Students gather in the round to seek peace

QUESTION: ACCORDING TO THE WEBSITE, THE COMPANY IS CALLED PEACE CIRCLES (http://peacecircles.com/contact/). STORY REFERS TO PEACEKEEPER CIRCLES. WHICH IS RIGHT? ALSO, I HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT THE LAST THREE GRAFS. THEY LOOK LIKE EDITORIALIZING TO ME. CAN THEY BE ATTRIBUTED TO SAFTLER OR SOMEONE ELSE?

There’s something magical about circles.

Native Americans know it. They have gathered in the round for ages, speaking and listening from the heart. In recent years, Kiri Saftler, owner of Fort Collins-based Peacekeeper Circles, has brought this ancient practice into northern Colorado schools, workplaces and religious settings.

A trained facilitator, Saftler has a master’s degree in spiritual direction and has been actively involved in facilitating peace circles and training others to do so since 2003. A journey through cancer helped her find her true purpose, which she describes as “assisting to build bridges for healthy relationships and inclusivity with the Earth and humanity.”

Today, Saftler conducts peace circles in elementary, middle and high schools. Six Poudre School District schools have embraced the concept so wholeheartedly that peacekeeper training is available for all teachers and staff, and is used in every classroom.

Saftler has made training free, accessible and convenient for teachers by including them in peace circles she conducts. About 120 teachers have learned by observing Saftler in action and then committing to conducting weekly peace circles in their classes for a year.

In a recent peace circle training session, Dunn School fifth-grade teacher Erin Peterson sat on the floor of her classroom, surrounded by cross-legged students. A colorful peacekeeper flag was spread out in the center of the circle, and a smooth black peace stone lay in the center of the flag. Saftler was part of the circle as well.

Peterson asked the kids to review the guidelines. “Listen and speak from the heart,” they said. “Maintain eye contact, be aware of body language and remember the importance of confidentiality. Only the person with the stone speaks. Everyone else listens.” The kids were anxious to get started. Peterson retrieved the stone and passed it to the student on her left, and the talk began.

One by one, the students shared their appreciation for a kindness shown them by a classmate and how that made them feel, or a concern they had when someone had hurt their feelings, and how that made them feel. They made direct eye contact with each other, they listened and they avoided any sort of accusation.

One or two of the students asked if they could pass when their turn came to speak, and that was fine. But Peterson circled back to them after everyone else had spoken. There was no opting out.

The time flew by. Everyone had two opportunities to speak. Students expressed “secondhand joy” for someone else’s accomplishment, offered sympathy for a student who had recently lost a grandparent, and complimented the crazy, exotic socks a classmate wore to school.

Saftler gently offered suggestions and closed with a thank you to the class for being so authentic. She promised to return in the coming weeks to offer support.

Saftler also educates people about peace circles through Making Amends Makes Friends, a read-aloud and discussion book for all ages. The book, which is written by Saftler and illustrated by local artist Cheryl Glanz, incorporates examples of peacekeeper language and skills into a charming story about a friendship between two girls. The book also includes a description of peacekeeper language and an explanation of peace circle benefits for those new to the concept.

Relating to each other in a circle provides a container, and confidentiality makes it safe. Barriers break down and collaborative learning is enhanced in the classroom. It’s tough to do math next to someone you just had a fight with unless you’ve learned the words to resolve the issue without causing pain. At home, conflict resolution becomes easier when parents and children adopt peacekeeper skills.

Children are quick to appreciate what peace circles do for them. They say they have more friends, feel safer and less shy, see their class becoming more of a team, are not afraid to speak the truth and admit mistakes, and are able to describe their feelings in ways they never could before.

Kiri Saftler is onto something. Visit peacecircles.com to learn more.

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