On Circles with Klee
When I was first introduced to the concept of circles at Stomping Ground, I loved the idea in theory, but was completely overwhelmed and felt underqualified to ever facilitate one. I remember Kate and Laura talking about the importance of active listening, and ways to make sure that all members of a circle have equal opportunity to share their perspective. I was excited about this new approach to conflict, but overwhelmed at the idea of “saying the right thing” and being an effective mediator.
After being a part of my first few circles at Stomping Ground I quickly learned that the way I was thinking about circles was the exact opposite intention of a circle. In short, it wasn’t all about me… I was too stuck on my “performance” in a circle which is completely ingenuine to the honest, vulnerable intentions of circles.
I was blown away at campers ability to advocate for themselves, be vulnerable and tell another person how they made them feel, and hold themselves accountable for mistakes they made.
Having circles, whether they’re a result of conflict or otherwise, are simply just having conversations. Once I got over the nerves of always saying the right thing, or worrying that a circle might not solve an issue, I was able to trust the system and just be there for kids when they asked for it.
As childcare professionals, teachers, mentors, counselors, babysitters, etc. we are taught to take in information from kids and then provide some sort of solution or truce as an adult. We spend our time listening to respond, instead of listening to get a genuine understanding of what’s being said. Being a counselor in the Stomping Ground community taught me that once you remove this pressure to “fix” things for kids you can trust them to express their own needs and what they think should happen as a result of conflict. I learned that being a facilitator in a circle really just means listening to others and making sure everyone is following circle agreements.
Circles at Stomping Ground are not perfect. Sometimes kids refuse to talk to each other immediately after a conflict occurs, sometimes people in circles talk over one another, and sometimes we make agreements and not everyone follows them. But circles aren’t about fixing issues or finding a person or thing to blame; circles are about building a community where we take others’ perspective and understand the impact of our choices.