The lasting impact of teaching in Circle

I got this message recently, it’s from one of the students I had in my UWRF Class last semseter.  He gave me a new talking piece, made by his roomate an art major.  He has a class now with our UWRF Intern and Circle classmate:

Hey! Hows everything? Hope the new class is going as well as ours did… I will be coming for a sit in soon. This week is packed full of tests but next week looks better. John has had much to say about the new class even though we all know he’s not a “big” talker. I do believe that he’s opened up a great deal since last years class. We all left class with something. Again, the class was amazing! You can’t teach people the things you did in a “normal” classroom setting. I’m a believer of the circle process and would like to help out in circles outside of class if you need help.
The building of the circle didn’t die simply because we recieved our report cards. You wouldnt believe how much we see each other in our everyday lives. I hang out with John frequently.. if it wern’t for the class I would have never known him. Its nice to sit in our CJ classes now and have 8-10 people sitting around you that you’re comfortable with. The circle lives on!

I can’t think of anything more reinforcing.  The relationships between the students was obvious during our class time together.  I was really amazed at the level of sharing and storytelling the students selected for the last two classes.  The papers they wrote reflecting on the class were equally as moving.  I had the summer off (from teaching at UWRF).  When the next semester started, I saw one of my former students.  She saw me and immediately greeted me with enthusiasm, it was great, we had a warm embrace and she filled me in on her summer.  That really let me know that we had connected.  If you get the opportunity, try teaching in Circle, try Circle keeping for your family discussion.  There is a lasting impact even from just one Circle.

Circles in my week

Here is a review of Circles that I held this week and a few of the outcomes.   I hope that you can pick up some tips or see the power of using this process.  Post an example of your own Circle!

College Class Circle – I have 19 students in my UWRF Class – Introduction to Restorative Justice Class.  This was our 2nd class meeting.  The students had the desks arranged when I arrived.  I unpacked my talking pieces for the Center and brought the plates with values written on them (from the week before).  These plates will be brought out at the start of every class.  We started the class by handing around the plates, and then stating the value and placing the plate in the center.  One of the class assigments is to bring a reading for an opening and closing.  A student selected the MN Public Radio Story “Finding Justice in a Tragic End”.  The story set a really great tone for the Circle, especially with todays topic on the history of restorative justice.  We did a round on how you saw the value you placed in action this week.  Most students were able to formulate a story and I could tell our circle was still “getting acquainted”.  I mentioned some general class related housekeeping items.  I have a “Memory” game that I made.  I put either a date, a person or a place on a set of two paper plates.  So two plates with the same word or date.  I mix them all up and place them in the middle face down and we go around the Circle, taking turns and matching pairs.  It gets the students used to getting up and going to the middle of the Circle, and once you have your “pair” you can sit out of the game.  It is a good ice breaker.  Once all the pairs are picked up (and I keep my pairs to the number of students), we pass the talking piece around and reflect on playing the game.  It’s a safe topic and gets the students used to a self reflection.  There is typically some humor as people share the anxieties.  I then reviewed a photo laden powerpoint, highlighting the dates, the places and the names on the plates.  Our last round of the Circle (for that day) was on what students took from today’s class. 

2nd Grade Circle – I visited a 2nd grade, end of the day Circle.  My co-worker Catherine teaches and utilizes Responsive Classroom and Restorative Justice Circles as part of classroom management and teaching tools.  The children gathered and made a Circle shape easily and quickly (given it was the 3rd week of school).  The Circle guidelines were posted nearby and students started the Circle by responding which guideline they were going work on.  The guidelines included: listening with quite hands and feet, looking at the speaker, etc.  Catherine might do a post for us.  Catherine introduced her guests and then did a round on what students thought was important for guests to know.  I learned who liked to play outside, or with X-box.  We did another round on what the students favorits subject were.  Catherine then closed down the Circle asking students what they were wondering about.  This allowed students to express something they were curious or worried about.  Catherine was able to address these at the end of the Circle.  You could sense relief or a calm, as the students were prepared for the next day at school. 

