the non-judgement. You reinforce this container (circle) is strong. Someone recently commented that although Circle can be similar to an AA meeting, the part for him that was very different was the non-judgment. He explained that in AA you worry about what you are going to say as your turn approaches, and after you worry if what you said was “good” enough. Several heads nodded at that comment. Being in a space where we aren’t judging each other allows us a sense of value and acceptance. Have you ever known anyone who didn’t like feeling valued and accepted?
You can gather a group together and do a conflict resolution circle – prepare parties ahead of time. Do the “pre-conferencing” or pre-circle work. I have posts here at Circlespace that address that skill. To go to fully implemented, to use the Circle as a classroom tool, to be a fully active Restorative Practices, Restorative Measures, Restorative Action school, you should be doing the process on all levels. PBIS triangle here, or public health model: universal, selected, indicated.
The other import aspect of using Circles consistently is to be consistent in the approach and using the stages. You can slightly modify the stages, however you still need to be using the values in the first stage. If you are doing community building Circles, the third stage of addressing issues, can simply be a focus on a value, or having students share about their classroom community.
Familiar breeds comfort, and our comfort level with something leads to being our true and authentic selves with it. By doing community building Circles, you also build up your habits as a good Circle keeper. If you rush into doing a conflict resolution circle and it doesn’t go well, you can set back the implementation process. Building up the process for success helps it on many different levels.