Listening Circles

A Promising Practice from Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, MO.

Concerned that the rising level of intolerance and incivility in throughout the nation was having a negative effect on students at Ladue Middle School. Counselor Janey Worthington, joined by the administration, faculty and staff launched Listening Circles to create a constructive forum in which students could address how racism, intolerance and discord.

“Listening circles were initiated to give students safe places to discuss differences of opinion and to restore a community that has always sought to celebrate – rather than denigrate – our diversity. Our circles begin with the establishment of norms – all voices will be heard in a respectful manner – and proceed with sharing thoughts and concerns about incidents of racism or incivility. While differences of political opinion are understood as part of the democratic process, the listening circle reinforces the importance of expressing those differences respectfully, and moving toward a sense of shared community.”

The Listening circles are one way the Ladue Middle School community is working to reduce the tensions and mistrust that spread through much of region — Ladue is less than five miles from Ferguson. The great divisions of wealth and poverty throughout St. Louis are evident in the school’s corridors, As Janey explained in the Promising Practice narrative, “students at Ladue Middle School face daily one of the greatest challenges of our pluralistic, democratic society: how to overcome the discrimination and racism that surround them in ways that are peaceful, positive, and productive.”

As the Listening Circles were introduced, interested students were invited to come together and simply hold conversations with one another as they tackled several critical questions:

What harm has been done as a result of widespread incivility, intolerance and racism?
How has the harm affected you and others?
What can be done to make things right?

Students have been eager to talk about their experiences and to address issues. Repairing these feelings is a societal challenge, and giving young people opportunities to talk is the first step toward a healthier school culture. As Ladue Middle School continues to create a safe and positive environment to learn and grow, Listening Circles has become just one piece in their evolving restorative practices.