Mrs Tanner contacted me to ask for help around her Year 9 class. There is a lot of stealing going on." She went on to explain that money had gone missing on numerous occasions and complaints from parents were beginning to become a regular occurrence. "I’m pretty sure I know who it is, but I can’t prove it" she said. Do you have any ideas what we could do? "Sure," I replied. "Let's try a circle." Mrs Tanner facilitated while I supported.
Circles are a great way to address harm and conflict when the behaviour is impacting a group of people and it is especially effective when you don’t have a clear admission of responsibility. Because circles are not focused on a specific person’s actions which harmed another person or group and rather then are focused on the best interests of the group as a whole, they are really effective in situations where no one is taking responsibility.
Mrs Tanner prepared the class by explaining in their weekly class meeting was going to take part in a “circle discussion” about the upset some students had about things going missing at school. She was to advise the students that they could choose to sit out of the circle if they wanted, but she really hoped that the whole class would take part.
She explained the circle rules to her students so that they were clear about what to expect:
This is what happened.
Mrs Tanner asked the students to "Circle Up" and introduced the circle topic and the talking piece. She then phrased the first question and passed the talking piece to her left. As the talking piece was passed around the circle, the students began to share how they felt about their possessions going missing and money being stolen. They expressed their hurt, their disappointment and how it undermined trust in each other, creating suspicion even of people who probably hadn't done anything wrong. As the students began talking about what they believed might lead to someone taking things from their friends, Mrs Tanner drew out comments from her more emotionally compassionate students about some children feeling "less than" and "having less than" their peers and how difficult this must be.
The students conversations developed into a deep and meaningful conversation about how money and possessions didn't define whether you were popular or "good enough" in their eyes rather being trustworthy, reliable and loyal were characteristics they celebrated in their closest friends. Mrs Tanner chose this moment to take a short break for comfort. She asked the children to return in 10 minutes ready to address the last question of "what they could each do to reduce the likelihood of their things being taken in the future." When the class returned, the circle continued with each student asked to give examples of what they could do to reduce the likelihood of further stealing. Examples given ranged from "I could look after my own stuff better," to "I could be more watchful of my friends things for them too," to the most beautiful comment which came from a young 13 year old boy who said "I could make sure that my friends don't feel less than me just because they have less than me." There was more than one tear shed in the room that day and I don't mind telling you that some of them were mine.
I followed up with Mrs Tanner six weeks later. Not one further incident of theft had occurred in that time.