Mickelson Consulting providing "Circle Training for Educators." A view of a typical Circle Center. Mickelson Consulting with Paul and Ed at our local county fair.
Human beings are wired for connection. Our ability to thrive depends not only on food, shelter, and clothing, but also on strong and meaningful relationships. The social science of restorative philosophy brings forth an opportunity to build healthy relationships, address harm in those relationships, and strengthen our schools, workplaces, and living communities. Through authentic dialogue that fosters trust, interconnection, and active accountability we become more able to nurture our human connections.
Following the work of P. McCold and T. Wachtel learning to work "with" others is outlined in the Social Discipline Window as shown in the graphic to the left.
“The underlying premise is that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them.” (The Restorative Practice Handbook, Costello and Wachtel)
A few key words—NOT, FOR, TO and WITH—have helped clarify this model. If we are neglectful in our leadership, parental, or teaching style we would NOT do anything in response to a student’s, child's, or staff's inappropriate behavior. If permissive, we would do everything FOR them and ask little in return. If punitive, we would respond by doing things TO them. When responding in a restorative manner, we do things WITH them and involve them directly in the process. A critical element of the restorative approach is that, whenever possible, WITH also includes the person harmed, family, friends and members of the school or work community— those who have been impacted by the wrongdoer’s behavior. It’s also important to note that, depending upon the circumstance, we may need to consider responses from any one of these four boxes. Adopting a lens that considers a restorative response as a first response to challenging behaviors is the choice that restorative practitioners value. Flipping the script asks restorative practitioners to state why a restorative response cannot be used vs. why it should.
The circle is a dialog process that works intentionally to create a safe space to discuss very difficult or painful issues in order to improve relationships and resolve differences. The intent of the circle is to find resolutions that serve every member of the circle. The process is based on an assumption of equal worth and dignity for all participants and therefore provides equal voice to all participants. Every participant has gifts to offer in finding a good solution to the problem. The circle process is deliberate in discussing how the conversation will be held before discussing the difficult issues. Consequently, the circle works on values and guidelines before talking about the differences or conflict. Where possible the circle also works on relationship building before discussing the difficult issues. The responsibility of the keeper is to help the participants create a safe space for their conversation and to monitor the quality of the space throughout the circle. If the atmosphere becomes disrespectful, it is the responsibility of the keeper to bring the group’s attention to that problem and help the group re-establish a respectful space. Using a circle process is not simply a matter of putting chairs in a circle. Careful preparation is essential to good practice in using circles.
Kay Pranis, Circle Keeper
A talking circle is not a counseling session. It is simply a time to give anyone an opportunity to speak what is in their hearts and/or on their minds
in the presence of supportive witnesses.
Larry Merculieff, Unungan Traditional messenger and teacher
The great vision of Black Elk foretells of the many circles, circles embracing circles; the mending of the great hoop. Let us all come together and mend all the broken hoops of the world.
from Dakota Grandmother's open letter to Humanity Leadership Rising Summit
Indaba is a Zulu word and tradition that means “I have something important to tell you.” The circle is called to guide the children to the dreamtime and to honor the Elders and Ancestors by retelling how they lived and died.
Orland Bishop, Legacy Holder and Teacher of African Gnosis
The ubiquitous tradition in Hawaii of “talking story” grows out of the practice of ho’oponopono. In this sacred ceremony it is understood that everyone is telling their own story from their unique perspective and so differing points of view are welcome as critical information.
Kahu M. Kalani Souza, Hawaiian Story Teller
Above and below to the right of us, to the left of us, in front of us and behind us, we remember, we connect, and we let go of what holds us back. Everything that the world does is done in a circle.”
Julie Tumamait, Chumash elder and story teller
The beauty of the Circle is that we cannot see each other’s back; and the strength of the Circle is that we can only see each other’s beauty.
“Uncle” Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder
People from the earliest times have used Circles to attend to community matters. Circles of stones and wood can be found throughout Britain, Ireland and Europe. These were traditional circles of communication. I feel privileged and deeply thankful to be able to carry the roots of these traditions into modern times.
