What are these Circles?

I often get the question "what are circles?"

This is a valid question.  In our modern culture circle processes have be relegated to rather unique settings.  You can find circle practices across the globe in all cultures and communities.  They often look different but use some of the same concepts. First I want to tell you what make a circle a Circles, then we can discuss how Circles connect to the philosophy of Restorative Justice.

Circles are a formalized listening process.  This structures everyone's opportunity to speak and respond.  Circles aren't focused on solving the problem.  Their main focus is to give real voice to those that have felt excluded from the conversation.  In traditional classrooms we find teachers control the pacing and tempo of the conversation, they determine who speaks and who is listening.  Understand that changing this dynamic can be supportive to building strong relationships between youth and teachers as well as youth and their peers.  When we can give a bit of our power up to a process that includes and balances power we will achieve a growing level of engagement and stronger relationships.  

Circle generally look like everyone sitting or standing in a circle, its helpful if everyone is sitting in similar chairs.  Circles often have a center piece, this could be a plant, a bowl of water, a dish of sand, or a small quilt.  Often a center piece is created through the contributions or all members of the circle.  Similar to the center piece a talking piece is an object that has significance to all members, but this talking piece travels around the circle is a way that signifies the focus and point of power within the circle.  The facilitator has a couple roles but one of the most important is asking and answering the questions.  While the questions may be sourced from the group at large in the moment or in a previous activity the facilitator will pose the question for all to hear and answer the question.  The manner in which the question is answered often set the standard for engagement in the topic.  This description only touches on the content of the circle understand that there is more to the circle process.

The other question is "How do circles relate to the broader Restorative Justice philosophy?"  Circles tie tightly to Restorative Justice, due to its relationship building nature.  It also engages everyone in an active process.  There is rarely a "silence is agreement" culture, rather there is a culture of "I agree and this is important to me."  When we think about building relationship (a primary focus or Restorative Justice) we can see that circles are an exceptional tool to achieve this goal, even without the heat of significant conflict.



Nicholas Bradford