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Being Alive

I originally wrote this on Bowen Island, attending an Art of Hosting retreat. It reminded me of the counter cultural nature of Parker Palmer’s writing and events focused on his work. It is about communicating and seeing others as fully human.

In today’s divided world, this seems countercultural. An essential element to hosting and dialogue is listening to others in respectful ways. It does not mean we agree with them. What it means is we are open and listen to hear how they experience living their life, guided by one’s conscience and sense of values that ground us. Values give each of us strength, anchoring us and letting us understand what is proper and improper.

When we invite people into conversation, listen deeply, and ask questions which shake our certainty about the world we turn inward and focus on what grounds us to respond to them and help heal a hurting world.

Perching pensively–

Holding pen tentatively;

Senses coming,

In the midst of nature’s beauty.

Awakening–

Becoming aware;

Listening deeply;

In the midst of sounds flowing.

Breeze caressing gently–

Sunlight bathing softly;

Basking in these moments,

Resting in peace.

A colleague took this picture of me on top of Cates Hill on Bowen Island as I wrote and they were gracious enough to share it with me. It is spectacular with water and land in the panoramic view.

Civil Conversation Circles

In a world with a shortage of civil discourse, we have reduced talking to talking at people. There is a binary process where we say yes or no, turn on or off, incude or exclude people. This leads to thinking in limited ways about choices we face. In fact, I think we end up dependent on those we perceive to be in charge to make decisions on our behalf. This is happening in education as we try to figure out how to get students back in class. As I listen to politicians, educationalists, teachers, parents, etc., what impresses me is we have limited our choices to re-opening schools completly, often without adequate resources and human capacity. or some form of remote learning, as if these are the only two choices. Other choices e.g. home school seem to be excluded, understood as marginal.

Quite a few years, I introduced daily conversation circles. We used them to clarify from my perspective, Also, students shared what they wanted. At the beginning of the school year, each student introduced themselves. It seems small, but this often goes unattended in groups, regardless of where they exist. In my experience, each student, humans in general, want a voice in their learning and work; a voice often cancelled.

In our conversation circles, we used a ‘talking stick.’ The person with the ‘talking stick’ is the speaker and others listen. The ‘talking stick’ was a gift from a parent who was a member of a First Nation. It had some traditional meaning attached to its design. In an era of digital technologies, the talking stick reinforces a civilty of face-to-face conversation which we increasingly need in our world.

In our small school, parents played an integral role, including and not limited to meaningful teaching in the classroom, teaching complementary courses, teaching at home, etc. I shared about our small school in a post called Soul’s Choice, so won’t add more here. My experience and research suggests, after Kindergarten, parents and teachers are somehow on a different team. But, as one teacher proposed, “We share something; the love of a child.” In bringing children back together, we need to hear from two essential voices, often excluded from the conversation about teaching, parents and teachers.

The following is a poem that rattled around for a few days. It might be a bit rought around the edges, but I thought it needed to see the light of day.

Reducing to binary,

Simplifying choice–

0 or 1,

Silencing others.

Inserting ‘and’ in conversations,

Accepting ambiguity–

Listening with one’s heart,

(In)forming community.

Embracing each child,

Loving without conditions–

Parent and teacher raison d’être,

Centring our calling.

Educating,

Sharing purpose–

Making whole,

Caring and healing together.

The picture is the talking stick, which I still have. The following is a short description of the symbolism of the talking stick. The wood is driftwood which came from a local lake and reflects nature’s contributions to conversation circles. Someone carved a bear head into the top of the stick. In some traditions, the bear symbolizes courage, freedom, and power. The feather is from a hawk. Hawks are visionary and guide the person. The coloured ribbons represent the four directions in the circle. The parent attached a medicine bag. The medicine bag heals, guides and protects, and has materials or objects of value to its carrier.

Conversation Circles

In our classroom, we use a conversation circle. I use it as a time to clarify things from my perspective and allow students to speak about what they would like to do. At other times, we talk about upcoming events. Today in the conversation circle, each student introduced themselves to the group, which seems like a small thing, but sometimes goes unattended in classrooms.   I also asked the students about what they want for complementary courses. This is an outgrowth of the conversation circles we held last year. Students want a voice in their learning.

We use a ‘talking stick.’ The person with the ‘talking stick’ is the speaker and others listen. In an era of digital technologies, the stick reinforces a protocol of face-to-face conversation which we increasingly need in our world. The ‘talking stick’ was a gift from a parent last year. She is a member of a First Nation so it has some traditional meaning attached to its design.

The wood is driftwood which came from a local lake and reflects nature’s contributions to the circle. Someone carved a bear head into the top of the stick. In some traditions, the bear symbolizes courage, freedom, and power. The feather is from a hawk. Hawks are visionary and guide the person. The coloured ribbons represent the four directions in the circle. The parent attached a medicine bag. The medicine bag heals, guides and protects, and has materials or objects of value to its carrier.

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