Karen’s Circle Experience

This post is from Karen Pino, who worked with grade K-3 classrooms in the final weeks of the school year just ended.

Circle Experience

A circle has been described as a means of bringing people together to understand one another, strengthen bonds and resolve conflict. I found it is much more than that. Circles have a power and spirit all their own. It could be the energy that flows between a group of people at any age who sit together to discuss their feelings, emotions and issues. A bond appears to develop quickly with the guidance of the circle keeper who helps connect all participants of the circle to each other, and lead them on a journey of self-awareness and self-discovery.

The discovery and exploration of the significance of being truthful, feeling empathy, learning respectful communication, and repairing any harm that may be done and learning how not to do it again, seems to decrease the frustration and negative behavior among circle members. The student’s then develop a respect for themselves and each other. A trust and self-awareness is established so they can feel their emotions and express them to others. This impacts the communication and understanding between students and teachers and increases learning and cooperation.

My experience doing circles with elementary students at Jefferson school was only for a few short weeks, but the impact on the teachers, students and myself, was huge. It didn’t take long for the students to open up and share with me. They looked forward to having circle each week as I did.

In my experience it was beneficial and crucial to include the teachers in the circle from the beginning. I was pleased on how well they did at respecting the student’s feelings and emotions. The teacher’s were able to share information from their hearts and become equal participants in the circle.

The important feedback I received from the teachers was always positive and when they stated, “I learned about my students, and I wish we could have started at the beginning of the year, I would have been a better teacher,” I knew I was a part of something very important and critical to classrooms.

I have read the research on how overworked teacher’s are, and that they have little time to get to know their students beyond teaching them basic academic skills. Children are also coming into the classrooms with very little social, communication and empathy skills. There is a greater awareness at this time of behavior issues, depression and serious acts of violence in our schools. I observed this for myself in Cloverdale schools. In order for learning to take place a healthy environment is needed. Otherwise, the teachers spends most of their time disciplining the students and feeling frustrated. The importance and need for students and teachers to be able to express their selves, share their issues and learn to respect each other is essential.

A boy, who couldn’t share in the first circle and mumbled incoherently when it came time for him to talk, asked me in our last circle if we could express our feelings about the circle experience. Another boy who spit on the “talking piece” in our first circle later on couldn’t wait to share a bad experience with us in circle.

In the framework of a circle I witnessed a profound impact on students, teachers and myself by not telling them what to do, but with listening, supporting, understanding, and guiding them using “high quality questions”, and affective communication.

Karen Pino-Smith, MSW


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