The students sit together in a circle and pass a „talking piece“ (an object used to identify the speaker) around. Each speaker speaks spontaneously, is concise and to the point and expresses his/her experience while the others listen with an open heart, without judgement or preconceived ideas.
- to encourage deep and honest communication
- to learn and practice the art of listening and talking from the heart
- to trigger the students to express themselves
- to explore factors contributing to conflicts
- to share personal stories
- Get informed: reading the annex of this activity (introduction to Council) might be helpful to understand the concept of a Council. To get an idea about the realisation of a Council and the impact it can have on students and teachers, have a look at the video clip of the Ojai-Foundation Council in Schools:
- Define the context of the Council which is going to take place: What is the specific intention of this Circle (e.g. to hear what is bothering the students, to speak about a topic which stirs the emotions of the students, to find a solution for an ongoing conflict, to come to a solution etc.)?
- Preparation of the room: The centre of the circle is the focal-point of the Council and of the group. Therefore, either objects that express the intention of the circle (e.g. personal items of students, objects that are related to the intention of the Council) or beautiful spots (flowers, candles etc.) will raise its energy. The centre could be arranged by you or you can do it together with the students.
- Choose a “talking piece” (if you regularly plan to hold a Council, students may take turns in bringing a talking piece to the classroom beforehand).
Step by step description
1. Prepare the room (see preparation). The students and you form a circle (either you sit on chairs or on the floor, e.g. on rubber mattressess).
2. Explain the characteristics of a Council:
What is a Council?
"A Council is a practice of speaking and listening from the heart. The use of a 'talking piece' gives clarity as to who is talking and to those whom are listening. The student who holds the 'talking piece' speaks spontaneously from his/her own experience, is concise and to the point while the others listen with an open heart, without judgement or preconceived ideas."
3. Propose the intention of the Council that will follow and introduce the “talking piece”.
4. Explain the rules for talking and listening:
- Speak from the heart (in what is present and authentic).
- Listen from the heart (pay attention to the others, without judgement or preconceived ideas).
- Be spontaneous (without planning or storing information).
- Be concise and to the point (speak the essence).
- Confidentiality: what has been said in the circle stays in the circle.
During the Council there will not be any comments on what others have said. Encourage students to be sensitive to time and to others.
“Take a breath and a quiet moment before you begin to speak”.
5. The Council starts. If there is only one lesson left, it is important to finish it 10 minutes before the clock rings in order to have enough time for the debriefing.
6. Thank the students for their willingness to share their thoughts, ideas and feelings with the group and with you. Remove the items from the centre.
Please note: If the Council is used regularly, students may start feeling more confident after some time and the Council works even better.
Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing
- Did you like to speak and listen from your heart?
- Was it easy/difficult for you to listen to others without judgement or preconceived ideas?
- Was there anything surprising for your?
- What are important/interesting things you have learned during the Council?
Suggestions for adaptations and variations
Pre-activity: Suggestion for practising speaking and listening from the heart
Divide the group into two circles (an inside and an outside one, facing each other) and let the students practise the art of speaking and listening with open hearts in pairs.
Reference / original source of the method
This activity was facilitated by Galit Hanien and Itaf Awad in their workshop "Council – The Art of Listening and Speaking from the Heart" during the aces Academy 2010 and the aces Kick-Off Meeting 2010 in Senec, Slovak Republic. Helge Bartels held a workshop with the same title and method at the aces Academy 2014 in Senec.
Further tips and resources
Council in Schools: Return To The Heart.m4V (The Ojaj Foundation, 8,46 min.)
More information on the website „The Council in Schools“:
Zimmerman Jack and Virginia Coyle: The Way of Council , Bramble Books, Las Vegas, 1996.
Pranis, Kay: The Little Book of Circle Processes: New/Old Approaches to Peacemaking, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, 2005
Goleman, Daniel: Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, New York, 1995
Annex: Introduction Council – The Art of Listening and Speaking from The Heart