Pippa Bondy, Guide in Wales
The cultural root images in almost all civilizations depict round, fourfold representations of a whole life: from the Tibetan Mandala to fourfold cosmotherandric designs of First Peoples; from the Celtic Cross to the Buddhist eightfold Wheel of Life; from the cosmology of the Bakongo People in Africa to calligraphic representations of the Prophet Mohammed’s name, to mention but a few. All of these highly aesthetic circular representations provided visual, spiritual, and philosophical guidance of what it means to live life in tune with oneself, with humanity, with earth, with cosmos. For all civilizations, such images played a most important role. They imprinted an ‘imago of the ultimately possible,’ served as a ‘living life compass,’ and spurred the imagination for crafting a ‘full-fill-ing’ life.
Alexander Scheiffer, “imago integralis”, Kosmos Winter 2016
Sápmi is the area in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia where the Sami live. Language and traditions differ but to come together in circles has always been important to enable everybody to see everybody else, feel safe and connected and to ensure that everybody “is ok”. Circles are mostly small groups within the family which sometimes may include a visitor and are used to tell fairy tales to children, storytelling and conveying manners and customs.
Håkan Håkansson – Council facilitator, Sweden
A circle of trust has no agenda except to help people listen to their own souls and discern their own truths…Its singular purpose is to support the inner journey of each person in the group, to make each soul feel safe enough to show up and speak its truth, to help each person listen to his or her own inner teacher.
Parker Palmer: A Hidden Wholeness
“When you find your place inside the circle, you are surrounded by a community that practices a willingness to provide you with a patient, loving, compassionate understanding of who you are, and the circle is committed to a relationship with you,
and with each other, that will help you on your life’s journey.”
Jeanette Acosta, California Traditional
The primary goal of transformative mediation is to foster the parties' empowerment and recognition, enabling them to approach their current problem, as well as later problems, with a stronger, more open view.
The transformative approach to mediation does not seek resolution of the immediate problem, but rather, seeks the empowerment and mutual recognition of the parties involved.
Empowerment is the restoration of an individual's sense of their own value and strength and their own capacity to handle the conflict of challenge they are facing. Through empowerment, individuals gain greater clarity about their goals, resources, options, and preferences and they use this information to make their own clear and deliberate decisions.
Recognition offers an opportunity for each person to see and understand the other person's point of view -- to understand how they define the problem and why they seek the solution that they do. Recognition means the evocation of an individual's acknowledgment and empathy for the situation and the other person they are in conflict with.
Often, when empowerment and recognition are present and "working" within a conversation, it paves the way for a mutually agreeable settlement.
Credit - Transformative Mediation: Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph Folger
Take a moment - grab a pen and paper. Draw a picture of conflict. What do you see? If you were to explain your picture to someone using only one word, what would that word be? Often we hear words such as: anger, frustration, fear, argument, divide, hassle, mixed-up, competition, strife... and so on. Webster's dictionary defines conflict as war, fight, battle, struggle.
Consider this, if you are seeking common ground, a form of resolution or peace you must move past this initial definition of "fight" "win at all costs" or our own "rightness" and redefine this word. Imagine stepping into a conflict conversation and you are thinking, "fight, battle, war, struggle." What is your likely outcome? However, if you can intentionally redefine conflict using such words as growth and opportunity it's possible that your conflict outcomes will improve.
Each of us has our own conflict stories, history, and experiences that we carry with us in our conflict interactions. Maybe we have attended training to increase our conflict skills, maybe we were raised in a family that was overly passive or somewhat aggressive. Our work roles and parental roles may require us to engage in conflict in ways that are not natural to us. Our gender, age, education, and personalities impact our conflict style. These variables influence who we become inside a conflict. Critical to the positive influence of your conflict interactions is the ability to self-monitor and self-reflect on your "personal conflict characteristics."