Here’s the Good News
You’re not crazy. Children of all ages (and adults too) sometimes have trouble honoring the talking piece. Even when they’ve agreed to its principles and deeply appreciate the permission it gives them to speak and to be listened to, they call out of turn, interrupt and seem not to respect the dialogue circle process. We’ll explore reasons for this behavior below, but first things first: students appearing to discount the talking piece is not uncommon or abnormal. And sometimes just knowing that provides a little relief.
So, Why Can’t My Students Honor the Talking Piece???
The key word here is can’t. When our students don’t honor the talking piece, they’re either experiencing a problem or lacking a skill…or both. Any number of issues may be preventing them from exercising the control required in circle (they’re hungry, tired or overwhelmed with a personal dilemma, etc.). And the lagging skills are perhaps just as plentiful.
Here are some skills that may be underdeveloped and therefore contributing to our children’s inability to show up as the best versions of themselves in circle:
- Regulating emotion
- Seeing other points of view
- Frustration tolerance
- Expressing concerns and needs
- Ability to think of multiple solutions
- Handling transitions
- Ability to wait, plan in sequence and complete a task
The Only Way Forward is Together
Imparting circle skills requires us to work shoulder to shoulder with our students, to operate in the with box. Our ultimate goals are to model and (often explicitly teach) the thinking and behavioral skills necessary to honor the talking piece and to solve any talking piece issues together. Use the following exemplars to determine where you currently stand.
Restorative Strategies for Helping Students Honor the Talking Piece
No one ever said dialogue circles would always be easy! But they’re certainly worth it. As you work to support your students in strengthening their circle skills, please give some of the following strategies a try:
- Work to show up in circle in the same way you ask your students to show up.
- Determine the ideal time to circle up and identify other antecedents to circle success.
- Create a ceremony that indicates the circle process has begun.
- Incorporate cognitive skills and SEL competencies into circle rounds.
- Captivate your audience with a good story.
- Problem-solve on the spot.
- Create the conditions for student control and fun.
- Join them (if you can’t beat them).
- Take the circle process outdoors.
How Adult Mindset Can Make This Whole Thing a Little Easier
As with most things in life, how we approach the talking piece conundrum matters. For our own peace of mind, it’s important to remember that challenging behavior is a signal and not the actual problem. Challenging behavior alerts us to a capacity issue—when it surfaces, we know that what is being asked of our students is beyond their current ability. Not honoring the talking piece is most likely about student skill and not about student will. Framing the issue this way is helpful and aids and amplifies the impact of the protocol and strategies that follow.