Circle Agreements, along with Circle Guidelines, are Also Cornerstones of Trust
The guidelines are nearly universal in circle culture. In addition to the guidelines, each classroom makes its own agreements. Agreements are negotiated by the class. In the lesson plans included in Part 3 of this resource a step-by-step approach for negotiating agreements is described. Agreement within the circle is not a one-time discussion; it should be ongoing.
The process of coming and maintaining agreements is governed by “meta-agreements” (agreements about agreements). These meta-agreements should be explicit and understood by everyone. Your class may come up with their own list, but common meta-agreements include:
Maintaining the agreements is everyone’s responsibility (not just the teacher’s).
Mandated Reporting, Agreements, and Trust
In schools, circle leaders are usually teachers or some other professional who is a mandated reporter. It is very important to clarify with the students what this means at the outset, and to remind them of this from time to time. Clearly describe exactly what kinds of things you must report if they come up. If you are not certain, please review your district’s mandated reporting policy and any applicable professional guidelines.
We have witnessed several occasions when students shared in circle sensitive information about their family lives. These students felt so relieved to have a forum in which they were respectfully listened to that they took the opportunity to share what were for them very weighty and confusing matters. In one middle school class we stopped a young man in mid-share, telling him that while we recognize how important the subject was, classroom circles were not an appropriate place to share. In this instance he was talking about his father, describing behaviors that seemed emotionally abusive. It was painful to stop him from sharing; one has to consider, “Where else in his world does he have an opportunity to discuss these things?”
We held a staff circle to explore the incident and the questions it raised. One of these issues was articulated by the students themselves: “You invite us to talk about what really matters, and when we do you tell us this is not the right place.” A conclusion we reached in our staff circle was that we must be more mindful and proactive about communicating the intention of the circles. We acknowledged that we did not have parent consent to talk about family matters in circles, and that it is a political reality that restorative practices programs are vulnerable to parent complaints. Another conclusion was that we agreed with the students, and shared among ourselves our grief that we were not able to use our circles to meet this particular need.
The take-away lesson here is to be proactive about coming to agreements, and to pay careful attention to maintaining them. Otherwise it will be very easy to lose trust in the circle.