This month we read how five librarians from a large metropolitan public library use stuffed animal puppets in their staff circles to ease and deepen the conversation about the impact of job relocation.
Puppets in the Centre – Easing into Heartful Conversation
“I choose the lion, a symbol of bravery, to give me courage to speak what I need to.”
I watch her gently take the puppet from the centre and absentmindedly stroke its mane while she responds to the question before her. My heart swells; I cannot remember a time I’ve heard her speak to such an extent and with such depth. This is definitely a rare occurrence, but it’s a rare occurrence that’s becoming more and more common. One may wonder as to which phenomenon has caused this; it’ll come as no surprise to the reader that it is The Circle Way.
We are a small group of Circle Way librarians. We completed our formal training in August and have since been using the practice in our public library system. We have been called to run circles on a variety of discussions; but our most frequent request has been to help staff with the transition from one branch to another. People generally have mixed emotions when leaving a building they’ve worked at for an extended time (for some, decades); some are excited, some are nervous. However, all are apprehensive when they’re invited to discuss their feelings in what, for many of them, is their first circle. To ease their way into the process, we include puppets in the centre.
As an institution that provides a great deal of programming for young children, puppets are no strangers in our walls. Most staff are trained to use them, and to the young participants of our programs, puppets becomes the friendly creatures that introduce them to the wonders of the library. And staff love them too. Even if one’s role doesn’t involve puppets, she will still have her favourite. Through the years, the puppets become as friendly to us as the staff we work with. Therefore, when we observed the use of puppets as talking pieces during our Circle Way training, we recognized at once that these would be an asset to our circles at the library.
When setting up our circle, we do not bring our own puppets, but instead look to the branch’s supply. From there we almost exclusively choose animal puppets. We lay them in the centre, beside other talking pieces, and introduce them in the same manner, with an invitation to use whichever is appealing.
It doesn’t surprise us that puppets are what staff most often reach for; as I’ve explained, we are part of an institution whose history is embedded with puppets. What is surprising is how the puppet draws out more than just a focused, uninterrupted comment, as other talking pieces might. Instead, participants tend to evoke the symbolic nature of the animals into their contributions. People choose the owl when they want to speak from a place of wisdom or if they wish to draw upon the wise nature of the owl for the answer; they choose the giraffe when they want to speak from a higher perspective or to draw upon the higher perspective for their answer; fox for cleverness, dog for loyalty, etc.
It has been our observation therefore that using the puppets allows for a deeper communication to occur. Not only are we provided with what is being said, but often we are gifted with a bit of the why. In receiving this, we have found that we can better adjust our circles to better respond to the spoken and unspoken feelings of the group. To give a specific example, if we hear a lot about bravery, we may ask questions about the fear. On top of that, this has resulted in us being more adept at capturing the spirit or the essence of the conversation, which has helped strengthen our harvest and the proceedings we share back with the group.
In my estimation, this same effect could be achieved with talking pieces other than puppets. I imagine a collection of emoji cards would be as effective. These would be especially useful to those groups who use emojis often, like youth. The emojis would invoke the same sentiment that the puppets do for us, a familiar friend to ease the process.
I cannot say whether we’ll be using emojis anytime soon, however, I can all but guarantee that puppets will continue to be the guest stars at our circles.
Five Edmonton Public Library staff completed The Circle Way Practicum in 2017 to develop internal facilitation capacity in a dialogue method that invokes high quality conversation. Recognizing that fundamentally the circle provides an opportunity to be seen, to listen and to speak fully while working towards a common purpose, EPL has convened conversations that engage staff and the community in meaningful ways. This includes holding conversations that build resiliency in staff and allows EPL to gauge how staff are feeling about working with vulnerable populations, as well as working with marginalized populations and ensuring their views are represented in the decision-making process.