Staff Talking Circles

Culturally responsive instructional leaders must provide teachers and staff with structured opportunities to engage in dialogue around bias
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Staff Talking Circles
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About This Strategy

This strategy provides a structure for school staff to engage in meaningful conversations about race, bias, and systemic inequities in education.  By first listening to a podcast, staff come to the circle with a common experience that can be built upon in a brave space.  Podcasts are accessible and memorable, and their storytelling format is more engaging than academic articles that provide similar information.  With a strategic mix of content, instructional leaders can curate staff experiences that promote deep reflection and model the vulnerability needed to authentically lead teachers and students in conversations about race and oppression.  By debriefing the experiences in a talking circle, teachers experience restorative classroom practices firsthand, and they see how powerful this practice can be for students and adults alike.

Implementation Steps

  1. Read "Part One: Restorative Practices and the Skills of Circle Keeping" of the Teaching Restorative Practices in the Classroom: A 7 Lesson Curriculum resource included in the resource section below to become familiar with the basics of circle practices and to get some ideas of how to present this idea to staff.  Think about:

    • Where there might be enough space to gather staff in a circle

    • What to use as a centerpiece

    • What to use as a talking piece

    • How to open and close the circle with rituals/routines

  2. Create a schedule and begin curating the podcasts you would like to provide as pre-listening activities.  Think about:

    • How often the meeting should occur.  Weekly? Twice monthly?

    • What to focus listening on. Historical roots of racism? Systemic racism in education? Local issues of segregation and inequity?  Refer to the list of podcast resources included in the resource section below for ideas for finding podcasts that might benefit staff.

  3. Invite staff to the first circle.  It is a good idea to:

    • Use in-person invitations for key staff members who should attend.

    • Follow up with an email that includes group norms, a meeting schedule, a link for the first podcast, and a copy of the reflection form.

  4. Before the meeting, all circle participants should listen to the podcast and complete a 3-2-1 reflection.

  5. At the circle, consider using this routine:

    • Begin with an opening ritual that builds community and sets the tone.  For example, circle members can take turns choosing an inspirational quote.  The circle may begin with a two-voice read of the quote, and the person who chose the quote may explain why it is important to them.

    • Review the group norms included in the resource section below by reading them out loud

    • Start with a sequential share of an Aha or Ouch moment from the podcast.  During a sequential share, the talking piece is passed to the left so that all circle participants have an opportunity to be heard.

      1. In a 3-2-1 reflection, the reader writes 3 things that they learned or are new.  These can be "Aha" or "Ouch" moments where new information was revealed, or the reader made a new realization.  (Please refer to Teacher Tips below for more context around "Ouch" moments.)  The reader also writes 2 questions they have after hearing the podcast, and 1 action step they want to take moving forward.

      2. For more information about a 3-2-1 strategy, refer to the 3-2-1 strategy in the BetterLesson lab.

    • Proceed with connections or reflections from the sequential share.  Continue to use the talking piece to ensure equity of voice, but this round need not be sequential.

    • Wrap up with a sequential share of action steps from the 3-2-1 reflection

  6. Circle keepers may consider using the survey included in the resource section below to determine how participants felt about the resources provided during the circles and to plan for ways to scale up for building-wide professional development.  This survey could be formatted as a google form for electronic data collection.

  7. It is best to make the circles a regular practice so that participants build trust with each other.  This can be an opportunity for teachers to share best practices for effective culturally responsive strategies, reflect on their own biases, and get feedback from one another across lines of difference.

Questions to Consider

  • How comfortable is the staff with talking about race and bias?  If staff needs to build background knowledge, consider starting the podcast series with episodes explaining implicit bias and providing historical information about racism in the U.S.

Teacher Tips

  • When introducing the 3-2-1 reflection protocol, staff may need clarification on "Ouch" moments.  An "ouch" is something that is challenging to think about.  Typically, conversations about race will bring up "icky" feelings that we have been socialized to ignore.  "Ouch" moments allow us to reflect on those feelings and begin to question why we feel so "icky."  

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the resources linked below were consulted.