Thursday, January 15, 2015

Talking Circles

Tuesday, we had a guest presenter in my History Curriculum class and she led us in a talking circle.  In case you don't know what a talking circle is, it's pretty simple: everyone sits in a circle and an object is passed around.  Whoever has the object is the only one who can speak.

Talking circles are used in First Nation (and other) cultures.  I don't know if all First Nations in Canada have a version of a talking circle and am not trying to generalize.  I do know that the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe both use them.  Our instructor, Lindsay, told us that the big difference between the two is that one passes the talking stick clockwise and the other counter-clockwise.  (I don't remember which is which).

Lindsay also explained some other important rules:
Guidelines of talking circles on the chalkboard.
In the left column of the image are what we were to say when we introduced ourselves.  We said our names, our band (if we had one) and where we're from.  So I would say, "Rae ndeshnikaaz, Ontario ndoongiibaa."  The Objibwe sounds were foreign on our tongues and many of us had trouble pronouncing the words properly, but Lindsay encouraged us to try our best.  In the right side of the image are the guidelines. 

First, NEVER repeat what you hear without permission.  Our instructor explained that in First Nations culture, your words and your stories are your property.  If you were to retell a story that you heard without the owners permission, that would be extremely disrespectful and a break of trust. Also, a talking circle is a safe space and people are welcome to feel safe and comfortable sharing.  If people are compromising the information, that could lead to a breach in private information.

Second, as previously mentioned, Only the person holding the talking stick talks.   Lindsay's talking stick was an elk horn decorated with a string of beads and an eagle feather.  (Elk horns are cool because elk drop their horns naturally and you don't hurt the animal to get them.  They are also really cool to look at.).  There was a meaning to the eagle feather, but I don't remember anymore.  She told us that the object didn't overall matter and it was up to us to find our own talking stick for when we choose to use talking circles in our classes.

And third, You do not have to speak.  There is no pressure whatsoever to say something during the talking circle.  It is your prerogative.

It was a really cool activity to do as a class, and even though it might seem really simple and more fit for the primary grades, as adults, we enjoyed it.  The circle really changes the dynamics of the class as well as brings in another cultural element.  In the conventional lesson, the students and teacher create a sort of dialogue as the teacher instructs and the students raise their hands in participation.  In a talking circle, that dialogue is not there.  The stick does not go backward but always moves forward around the circle.  It's not really an activity for commenting on other people's words and ideas but for sharing your own thoughts, feelings and opinions.  It's also about listening to others for the sake of listening and not for the sake of building on their ideas/opinions.  The entire pace of the activity is more relaxed and peaceful which was a pleasant change from the rush that can be the classroom.

In case you missed it, I liked partaking in the talking circle and I hope to use it in the future when I have my own classroom.

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