By Sam Piha
We know that bringing together young people and offering them the opportunity to have their individual voices heard in the larger community is an important practice. We are referring to “talking or sharing circles” - bringing youth together in a circle and asking each individual to speak while the rest of the group practices active listening.
In youth programs, these circle meetings are often called “sharing circles” or “community circles”. In the classroom, these are often called “morning meetings” (see video below). In our next blog post, Johanna Masis from Oakland Leaf will describe their circle practice called “Cyphers”.
There are many benefits of sharing circles that include:
1. Promoting social and emotional learning (self awareness, social awareness, group belonging, etc.)
2. Promoting a positive climate and learning environment.
3. Promoting emotional safety and youth voice (see California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs).
4. Providing youth with the opportunity to express themselves and practice active listening.
TIPS FOR BEGINNING YOUR OWN “SHARING CIRCLE”:
1. Offer the circle leaders facilitation training to ensure that they are prepared to support their young participants and know how to handle difficult responses. These might be responses that are very sensitive, provoke difficult feelings of the other youth, or raise legal or ethical issues for the facilitator.
2. Decide the schedule and frequency of your circle time. Some programs do this everyday to open the group or once a week.
3. Establish group agreements that pertain to “circle time”. These group agreements can be created by the youth. The question is “what do you need to feel safe and supported when you are sharing?”
4. Discuss what is known as “active listening”. This is very important to promote a sense of safety and support for the group.
5. Select a “talking object”. This is an object that each speaker holds when they are sharing, and they pass to the next person, which signifies a new person is sharing. These objects are often things from nature like a beautiful feather or a piece of driftwood. Some programs have several objects in a basket and one youth is asked to choose the talking object for that day.
6. It is often recommended that the circle facilitator uses questions or prompts that young people can respond to. This can be very helpful for young people who are not accustomed or comfortable with sharing with others. Some programs have a jar of prompt questions which can be drawn by a young person for that day’s prompt.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.