The following case studies from our school partners illustrate how Community Building Circles and Community Conferences can work within various communities.
All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the participants.
Josh accidentally left his phone plugged into the charger when switching classes. By the time he ran back to retrieve it, the phone was long gone. His teacher assured Josh she would ask her students to help look for the phone. At the beginning of the school year she started implementing Community Building Circles and knew this particular class pretty well. Having built strong bonds she felt confident saying, “I just want to talk to you guys because a student’s phone has gone missing and this is an unfortunate situation. So if any of you know where it is or who took it – the right thing to do would be to give the phone back.”
Right after class, Shawn, Taylor, and Mike approached the teacher and asked, “What does it say about a person’s character if a person stole something and then brought it back?” The teacher responded, “That would say a lot about the person’s character. And it wouldn’t say much about their character if they didn’t return it.” The teacher could see the boys were really thinking about what she said. They left the room and then came back a few minutes later and as they handed the phone over they said, “Oh, we found this phone.”
Foreign Language Made Fun
A foreign language teacher, reports: “I found out that one of my students who is failing my class is an avid reader. So during one of our Community Building Circles, I asked everyone to name his or her favorite storybook from their childhood. So you can imagine their surprise when I brought in those books written in Italian. They see that I’m paying attention to what interests them, so during class they pay more attention to me. In my opinion, this process makes a big difference in the class; the key is to continue doing it on a regular basis.”
A math instructor who teaches class right after lunch notices that students have difficulty concentrating. Most of the students in this class are repeating the course and there are at least eight young people who have problems controlling their behavior. When the teacher first introduced Community Building Circles, there were sidebar conversations, despite the use of a “talking piece” that serves as a reminder that only one person may speak at a time. After conducting the circles a few times, the young people have started to settle down and seem to take a real interest in the process by asking their own sets of questions.
One time, a student brought up the social media application called Instagram because someone had posted a page of photos of girls and implied they were promiscuous. A student asked, “Why is it that girls get called horrible names and boys don’t? The boys are doing the same things the girls are doing but they aren’t being called names.” Many of the students passed the talking piece without speaking and then one student who hadn’t spoken before added, “I think it’s really terrible, because one of my friends is on that page and she doesn’t deserve to be.” Another male student talked about how not all boys call the girls those names, and noted that girls are responsible for the name-calling too. Right before the bell rang to dismiss the class, another student yelled out, “We need to stop calling each other names!”
A Safe Place
Renee, Teresa, and Samantha have been friends since their freshman year. As they started making new friends — with Kiki and Tracy — things got complicated and the gossiping got out of hand. In public, Kiki told Trina she smelled funny and in turn, Trina called Kiki a dog. Kiki’s sister, Samantha, had to hold Kiki back when she lunged at Trina. The Dean referred the case to Community Conferencing.
The group decided to try holding the conference without the families with the understanding that if things couldn’t get resolved then the families would be called in for another conference. To prepare, the facilitator confirmed this arrangement with each student and their family. In the process, it became clear that Yvonne and Kelly also needed to be invited to really resolve things.
The next day the Community Conference was convened with all seven girls, the Dean, and the counselor. The facilitator reminded them, “First everyone is going to hear what happened, how everyone has been affected, and then what can be done to make things better.” Renee loudly announced to the group that she had been in circles before (meaning Community Building Circles) and that, “Ooh I got this — this is a safe place y’all!”
The girls took turns explaining that their friendships had changed over time because of the gossip. Finally, Trina revealed how Kiki hurt her, “You know I try to blow off your insults but I’ve got anger management issues.” Kiki apologized and Trina replied, “I shouldn’t have called you an animal.” Next Yvonne, Samantha, and Kelly apologized for perpetuating the rumors. The facilitator asked, “Do you miss the friendship?” and the girls smiled and nodded. The apologies, commitments to stop gossiping, and to check-in about rumors were added to the written agreement. As the girls signed their agreement Ms. Miller observed, “We have faith in you so let’s finish this school year without any more drama.” Afterwards, the counselor pulled Trina aside to offer anger management support and Trina agreed to meet with her the next day.