I encourage people who are interested in creating circle processes to thing of their role as hosts, not as facilitators. Hosting is an art form that requires self awareness, self-discipline, and an ethic of generosity directed at the community.
Here are a few important added tips for implementation:
- It is really important to seek the opportunity to be a learner of circles. This is so because the practice stems from indigenous ways of understanding the world. It is premised on the practice of indigenous ontologies, ways of seeing the world. Because we live in a culture that is very different from the practice of such ways, it is important that we exercise humility and seek always the opportunity to learn, reflect, and change our behavior to support the implementation of this practice. The journey of circles is endless for the practitioner because we constantly have to grapple with a dominant culture that does not support this practice. We have to build communities of our own that can support this process. In order to do great work in circles, it is imperative that practitioners sit in circles too at times without the added layer of responsibility of hosting.
- Practitioners cannot control the process. The process of preparing for the circle determines the quality of experience in a circle. We cannot mandate what happens in a circle, we can only invite and prepare. This is another way in which this practice requires an ethic of humility.
- Values are important. Circles are “no-rule” spaces. Unlike traditional facilitation where
- a facilitator may name the rules or guidelines that people are expected to abide to during meetings, circles operate from a place of shared leadership and agreement. Generally, the more diverse a group that comes together to be in circle is, the more important it is to take time to generate what we call agreements which is a grouping of agreed upon ways of being together. A great question to begin the process of generating agreements is “What do you need from yourself and from others in this group to bring your best self here?” And then follow up it with, “Do we want to try to give ourselves and others what we need to bring our best selves here?” I often use the metaphor of baseball in that I ask people if it is remotely possible to become a Major League Baseball player by reading the rules of baseball. People always say no. Then I explain that implementing group agreements is like baseball in the sense that you can read what you are supposed to do but what you actually need is practice.
- Trust the talking piece. When introducing the talking piece explain that one is always at choice to share, be in silence, and pass the talking piece when holding it. When one does not have to talking piece, the invitation is to listen deeply for what the other person is trying to convey, not for what demonstrates what we think to be true about the person speaking or what we think they are saying before they are even done saying it. The opportunity is to be fully present to witness someone else’s choice in the group. Given the vast philosophical differences between the practice of facilitation and the practice of hosting circles, it can become very tempting to interrupt the use of the talking piece. Don’t. Model trust in the process you are inviting people into. It is important in my view to create a sense of predictability in the way in which the talking piece moves. Also, in keeping with indigenous ways of how energy moves in a group and in the universe, the talking piece is generally passed from right to left or in clockwise direction. At times, when one is south of the Equator, the talking piece is passed from left to right. This has to do with building a sense of connection with how energy moves, the direction of the Earth’s rotation and of the Milky Way in order to evoke a sense of connection with all of what is in the universe. This understanding is important because the energy in a circle does change when you send the talking piece around the other way around.
- Modeling is central in circle process. Make sure you model first when you invite everyone in the circle to participate. For example, if you are beginning a check in round, make sure you go first so that everyone can see what you are inviting them to do. This is not to create norms or expectations of good behavior. People always do what they need to do in the circle. However, modeling supports the understanding that everyone is good enough to participate even if participation just means being present in the circle.
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