In this case example from a primary school in Northern Ireland, Ms Creighton, shows how a problem solving circle can be used to harness the cooperation and collaboration of a group of children. The first skill I love about Ms Creighton's example is her self awareness that her feelings of irritation stem from her own needs being impacted and her recognition that the children's chatter was simply inconvenient at that point in time and that in other circumstances their engagement with each other would have been very convenient). Turning away from the blaming approach she engages her second restorative skill, the grace to invite the children in to solve the conflict of needs that they were in together, together.
The noise in the class had risen several times and Ms Creighton was struggling to hear the children reading at the front of the class. She was feeling frustrated, distracted and more than just a little stressed. She could feel her anger rise. She checked her emotions and quickly asked herself three questions. "What do I need?", "Why do I need that?" and "What happens if I don't get it?" She took a deep breath and moved to the front of the class.
She raised her voice slightly, smiling and said "Girls and boys! Let's circle up." Without any fuss, the children, all around 7 or 8 years old, shuffled forward and sat in a haphazard circle. All eyes on Ms Creighton, she said "I have a problem and I need your help." The kids gazed at her. She continued, "I love it when you talk about your work, but at the moment the noise in the room is so loud that I can't hear your friends reading to me and I need to be able to hear their reading so I know how they are doing. Can you help me solve this?"
The children began to talk, one after the other moving clockwise around the circle. "We could put our fingers on our lips Ms." "We could whisper Ms." "We could put our heads down and go to sleep for a while Ms" (I love this kid - he is my kind of kid).
Ms Creighton smiled and responded to each of the suggestions, "That's a good idea...that might work...not sure about that one but its a lovely fantasy isn't it? "
Then she asked the children, "How will we know if our solution is working?" Again the children made suggestions. "You will be able to hear Ms Creighton...you won't have to ask us to circle up again... the room will be quieter..."
"Excellent work boys and girls. Now one last thing, what can you all do to make sure this solution works?" One by one they all made a commitment to whisper or to be quiet. The class returned to their seats, and Ms Creighton returned to the front of the class and the children began reading again. The noise rose again, and with just a glance from Ms Creighton, a few children shushed their friends and the noise subsided again.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.