As a school counselor, you have the unique skills that allow you to help students process their thoughts and feelings. Rarely are students able to share thoughts on sensitive issues and topics in a safe place.  With the Ferguson indictment decision looming, many schools are not sure of the reaction of their students and community members.  If you are in a school that is not prepared for the outcome of decision when it hits the media, you might want to consider becoming proficient in the restorative circle approach to deal with intense emotions in your high school. 

What are talking or counseling circles?

Circles were used by Native Americans as a conflict resolution tool to help build and maintain healthy communities.  This approach was adopted by schools to create a safe space where students and staff can share their feelings and experiences.

How are circles established?

Circles can be conducted in a classroom, in your office, or as a counseling group. 

1.  A circle is created where everyone is treated as an equal.
2.  A talking piece (ball, stuffed animal, or any object that you have in your office) is used to invite participants to speak. While that person speaks, everyone in the circle practices active listening. 
3.  Center piece is an object that sits in the middle of the circle. Some meaningful pieces include notecards written by the students, pictures that represent them, or objects students bring from home.  The center piece helps the students focus on the purpose of the circle.
4.  Opening and closing session

  • The opening session allows students to separate the circle from the regular school day and may start with a poem, song, quote, or story.
  • Closing session may acknowledge the work and progress of the group.

5.  The keeper or facilitator is responsible for maintaining the safety of the circle, introducing the process, and facilitating dialogue.  As students become more comfortable with the process, they may become responsible for bringing the talking piece or center piece and participating in the opening or closing session.

Using a Circle Approach for the Ferguson, Missouri Case

How would the circle look for the case involving Michael Brown from Missouri?  The Morningside Center has written a lesson plan to use with students.

1.  Conduct an opening ceremony (moment of silence for Michael Brown).  You could also hold a moment of silence for any youth who has died violently.

2.  Summarize what happened in Ferguson and ask the students to tell you what they know about the shooting.  Some questions that can be asked include:

  • What can you tell me about what happened to Michael Brown on August 9th?
  • What do you know about Michael Brown as a person?
  • What has happened in Ferguson, MO since his death?

Explain to the students what facts have been reported about the Michael Brown case.

After talking about the case, pass the talking piece around and ask the questions above.  When all have spoken, summarize the information from the students.

3.  Ask the students about how they feel about what happened in Ferguson and have them write their thoughts on an index card.

4.  Have the students count off by twos and face their partner. Each person will have two minutes to talk about how they felt about what happened in Ferguson.  After four minutes, invite students back to the circle and ask volunteers to share their feelings and why they felt that way.

5. Give the students an excerpt about the case and ask students to respond to the reading by sending the talking piece around the circle.

Some questions can include:

  • What does the article say about race relations in Ferguson?
  • According to the article, who/what are the protestors protesting about/against?

6.  Provide a narrative for students to read about race relations in the US and in the circle ask:

  • What does the article say about Ferguson in context to the rest of the US?
  • What does the article say about race relations in the US?
  • How does race relations affect you personally?

7.  In the closing ceremony, ask the students to share one question or issue they would like to discuss in the next circle.

Preparing for a Circle

Introduction to Circles by Morningside Center
What Happened in Ferguson and Why?
Teaching Restorative Practices in the Classroom with Circles
Restorative Practices Resources
Restorative Practices Poster
Restorative Practices Questions Poster
Restorative Practices Card
Restoring Justice
Teaching Tolerance Restorative Inquiry Worksheet

Example of a Circle Process from Oakland Schools


Restorative Circles in the Classroom
Circle Prompts
Circle Scripts
Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth

Introduction to Restorative Justice, Dec.10th – Ft. Wayne, IN

Do you have any information you can share with counselors on how you approach hot button issues with your students?


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