CYC-Online 15 APRIL 2000
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The Circle of Courage

Sabitha Samjee

The author, a child and youth care worker who works in a professional foster care agency in Kimberley, South Africa, attended a Black Hills Seminar hosted by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg and Steve Van Bockern, authors of Reclaiming Youth at Risk. In the setting of the Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred to tribes of the great plains, students learned something of Native American models of self-concept and belonging.

The circle is a sacred symbol of life ... Individual parts within the circle connect with every other; and what happens to one, or what one part does, affects all within the circle.- Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

Reference to the Circle of Courage throughout the Black Hills Seminar I attended was very powerful and thought-provoking – especially as the seminar was hosted on the soils of the Lakoto People, and delegates from different life experiences were able to identify spiritually with a Native American Model of positive self concept.

The spirit of belonging is most significant in detached children and youth of broken belonging as opposed to the idea that attention-seeking behaviour should be ignored and it would be extinguished. We know that children are most receptive to human attachment in such times of crisis and difficulty.

The spirit of belonging in Native American culture is expressed in these simple words: “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know". Native American communities believed that all must be part of the circle of relatives. This sense of belonging also extended to nature, in the belief that all of creation must live in harmony as relatives.

The First Nations cultures of North America have developed a wealth of core principles for rearing caring, confident and generous children. These concepts are supported by the ideas of the great European youth work pioneers who challenged the older authoritarian traditions of western culture. Emerging research is validating this early wisdom.

The universal need to belong
Mortimar Alder (1990) writes: 'All values are expression of either Wants or Needs. Our wants are personal or cultural preferences and thus based on values that are relative. But human needs are universal and absolute, and absolute human values are those tied to absolute human needs.'

By Alder's definition, the Native American 'Circle of Courage' would seem to express absolute values. Children in every culture need to belong; therefore depriving a child of caring is universally wrong. Children by their nature are created to strive for mastery; thus schools that sabotage this motivation to competence are wasting and maltreating children.

Children from any background have inalienable rights to self determination. To block this development of independence is to commit an injustice. Finally, children from the dawn of co-operative civilization have sought to give to others the concerns that they have known. If we fail to provide opportunity for caring and generosity we extinguish the human spirit. (Beyond the Curriculum of Control by Larry K Brendtro and Martin Brokenleg.)

Aspects of discipline

With a good discipline plan students -

Personal development philosophy

(1993 by Vicki Phillips)

Peer counselling
The focus in many of the caring environments in USA is on building strengths and resilience in youth at risk through peer counselling. Some children emerge from traumatic, abusive experience with a resiliency that enables them to survive and to cope with the stress. These resilient adolescents provide an untapped resource for peer counselling programs.

Peer counselling includes tutoring, helping, facilitating, or supporting. Such counselling includes reaching out to a peer to assist him or her with a problem. The process requires systematic training in interpersonal communication skills and education about helping and caring. Peer counselling includes a trained “helper"; and it involves a focus on the problems, needs, or concerns of the helpee. (Carol Stuart, University of Victoria.)

Since peers speak the same language, and have similar interests, attitudes, values and personal demands, there is a level of trust that encourages them to seek each other out. They act as models for each other and establish norms and standards for the peer group.

For peer counsellors who have experienced some trauma, focusing on the self becomes an important way to “share, integrate and hopefully master painful memories and fears" (Mogtader & Leff, 1986, p 175). It is important to focus on both the process of the helper and the process of helping.

Resilient adolescents are likely to have more experience with problem behaviour and, perhaps, are more emotionally vulnerable. Yet they can still provide a great resource to their peers. It is our responsibility as professionals to prepare them for the challenges they will encounter.

Some reflections of seminar delegates

"I was refreshed and thoroughly enjoyed material on Strategies for building self discipline in at-risk youth. The reframing technique was quite exciting, as was the challenge that my communicating skills are required to explore alternatives when conveying messages to at risk youth."

"Control is the word I hear most often in child and youth care – and to me this is the opposite of creativity. I see this crisis internationally as a reaction to the aggression that these children show, but also as a cause for some children to be aggressive. How can you teach youngsters to be independent when there is so much control on their behaviour. I had a feeling of heaviness and immobility around this issue."

"Creative people can revert to simpler ways of experiencing and fresher ways of perceiving. They can throw away the common templates that are used to order the world and confidently seek simpler new ones." (Nicholas Hobbs and Schools of Joy 1960)

"There was a powerful presence of young people in care giving testimony of their broken lives, and their process towards healing and recovery. I was touched and overcome by feelings of guilt as some of the young people unfolded their tragic, painful, hurting experiences and shattered dreams. Unashamedly they talked about having picked up pieces of their shattered dreams to make healing a 'reality'. This was possible because of the dedicated nurturance, love, acceptance and non-judgemental child and youth care practitioners who believe in children. This characteristic in child and youth care is very special and spiritual “it goes beyond degrees, facilities and resources. 'You either have it or you don't.' “

"I admired the young people's great strength, tenacity, courage and resilience."

"This was a seminar with a difference – not much child and youth care jargon floating around – not much talk on techniques, methodologies, strategies, interventions, behaviour management procedures, etc. It was spirited and spiritual in the sense that the focus was on practitioners and educators searching their innermost souls around the use and involvement of the total self as a tool in our personal development."

Some D'S of discipline

Develop caring relationships.

Design a classroom which is structured for success.

Defuse (disengage and de-escalate) potential problems at lowest, earliest possible level.

Debrief later so students can learn from mistakes.

Don't think “He's so disobedient!" – rather think “He's so self directed!"

Don't try to control him: Rather structure positive and negative consequences and give choices – so he will direct his own behaviour to earn the pay-offs and avoid the pitfalls. Be his encouraging coach.

When children or youth act up ...

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