Fort Collins, Colorado
MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL CONNECTION CIRCLES
High School Connection Circles are a story telling process preventative restorative justice practices based on ancient indigenous customs that gives equal voice to all participants.
Purpose of Connection Circles
- To build community within the student population: Participants learn to appreciate similarities and respect differences. Sharing life experiences and creating a caring community while experiencing a feeling of connection, are the benefits received from hearing one another’s perspectives
- To help students learn about the school culture and traditions and develop a sense of belonging at their school
- To create an opportunity for all peace circle participants to get to know each other: Create a safe environment to speak their truth and listen while others speak theirs with diverse groups of people to gain a greater sense of understanding for one another.
- Break down barriers, stereotypes and facilitate honest dialogue.
- Promotes equality, respect and tolerance.
Trained facilitators help identify the needs of the students by employing well crafted inquiry. This allows students to explore ways of resolving conflict, create a positive, non-discriminating school atmosphere, and build understanding relationships amongst peer groups.
Guidelines are established with Confidentiality as a critical trust-builder and the use of a “talking piece” help create boundaries.
Most of the day is spent in a small circle sharing one another’s personal values, experiences, and dreams. Students who once thought they had nothing in common now appreciate each others’ backgrounds and realize that they are more alike than they thought.
The last part of the smaller circles often focuses on what relationships are like at school. Circles brainstorm what they could do to create a greater sense of community and caring as an entire student body. A sense of respect and trust is established that transcends circles and is brought back to campus.
At the end of the day, students report it would benefit the entire student body to experience circles or to continue mini-circles at school. There is an overwhelming sense of connection, purpose, and belonging as participants leave the event, and students report that these effects linger for them far beyond the day of Peace Circles. Long after circles, students report that their tendency to pass judgment on people has been tempered by a desire to better understand their backgrounds.
After a day of Peace Circles participants have been so enthusiastic about their experience that new clubs and peace-making activities have been springing up at the different schools. Some groups continue to meet after circles, connecting with each other again during the school year.
The potential for circles is endless. They can be used on a micro level to resolve conflicts within a building or they can be used on a larger scale.
Peace Circles have been an effective vehicle for promoting a sense of equity and tolerance in schools, so sharing that same mission with the local community was an obvious next step to peace building.
A Facilitators perspective:
Trained Facilitators skillfully listen for themes in the sentiments being shared and frame their next question based on what is being discussed in the previous round. The gift of a talented facilitator is the ability to “trust the process” and let the circle run its course without a scripted set of questions. Inevitably, though each circle is different, similar themes prevail: people, values, and experiences in our lives that shape who we are, struggles and triumphs, goals, dreams, fears, the experiences that make us feel the most valued as well as those that have made us feel discriminated against. Each time I participate in circles, I am awe-struck by the sincerity, honesty, and support that each participant so genuinely lends to the circle. During each circle, I am amazed by the emersion of the common thread that each of us has a basic need to be loved and accepted. Often, people share with complete strangers thoughts they have not shared with their closest friends. It seems as though we all have a need to tell our stories completely without interruption and to experience a sense of belonging and camaraderie with others. It becomes obvious that once we understand each other’s life stories, we have a greater understanding of and respect for one another.