Creating learning “containers” with Restorative Justice Circles, two techniques.

I don’t teach spontaneous Circle Keeping.  I teach getting grounded, connected and comfortable with the core values and principles in Circles.  After working to have these with me, I have developed a few activities that lend to utilizing the container, the center of the Circle, to enhance the process.  These also provide participants a chance to experience what Circle is like.  Here are two techniques I might add to a Circle, an old favorite and new one.

Technique 1:  Passing the talking piece, holding it until you feel your silence is heard.  In your non-directive, supportive Keeper role, ask participants to pass the talking piece, staying silent, and only passing it when they feel their silence has been “heard”.  Sometimes I frame this as a group listening exercise, promoting “collective-ness”.  At other times, I might not offer much except the instructions, it depends on the desired outcome of the activity.  I will use it to calm or slow down the emotional climate.   It can be used to promote an awareness of silence.  It also teaches a pathway to feeling “heard”.  You can reinforce that a bit more, by asking a follow up question: how did you know you were heard, or how did you know you were ready to pass the talking piece?  This technique can be used to teach the power of listening.  The focus is on the person holding the talking piece (as when we speak) however, people are learning to focus/listen non-verbally, and we know non-verbal communication is important.  This is a good one to start, to go first and model actually holding the piece and tune in to the feeling of being heard.  This also builds trust in the group, this round gives the keeper opportunity to reinforce a key aspect of Circle, to listen.  It is a good one to do a reflection on the experience, having people share, many times they relate the uncomfortable feeling of it.  The keeper can then remind people, we don’t usually stretch or grow in our comfort zones, so feeling uncomfortable is ok.  It’s even a time for curiosity.

This has proved itself time and time again, I’d say 99% of the time it goes really well.  The 1%, I had a very challenging student group, they didn’t like it.  So I used my chimes and gave them a moment to make all the noises they wanted.  Then we tried the exercise again.  Silence wasn’t safe for this group, we made a step however.

Silence is a good tool to use when keeping Restorative Justice Circles.  Silence is a good prep tool for a keeper and if you are going to use a tool, it is good to get very comfortable with it.

Technique 2: stand up and mime your favorite outdoor activity.  This was invented with the 1% listed above.  I use 4 stages (link to 74 other posts), and when going a bit deeper (into the building relationship stage) if people disengage, I back up to safer questions.  I could see the group getting restless, someone passed.  I know if the brain and the bottom are connected, when the bottom falls asleep so does the brain.  I needed an ‘energizer’ and I needed to build connection.  A bit of “safe-vulnerability” was needed.  Safe-vulnerability in Circle, means a chance to reveal something about your self, yet it is collectively connected and connecting.  The stand up and mime question, allowed us to show we aren’t professional mimes, we got to laugh a bit at ourselves and each other.  Laughter builds connection.  Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

The technique worked with the challenging group of students.  No one passed, I felt the energy and saw the student eyes appreciate the aides and teachers doing the activity.  It was a “safe-vulnerability” because staff and students got to know each other without an overly personal disclosure by the adults.  Building connections that are safe is important to strengthen the Circle.  Vulnerability in a Circle, in an organic and natural way also builds meaningful connections.  Sometimes a deep question or storytelling round brings that out.  Sometimes being vulnerable is just a small risk, and ‘outside the box’ way of being.  Vulnerability is best told by Brene Brown, her site, and TED talk, titled the The Power of Vulnerability.

Do you have “go-to” techniques you use?  If you try one of these let me know how it goes!