Carolyn Corbi is a spitfire who is passionate about social justice, urban education, and the power of community to lead change. I have known Carolyn for more than twenty years in my family life, but I am now connected to her in my professional life too! How lucky that we reunited over a shared purpose to bring Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) education to schools.
As a life-long learner, I am always seeking opportunities to expand my school nurse educator tool-kit. Carolyn is an expert in “circle practices” which she introduced to my Rutgers-Camden School Nurse Certificate students. She facilitated a powerful “circle” to unpack the book, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, that we read as part of Fall 2019, Seminar in School Nursing Practice course.
To say that sparks were flying that night is a great understatement, but we were able to peacefully share the highly charged responses to this controversial book through the use of circle practice. We sat in a literal circle, facing each other, which I also do in my regular classroom practice. It promotes connection and enhances communication and conversation as well as creates a sense of flat hierarchy, where each participant is equally powerful and present.
I asked Carolyn to share her experiences with circle practice, which she is now implementing in the many schools she works with as a Priority Schools Consultant with New Jersey Education Association – NJEA. The essence of this work is described by Amanda Adams, Associate Director of Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division of NJEA:
There is a marked difference between cooperation and collaboration. In a cooperative enterprise, we can accomplish a task because we share responsibility. But it’s important to realize that cooperation is not a synonym for collaboration, which means something far more. Through collaboration, we can create something that would not exist without our combined thinking—or we can develop a solution that wouldn’t have been considered without multiple minds addressing the problem.
Let me begin by giving you some insight into my teaching career. I am a retired (1 year now) teacher of students with special needs in an urban school district in South Jersey. My thirty-one-year teaching career including all grades from pre-k to 12th grade and everywhere in between. I was also heavily involved in my union, and still am today. I am now a consultant for the New Jersey Education Association in their Professional Development and Instruction Issues Division. I serve the needs of students and teachers in three urban school districts in New Jersey as a Priority Schools Consultant.
I am proud of a special initiative that I have been honored to introduce in my priority schools. It is based on the method of “Restorative Justice Circles.” Much of the circle practices are rooted in a design principle called Art of Hosting Conversations. I have been involved in this transformational work for six years through H.O.P.E. (Help Out Public Education). H.O.P.E met outside of school hours five times a year. This is where I was introduced to the following circle practices:
World Cafe Method – Drawing on seven integrated design principles, the World Café methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue. Each element of the method has a specific purpose and corresponds to one or more of the design principles.
Pro-Action Cafes – is facilitation for action-oriented, creative, and inspirational conversations. The participants are invited to share their questions (around projects, or seed ideas) and get input from others. ProAction Café moves from questions to actions by providing space for creativity and getting deeper input (deeper questions, knowledge, experience) from others.
Open Space – Open Space Technology is one way to enable all kinds of people, in any kind of organization, to create inspired meetings and events. Over the last 30+ years, it has also become clear that opening space, as an intentional leadership practice, can create inspired organizations, where ordinary people work together to create extraordinary results with regularity.
The Chaordic Stepping Stones – The chaordic path is the path that walks between chaos and order. When we don’t know where we are going, or what the future needs for us, we can bring a little bit of form to our work by working with clear steps. These steps are intended to create generative structures, structures that allow us to create together, without stifling creativity and the emergence of new ideas and new ways of doing things.
Four-Fold Practices – The Four–Fold Practice of the Art of Hosting. Being Present (Pre-sensing) Participate and practice conversations (Participation) Hosting conversations (Contribute) Co-creating with others – becoming a community of practice. From a learner to a community that learns.
Through my work with NJEA, I was invited to a four-day Restorative Justice Peace Circle Training two years ago. I came up with the idea of using these practices with my high school special needs students during my training. In short, they loved the circle way. We used the circle weekly to check-in and see what was on each other’s minds and hearts. We also used it to resolve issues, talk about school shootings, and to become more aware of each other. It was a way to promote connections inside and outside of the classroom.
In February 2019, I was fortunate to become trained in the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Interface Training developed by Dr. Rob Anda (the chief researcher in the original ACEs study), Laura Porter, and Dave Ellis. The circle practice is a wonderful way to connect with anyone, especially our students who have suffered from toxic stress.
Circle practice is only one method used in promoting healing for toxic stress on an individual’s brain and soul. I started facilitating peace circles this school year with teachers who were interested in the process. I have facilitated weekly circles in Kindergarten – 8th grade at one of my schools. Some of the teachers are now facilitating and we have even had students co-facilitate with the teachers.
My second school is a middle school in northern NJ with 7th and 8th graders. I have facilitated peace circles in five of the classrooms with the most success happening in an English Second Language (ESL) class. My third school is pre-k through 5th grade where I also facilitate weekly circles in a first-grade class.
There is much in-depth work needed to prepare to “hold” an effective circle practice. The feedback from teachers and students has been tremendous. Here are just a few statements:
“I love circle because it gives us a safe place to talk about issues.” – 6th grader
“It makes me happy that everyone gets to talk and everyone can listen.” – 1st grader “Circle allows each student to feel important”. – teacher
“It’s making us more empathetic” – 7th grader.
For more information, please reach out to me via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org