Listening Circle

A Circle of Listening in Ein Bustan

Rachel Gottlieb/Gidi Hyman/Amit Telem/Ester Springut/Itaf Awad

Ein Bustan’s special pedagogy is guided by three main principles: Bi-Lingulism (Arabic-Hebrew), Waldorf education, and Listening Circles. All three of these are incorporated both in our work with the children, as well as in the inner work that we do as adults in the Ein Bustan community, whether we are staff, teachers, or parents. From the beginning, we laid an emphasis on the importance of non-judgmental listening, based on respect and compassion for the other. This year, we “formalized” our Listening Circles, and were fortunate to be assisted in this move through the services of Itaf Awad, a professional facilitator who reached us via our contact with reGeneration (previously Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation). Itaf leads a bi-weekly circle for the Ein Bustan staff, as well as a bi-weekly circle for the parents. The children are not old enough yet to have their own formal “circle”, but already we feel the influence of this work on our daily interactions with each other – and through teachers and parents – on the children, as well.

Gidi, teacher in Ein Bustan remarks: “Usually during our listening circle we sit and tell stories. Each person tells his own. There is a “listening object” – usually a pretty stone or felt animal from the kindergarten which is pleasant to hold, and only whoever is holding the object has the privilege to talk. The instruction is to talk from the heart, whatever comes up spontaneously, without premeditation, and also to listen from the heart – that is , to focus all attention on the speaker, without judging him or her, without answering him or arguing with him, not even internally…another instruction is to talk concisely and to bring the essence of the story, in order to make sure that there is time for everyone to speak, in their turn.  Everything that is spoken of in the circle is confidential, and this builds trust. The subjects of the circle vary – something happy or sad that happened to me today, things I love or hate, memories and fears… The important point is to learn to really listen. This circle method has huge potency, in my opinion. For me, at least, it’s a way to see and become aware that the other person, sitting across from me, is a person just like me, who was born an empty vessel, and whom life has filled with different content, which is not necessarily the ultimate truth. I could have been born as Muhamed or Fatma, and I would then think as they do. So I think that within me I am actually a little bit Muhammed and a little bit Fatma, a little bit Amir or Rachel, and perhaps also a little bit Natanyahu, Ahmedinajad, Hitler or Ghandi. And a little bit – Gidi.”

Amit, a parent in the kindergarten, wrote; “My participation in the listening circles for parents that take place in Ein Bustan is a very special experience for me. They created a magical space for me —  a space in which I experience sharing and listening from the heart. It’s a unique opportunity to meet the other parents and also Gidi the teacher, in a significant and different way from our daily meetings, and helped me grow and develop as a parent and as a person. Itaf’s facilitation was great for me, and her presence was pleasant and authentic. I am grateful to Itaf, Gidi and all those who initiated and participated in the listening circles, and hope they will continue in the coming  years.”

Itaf Awad, who leads the circles, is from Daburriya, a small town in the Galilee, near Mt. Tabor. She facilitated the Way of Council with the Sulha Peace Project, Beyond Words, Academy of Central European Schools, and many other organizations in Israel, Palestine and Europe. Itaf first heard about Ein Bustan 3 years ago via Shepha Vainstein, from reGeneration, in the US. “Shepha  suggested that I visit the kindergarten, which I did. I met with Gidi, who  had already initiated a parent group, and I offered my assistance to facilitate circle groups “(The Way of Council”)  in Ein Bustan. Upon my return from abroad this year, I started to facilitate circles in Ein Bustan with both staff and parents. I see circle work as a way to build community, to connect from the heart, and a way to communicate in a non-judgmental manner. I am very happy and grateful that I have this opportunity to work with Ein Bustan”.

Itaf (center, in black headscarf) leads the Ein Bustan staff in a listening circle

Ester, another parent in the kindergarten, wrote about how the circle affected her: “I never miss a circle meeting, even though the family logistics in order to be able to attend are quite difficult. Something about the circle fills me with powerful and positive energy. Lots of subjects come up, things that touch us as parents, regarding the education of our children. Each subject that comes up teaches me to cope and to believe in myself, thanks to the other participants in the circle that share their experiences connected to the topic. I surprised myself with the strength of my heart. The circle taught me to listen in a non judgmental manner, like my child listening to a beloved story before she goes to sleep…I learned respect for the other and for myself, to be honest and real, and I learned to feel compassion and identify the forces going on inside me. The circle makes me feel joined with the others. What moves me in the circle and in general in the kindergarten, is this feeling of togetherness.  Ostensibly – two peoples, two languages, different cultures, yet when I bring my children to the kindergarten in the morning, and see the children sitting, playing, building, singing, hiking, eating and working together – they are equal, and it’s not make-believe. This togetherness and the mutual wish to create a joint reality – is what brought my family to the kindergarten. In a circle we are all equal, and we all have a heart that can speak, listen, and be compassionate.”

About Itaf: Itaf Awad (MA Political Science from Haifa University) served for 26 years as the city manager of Dabburyiah and advisor for women’s affairs at the Local Council and has been committed to women’s empowerment, community development, and conflict resolution for over thirty years. Itaf facilitated the Way of Council with the Sulha Peace Project, Beyond Words, Academy of Central European Schools, and many other organizations in Israel, Palestine and Europe. Itaf is the Middle East liaison for reGeneration.