Thursday, February 10, 2011

It starts with a circle

My favourite part of my BC First Nations Studies 12 class was the circle.  It wasn't part of the prescribed learning outcomes, per se, but it was the most explicitly alive portion of the course.  It was the best way to explore aspects of First Nations culture and the best way to teach about it.  The class was large, and we were usually restricted to the traditional education format of rows, but every four or five classes, I would ask them to move the desks into a large circle, and I would sit in the circle with everybody.  When we could, we relocated outside, or in the commons room of the school.

Then we would share.

My eagle feather was the sacred item we used to denote the speaker.  I would remind them of the protocols of my circle: this is a safe place; what we share goes nowhere beyond the circle (speaking about it here is not a betrayal of that trust, as I am only talking about how it worked and what the circle means to me, I share nothing that was shared in the circle); the rules for that day (, Mr. G's right to interupt and intervene when the protocols were being abused; sometimes a time limit, though this was rarely imposed or enforced); the feather holder was the one speaking; you didn't have to speak if you didn't want to; the feather moved around the circle so that everyone had the opportunity to be a part of the sharing; it could go around again if someone wished to add something or a turn had been missed; and the feather was never, ever to touch the floor.  I would throw out a question, or a topic, sometimes related to the prescribed learning outcomes, but more often along the lines of "how are you doing?" Sometimes all we really need is that opportunity to do a check-in.  I would then hand off the feather to the young adult to my right and we would begin.

Not everybody spoke in the circle, but I believe that they all respected the integrity of the circle.  The circle sometimes moved very quickly, other times it took as long as it takes.


  1. Hi Robert,

    I also use the circle in my class. The kids absolutely love it. We almost never cover Learning Outcomes in the circle, but we sure do learn...about each other.

    Sometimes things get busy, the pressure of curriculum, and I want to skip the circle, but the kids beg for it. They want to share and learn. It is always about this time of year when I feel I really know the kids in my class, both as a learner and a person and I know the circle is a big reason why.

    I love the idea of a sacred item to denote the speaker. Thanks for sharing.

  2. That is nice to hear. I know teachers have it hard sometimes. In some classes your days are as good as your students. With a positive up beat attitude we can do good things. The circle is a nice way to start. Safe is the key.