WAY OF COUNCIL
Circle Ways is an iteration of circle practice traditions that have centered around The Ojai Foundation and The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle. Our particular stream developed through the Palms Middle School Council Project (1992 - 2006) and the work done through Council in Schools (CIS) in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Council practice has been seeded in nearly 100 schools, Pre-K through university, public, private, charter and parochial. Circle Ways was founded by Joe Provisor and Marc Rosner, both longtime practitioners in this lineage.
Council is the intentional practice of coming together to listen and speak from the heart. The curriculum for council is the lives of those in the circle – heart and mind, body and spirit. When these are in balance we open to receiving new information of all types and to innovating based on that knowledge. Circle practices bring awareness and balance to the parts that make up the whole of us. Circle ways always adapt, as well, to the explicit values of the individual school, and so serve as a vehicle for deepening those values. Circle Ways has successfully adapted our offerings for all grade levels, pre-K through graduate and doctorate degree programs, and all kinds of school environments – public, private, parochial, home.
Based on the universal tradition of sitting in circles sharing our stories, council builds trust and helps create safe, caring environments for students, staff, parents, and community members. Council is a practice that cultivates heartfelt communication, understanding and respect, and enhances community cohesion. The elements of a council are basic: the use of circular seating – where all are equal and everyone can see and be seen; defined, shared intentions; attention focusing tools, such as a “talking piece”; clear beginnings and endings; and “witnessing” – a process of reflecting and acting upon what is shared. Council engenders receptivity, authentic expression, and creative spontaneity, as it builds positive relationships.
Council is also the foundation for a successful restorative justice program in schools. [ useful here would be some evidence-based citations showing that community building circles are essential to RJ program] Like council, restorative justice practices have roots in the ways of American Indians. These ways emerged first in the criminal justice system, as a new way to address serious wrongdoing, and are now being adapted as an alternative approach to not only wrongdoing but also to discipline in schools.
When we have built a circle strong enough to hold it, the circle can begin to resolve its own disputes and creating the sense of community that RJ protocols serve to restore when breaches occur, and building capacity in a school community to use circle processes to address wrongdoing.
We offer two-day trainings in the US and abroad several times a year, as well as full and half-day workshops. We also offer regular free practice group opportunities in Los Angeles.
Council training offers participants background in the history of relational practices, experience of various forms and applications of council, uses with special needs and second language learners, and guidance on the three aspects of “council curriculum”: the relational field of the classroom or community, the subject matter the students are studying, and what the students themselves want to explore.
Council is a process with myriad applications in schools. It is not an add-on program but an integrated practice that is an invaluable tool for any educator or group facilitator. Useful at every level of education, council offers strategies for teachers to engage students in the process of bringing meaning to subject matter through relational activities involving dialogue, art, music, movement, improvisation, and intrapersonal (mindful awareness) modalities. Council also offers counselors and administrators protocols to facilitate staff, student, parent, intergenerational, and community groups.