September 24, 2008

Talking circles in schools

Native American tradition helps students solve problemsA few years back, a toy went missing from an Audubon, Minn., sixth-grader’s locker. The child was particularly distraught because the object was a gift from a late grandmother.

So Sam Skaaland, the Lake Park-Audubon elementary principal who back then taught sixth grade, and his students sat in a circle. They took turns talking about how the loss of a treasured possession made them feel.

Before long, the toy mysteriously reappeared in its owner’s locker.

The school had recently embraced the concept of the talking circle, a traditional American Indian practice that has gained fans at schools in Minnesota and beyond. The technique, which teaches students to speak up, listen and relate, is a favorite in the arsenal of educators who in recent years have championed a softer approach to promoting discipline.

“It’s a way for kids to solve problems from within themselves rather than us lecturing them,” said Skaaland, whose school scored a Center for Academic Excellence award for its use of the tool earlier this year.

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