Over the course of many lifetimes, several cultures have used circles as a vehicle for human connection and spiritual healing. The concept behind circle work is very simple: it fosters sharing the complexities of emotion and vulnerability with the members of the group to develop understanding, connection and healing. Taken from Calling the Circle, the Circle Way, “gathers people into a circular shape with participants at the rim and the purpose in the center. Each person has a voice and everyone can see and hear one another. Social agreements and simple practices help facilitate respectful conversation to support profound discovery, commitment and strategy together. Circle supports a leader in every chair.” Inspired by the foundations of circle work M E Clarke partnered with Quanita Roberson, founder of Nzuzu, to facilitate a retreat for Mt. Auburn International Academy’s leadership team.

Mt. Auburn International Academy (MAIA) is a highly regarded institution, providing high quality education to a diverse population in the Cincinnati area. MAIA strives to help all students achieve their full potential, prepare them for college success, equip them with the ability and desire for lifelong learning and strengthen their civic, ethical and moral values. In order to achieve these lofty goals, the school maintains strict standards of efficiency and accountability throughout its operation. To this end, MAIA engaged Quanita Roberson in an initial cultural assessment and scheduled a retreat to begin addressing some of the issues identified.

Quanita facilitated the two-day retreat in circle form, where the members of the group took turns upholding the responsibilities of the circle. One such responsibility included a space holder, whose job was to ring a bell indicating a need for a moment of reflection and deep breathing. Each day, a participant was named “holder of the night sky,” and given the responsibility of symbolically bringing the group together at the beginning and end of each day. These responsibilities are the foundation of the circle, exemplifying the importance of respecting each member of the group as a leader and an equal.

Throughout the retreat, the MAIA leadership team took time to listen, discuss and support one another’s vulnerability and share connection. The circle discussed privilege, their commitments to one another, opportunities for growth, and ideas for a healthy and supportive future. During the retreat many voices spoke of concern for their students and vocalized the need to grow as a leadership team. By taking the time to care for themselves individually and as a connected team, they will be able to support and share connection with their students and the students’ families.

Within the circle, all emotions and all vulnerabilities are accepted and embraced. The gift of the circle is that each voice is respected, heard and shared. Although much work is ahead, the MAIA leadership team practiced skills that will benefit the school, the students and give them the ability to help themselves and others.