Victim Offender Conferencing Training – Circle – SCVRJP hosted a volunteer training this week, we held the first session classroom style, and the second session in Circle.  The volunteers wanted to see me role model and holding a Circle was a good way for me to do that.  I briefly explained the process and read an opening, we did values on plates, committed to the values and answered the question: “if you were a flavor of ice cream what would you be?”.  The participants were really open and had explanations to why they selected a particular ice cream.  The first speaker was one of our most experienced volunteers and someone who really respects Circle.  That helped the new college students, in their first Circle see how sharing and listening work for everyone.  We really enjoyed that round because the answers had so much explanation.  We heard from our experienced volunteer, as he reviewed cases and answered questions.  We reviewed more information on handouts.  At the end of the Circle, volunteers wanted to meet again for another training session so we scheduled that.  I was really touched that people were willing to give more time.  We had one member tell us she was holding her first circle the very next day.  When we closed the Circle some of the college students shared how much they enjoyed the time being able to share.  The students were really excited to be part of RJ.  One young person said that the two hours already transformed how she viewed herself in relation to others.  It was a very positive experience, for all of us.

Victim Empathy Seminar – In situations where a victim offender conference is not possible we have an alternative program to teach empathy.  We use the Circle process and a surrogate victim.  Storytelling, accountability and healing are part of this process.  The Circle today had 3 male offenders, a mom and daughter (daughter was referred), and two community members/volunteers.  We did not have a speaker today so I showed a video tape of our local “Recovery Month” panel discussion.  This was taped at our local Public Access Channel.  Due to confidentiality I can’t go into identifying details.  It was a really nice Circle with positive comments at the end.  I felt really good about taking my Saturday to work (I didn’t go into it with such a postive attitude).

Another Circle training was lined up this week – having a group of students from our local alternative school be trained in the process.  This will be the third year in a row of doing this.  The students grow so much and it’s really rewarding.  I then have this group help me lead other circles in our community.  We have 2 or 3 church groups/confirmation classes already scheduling a visit from us. 

It was a good week!  Next week starts with two Circles on Monday, a drivers ed Circle in the morning and UWRF Class Monday afternoon!

Teaching In Circle

I teach one class a semester at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls.  The first class I taught was the Spring semester 2008 and the class that started on September 8 is the second group of students.  Next semester I will teach an advanced class in Restorative Justice.

I love teaching this because we hold the class in Circle.  I have really come to enjoy the look on students faces as I ask them to round up the desks and sit all facing each other.  I like to watch the non-verbal reactions as I talk about speaking and listening from the heart.  I feel really blessed to have been in so many circles that my confidence about the process is so strong.  Maybe faith in the process is a better word than confidence.  My faith in the process is very strong.

We made introductions, identified our values, made a committment to honor the values while we were together.  We assigned opening and closing readings right around the Circle.  I was more relaxed with this being the second class I’ve taught.  I really took the time to appreciate each individual and to know we’ll become quite connected.  I can still picture each person from last years class.  One thing that really stands out is how much I feel I know the essence of their personalities. 

I am going into this semester feeling positive about the process, based on the final papers that last semesters students did.  They had some really super things to say about how they learned in the process.  I think the structure from rows to circle really engaged and encouraged each of them.

The interactive format made the information relevant to each person, since each individual weighed in on our topic.  The students quickly learned that storytelling was alot of fun and they wanted to do that assignment a second time.  I still do powerpoint lectures, and we watch videos, but with Circle we offer a talking round and a reflection round.  When one of my guest speakers didn’t offer as much time for this the students didn’t care for that.  They became empowered in our classroom.

One of the students has informed me that he is friends and does things with one of his classmates.  Apparently a friendship developed in class and he is quite certain that wouldn’t have happened without the circle process.

One thing for sure, the student share this experience together and that creates the common bond.  It’s similiar to when victims/offenders/community members have a process together.  There is a bond at the end because they have completed the journey together.