Circle Work: Being Together as a Relation

Circle Work: Being Together as a Relation

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3425-3.ch003
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Circle work has been used by Indigenous people since time out of mind. This pedagogical practice creates spaces of relationality and community building within our current day educational system. This space that Circle work creates allows for a learning community to understand our interconnectedness as humans and helps to develop empathy for others. Circle work brings people together in our humanity rather than dividing us in our differences, focusing on community building, with the hope of giving people the opportunity to actively decolonize how they educate within the classroom. This practice can be used by all educators willing to step into a wholistic teaching practice within their classroom.
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ha7lh skwáyel ta néwyap, Carolyn Roberts kwi en sna, men Janet Baker and Ed Kelly. Tiná7 chen t’la skwxwú7mesh úxwumixw, N’quat’qua úxwumixw, Tzeachten úxwumixw

(Introducing myself in my ancestral language of Skwxwú7mesh sníchim).

I write this chapter with humility and respect for my connection to my relatives, my ancestors, and the Indigenous voices that I have learned from as both a student and educator. This sharing of knowledge is from my own personal lived experiences in the BC education system. My hope is that those who step into the work of bringing Indigenous pedagogies into their classrooms will choose to build their own personal knowledge of Indigenous pedagogies, and engage in the work in a way that will not only support their personal learning, but benefit their classroom and students.

My name is Carolyn Roberts, and I come from a long line of ancestors that have been living with and on this land for thousands of years. My ancestors from my mother’s side (Janet Baker) are from the Thevarge family from N’Quatqua Nation. My father’s side (Ed Kelly) are from the Kelly Family from the Tzeachten Nation. Under the governmental policy of the Indian Act, I am a member of the Squamish Nation, because my mother married a Squamish man.

Circle work has been a practice in Indigenous communities since time out of mind. The practice of working in Circle helps support learning and community building, and offers a space for healing. In this chapter, I discuss Circle work as a pedagogical tool to use within the classroom or other educational spaces. The Circle work framework that I will present is a pedagogical tool and not a ceremonial or spiritual practice. It is a tool that can be used within any classroom, by all educators, to help build community and decolonize teaching practice.

There are five concepts found in Circle work: relationality, decolonization, witnessing, anti-racism, and time. Relationality is a foundational concept within Circle work, as it is built upon the understanding that everything we do in education is based on relationships. Decolonized teacher practice is a way that all educators can start to dismantle the educational system from within. Witnessing is a practice that is found within some Indigenous communities as a way to engage with the oral traditions of sharing Indigenous knowledges. It is a participatory practice that goes beyond just listening to someone share their knowledge with you, and asks you to be an active participant in the process of creating knowledge. Anti-racist education is critical in the work of education today. A crucial step in anti-racism work is when educational spaces are allowed to be a place where Indigenous students, Black students, and students who are people of colour are welcomed and shown that their voice has a place within the classroom. The colonial concept of time within the education system is something that educators find themselves fighting against the moment they arrive in their classroom. Time is dictated by the bell system, report cards, recess, lunch, learning deadlines, and the list goes on. Circle work is an invitation to create a different concept of time in the classroom.

While there are many educational benefits to using Circle work in the classroom, some key values are building community, allowing time for students and educators to create relationships, and enhancing communication skills. Circle work provides students and educators the opportunity to hear each other’s voices in the classroom. Bringing in student voice, worldviews, and life experiences opens up the classroom as a space for learning about how to be anti-racist with each other.

As an educator, I have found the practice of Circle work to be transformative for my students within my many classrooms. It can bring humanity to the education process by building relationships and creating the space for a learning community to grow. Relationships are the foundation of all the work we do in education. Without the foundation of relationships, it is challenging to learn from each other, and to grow. I have used Circle work in my current post-secondary classrooms, with my school teams as a principal and vice principal, and in my classrooms as a K-12 educator in the public school system. I invite all educators into this work of supporting your classrooms and pedagogical practice through Circles: whether you come to this practice as an Indigenous person or a non-Indigenous person, please keep in mind that it is important to always acknowledge, in the opening of the Circle, that the origin of Circle work comes from Indigenous knowledge systems.

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