Archive: Nebraska to the Netherlands

by Lisa Smith
July 2014

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This month’s Circle Tale is written by The Circle Way colleague Lisa Smith. Lisa brings The Circle Way to emerging educators through her work as an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska.  In addition, Lisa supports community by designing and hosting circle with statewide catalyst groups, education organizations, and small business owners that renew and transform established practices.  For conversation about circle in education or in rural community, Lisa welcomes contact via her email at

In 2012, when Jan Adam attended a training in The Circle Way in Frankfurt, Germany, the experience kindled his commitment to instill The Circle Way in the Netherlands and to initiate circle practices within Dutch consulting and facilitation colleagues. He invited Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin to the Netherlands and engaged a teaching partner, Diana van Donselaar, who attended a training in Slovenia in the summer of 2013, to help him call these groups together. In June 2014, their vision became a reality: it took two years, but Jan and Diana filled two practica: one focused on applications in the Netherlands, and one more widely international. I had the privilege of leaving Hastings, Nebraska (USA) for my first trip abroad and an incredible experience of my own.  

As the second practicum convened at Hof van Hestia, an enchanting retreat center near the small city of Lelystad, Netherlands, participants from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Hungary, and Australia occupied the seats. I wondered how circle would hold a group of people gathered from around the globe. What could we bring from this little Circle to our work across the borders and oceans? Anticipation was high as Jan, in partnership with Ann and Christina, worked to establish a secure rim and began to follow the patterns of Circle.

For me--accustomed to teaching circle to education majors heading into American school systems and in using circle in the process of supporting small groups of rural community catalysts--the location, language, and experiences of such a diverse group of people were fresh and unique. What was unchanged was the strength of circle itself. I watched as the patterns of The Circle Way created a common practice that held steady in the face of the unfamiliar. At our opening council, everyone brought an object and a story to share, and the group generated a center place held by the symbols of our work and life journeys. I noticed in myself how deeply I counted on the center to hold strong as I found my place and explored our commonalities and differences. 

A practicum is a hybrid learning environment: we study the components of The Circle Way and we also have opportunities to experience the flow of circle practice through practicing the components in real conversations. We are at the same time participants, hosts and guardians, and practice leaders imagining how to teach this process to others. Over the course of three days the wider world became a small and quiet place as individual stories were placed into the collective heart of the Circle. 

One of the enduring strengths of circle is how it allows space and time for shadow to be recognized and named so that the energy of the whole can offer support. Shadow in circle is defined as the covert energies people bring to our chair on the rim. For example, someone may be carrying a personal grief: if they don’t speak it, their energy and gesture, their voice tone, and affect may be misinterpreted by others and create misunderstanding. If they aren’t aware they are grieving, the potential for such misunderstanding is even greater.  Shadow tending in circle is the process of shifting covert (unspoken or unacknowledged) energies to overt (spoken and acknowledged) energies.  These are not orchestrated moments: they just show up.

One of my lessons from the Netherlands practicum is how essential shadow tending is in an international setting when we are already seeing one another through cultural filters and language challenges. We practiced the role of the guardian to ring the bell and slow down a process that seems be carrying a thread of hurt; we moved slowly to avoid creating more hurt; and we sat with one another until we understood how to safely move forward. How shadow emerges in one group is different than how it will emerge in the next group, but I have more confidence to tend the shadows in my work in Nebraska because of our multi-cultural attentiveness in my summer training. we will learn again in the next circle and the next.

It is said in the Netherlands that “the Dutch have been working together for centuries in order to keep their feet dry.” This spirit of cooperation is evident in the friendly engagement and willingness to try new methodologies that surrounded our time in The Circle Way training. With practices such as Circle, this opportunity to work collaboratively becomes a possibility for us all.  I look forward to bringing my enriched summer experience to my students and to the communities in Nebraska this fall.


Lisa and all of us at The Circle Way wish to offer our condolences to the people of the Netherlands as they grapple with the tragedy of the shooting down of Flight 17. Having just enjoyed their hospitality and experienced the collective intimacy of Dutch society, we know this is a major sorrow for them and for other countries and families involved.