Many of the conflict resolution and listening skills that we’ve explored thus far involve individual efforts (when it comes to listening skills) or conflicts between two people. However, many conflicts, even though they may only physically or verbally manifest themselves between a small number of people, actually impact larger groups and the overall learning environment. In addition, the kinds of listening skills that conflict resolution programs seek to encourage are not easy to practice during competitive discussions. By competitive discussions I mean conversations that occur among groups but are essentially individuals just waiting for their opportunity to talk and not really listening to what others are saying. This is where talking circles can play an important role – addressing a conflict’s impact on the larger community and practicing active and compassionate listening.
A talking or peacemaking circle:
“…draws upon the ancient Native American tradition of using a talking piece, an object passed from person to person in a group and which grants the holder sole permission to speak. It combines this ancient tradition with contemporary concepts of democracy and inclusivity in a complex, multicultural society.
“Peacemaking Circles are being used in a variety of contexts. In neighborhoods they provide support for those harmed by crime and help decide sentences for those who commit crime. In schools, they create a positive classroom climate and resolve behavior problems. In the workplace, they help address conflict, and in social services they develop more organic support systems for people struggling to get their lives together.” (Pranis, 3-4)
This video looks at West Philadelphia High School and their experience integrating talking circles and restorative justice practices into their school climate. The school worked with the International Institute for Restorative Practices Graduate School on how to implement circles processes into the school’s daily routine and address underlying conflicts before they escalated to points of violence.
Read this short handout that outlines some of the key features of a talking circle, basic ideas on how the facilitate a circle process, and some sample questions to introduce into the circle.
Reflection Question: The short handout on talking circles provides some sample questions one can introduce into a circle process. Which of these questions would you use in your own educational context and why?
- Pranis, Kay. The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking. Good Books: 2005.