K-12 Restorative School Practices - Community Circles
An authentic dialogue process
A Brief Overview of the Model
In order to meet the needs of Maine schools looking for ways to foster a safe, caring school environment, Peace & Reconciliation Studies has developed a model of community-building called Community Circles that can potentially infuse a sense of respect, trust, compassion, responsibility, cooperation and connectedness into the school culture. Defined as a form of authentic dialogue, the Community Circles process offers participants the opportunity to share thoughts, feelings, insights and concerns, and to deeply listen to others without judgment, in a supportive atmosphere. It is a tool for building and strengthening relationships between all members of a school community, by breaking through barriers of mistrust, bias, fear, and indifference. This type of intentional dialogue–one with a specific purpose and format–embodies an egalitarian, participatory, empowering, meaningful model of citizenship for all students and staff, and for society in general.
Authentic Dialogue – A definition
The practice of speaking one’s personal truth and listening well to others for deeper understanding.
Purpose for conducting Community Circles
- Build and strengthen community
- Promote understanding of self and others
- Break down barriers between people and groups
- Provide a safe space for addressing difficult issues or conflicts
- Foster authentic connections and relationships
- Process a particular event, video, presentation, or activity
- Shift school climate towards a more “relational” environment
- Elicit wisdom, ideas, points of view, information
- Offer a process for democratic decision-making
The Dialogue Process
- This is a Structured Dialogue rather than an open, back-and-forth discussion or debate.
- It is important to have a Facilitator and Agreements to guide the dialogue.
- One person speaks at a time, without interruptions, questions or comments, using a talking piece.
- The time is shared equally by all members of the Circle.
- Participants are encouraged to use Intentional Listening while others speak, which means listening for understanding, meaning and connection, not necessarily for agreement or solutions.
Role of Circle Facilitator
The facilitator works to maintain an atmosphere of trust and respect and to guide the sharing of experiences and insights in productive ways.
The Agreements serve to create a safe, inviting space for participants to share their thoughts, feelings, concerns, etc. The Agreements are clearly stated and discussed at the beginning of a Circle and can be revisited at any time if the facilitator finds the participants need to be reminded of the intention of the Circle process.
In “Healing the Wounds of Street Violence: Peacemaking Circles and Community Youth Development,” Suffolk University Sociology Professor Carolyn Boyes-Watson addresses the importance of this kind of process:
Circles are about practicing a new way to be in the world. They are about incrementally shifting habits and practicing to be in a different way with one another and ourselves. Circles develop skills at participation, consensus, shared leadership, and problem solving, all of which are…essential tools for genuine democracy and social justice….They help us see ourselves as part of a connected whole.*
* CYD Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, Fall 2001
The Community Circles model was developed by the Peace & Reconciliation Studies Program, University of Maine, inspired by the work of the Public Conversations Project, ROCA, the Boston Research Center, Gerry Dunne, David Bohm, Margaret Wheatley, Kay Pranis, and Christina Baldwin.