July 1, 2000
By Linda Secord
This post has been moved from its original location at PeerSpirit.com and archived here, so you can continue to access it.
Each month we share with you a story of how circle is being used effectively in a variety of settings. Linda Secord shares this story about her daughter's school group, which shows a way that circle helped create a meaningful experience for teens and teachers. Thank you, Linda.
It was my last camping trip with my daughter's 8th grade class--this time for rock climbing, kayaking and hiking at Deception Pass State Park, an incredibly beautiful place in Washington State. Since 5th grade, she and her classmates had taken these trips--whale watching in the San Juan Islands, lava flow caves at Mt. St. Helen's, marine life at the ocean beaches, hiking in the Cascade Mountains--with their beloved science teacher Dan.
This trip, the last for this small class of 55 students, many of whom had been together since Kindergarten, was less scientifically oriented and not as rigorous as the others. The focus this time was FUN, to hang out with their buddies before they all left and scattered to the numerous high schools in the Seattle metropolitan area. For days the kids had been talking about the "reflections" campfire that would take place on the third and final night of the trip. As one of six parents spending the last night at the campground, we were invited to the campfire to listen, provided we agreed to honor the ground rules.
As we gathered around the already blazing fire about 10:00 PM, most of the kids were exhausted from a lot of physical activity, warm sunny days and little rest the previous two nights. I thought to myself, "This will be a short campfire, these kids are dragging!" They straggled in, several at a time and plopped themselves down. Dan waited for everyone to settle in around the campfire. Then he began: "OK," he said. "This is Reflections. We're going to start passing this lantern around the circle. When it comes to you, you can talk about anything--memories, feelings, thoughts, people, what it's been like for you at this school. When you are holding the lantern, you're the only one who talks, and if you don't want to say anything, just pass it to the next person. No Interruptions, no making fun of what someone says, no smart aleck comments. We'll keep passing the lantern around as many times as we need to until everyone who wants to gets to talk. You can talk as many times as you want, for as long as you want, or you don't have to say anything, nothing at all." He took a deep breath and continued. "Now, this part is really important: whatever is said here tonight stays right here around this campfire--understood?" There were simultaneous nodding of heads as Dan scanned the circle. "I've invited the parents to join us, just to listen, and they have agreed not to talk about anything that is said tonight, not to any of you or anyone else. Ok, if there aren't any questions, we'll begin "
Dan handed the lantern to the student sitting next to him and at first, the talking piece moved quickly from hand to hand, with maybe the first ten kids passing. And then a few held on to it, and talked about memories, of favorite friends and teachers (and not so favorite), of how much they were going to miss each other. About two-thirds around the circle the first time, one of the girls took the lantern and held it quietly for several seconds. She began in a whisper to talk about how lonely and scared she was when she came to this school in 5th grade shortly after her mother had died. As she continued to tell her story, two of her friends moved over to her and put their arms around her, but they didn't interrupt her. When she finished, they stayed with her momentarily and then moved back to their places in the circle. After a few more kids spoke, Dan asked for the talking piece. One student requested that the parents leave and he wanted to respect her wishes. This was their circle.
I walked away, honored that I had been included at all and overwhelmed by what I had just witnessed: 55 middle school students in heart council with one another! A circle where a container had been created--a warm campfire for center, group agreements, talking piece, backing one another, holding the rim for each other. I was filled with such hope as I climbed into my sleeping bag. Word at breakfast the next morning was that Reflections lasted about four hours. Drinking our coffee, we heard them reminiscing about the stories, the laughter and tears, the people they would miss.
Two months have gone by and I told my daughter that I was writing about her Reflections circle. She wanted to know if she could write something too. Here's what she said: "Everyone was very respectful of each person's individual talking time and listened well. Even though our teacher Dan was there, we knew we could trust him and he wouldn't use anything we said against us. . . At the end of our Reflections, everyone felt calmer and it felt as if everyone was closer and understood each other better."