At The Well
Volume 3, Section 1
Well Circles call for a special kind of leadership — rotating and shared. The rotating leadership model gives every Well Circle member the opportunity to find her voice, develop her style as a leader, and take a turn holding space for the group. We believe this rotating model is the female style of leadership: collaborative, decentralized, and collective.
As a global network, At The Well supports personal growth within community. A community is a group of people with a shared mission. Through realizing that mission together, the group generates a shared sense of belonging and personal investment in the wellbeing of the community.
The rotating leadership model creates community in its truest sense. Because everyone takes a turn to lead, the model generates belonging through common experience and a sense of safety. From there, we feel emboldened to take risks and get creative when it’s time to lead.
The rotating leadership model also helps each woman feel more connected to Self and able to identify what she wants to offer or teach. In a Well Circle, you experience leadership with the support and modeling of a whole team of women who are backing you up. This support makes your Well Circle an ideal space to take risks, step into leadership, voice your visions, and grow.
We encourage the rotating model because it gives us the opportunity to feel more equipped, willing, and confident taking on leadership roles in our Well Circles, and beyond.
To make each Well Circle meeting smooth and successful, we suggest splitting the responsibilities of running a Well Circle meeting into two distinct roles:
The Host creates the physical container by welcoming people into her home; she sets up the space in a special way, maybe providing food and drink. She supports the Facilitator in whatever she needs to create a meaningful meeting.
The Facilitator designs and leads that month’s Well Circle meeting. She creates the content of the evening, preparing and facilitating the activity/activities. She communicates with and supports the Host, especially by encouraging Well Circle members to pitch in to clean up. The meeting is the Facilitator’s moment to shine, find her voice, and step up to lead.
Of course, the other essential role in a Well Circle is that of the Participant. You’re a Participant at every Well Circle meeting *except* for the one(s) when you’re acting as the Host or Facilitator. You hold a lot of power at these times.
The Participant shows up at her Well Circle meeting present and attentive. If the Facilitator or Host asked participants to do something beforehand — like bring a poem, prepare dish, or wear a certain color — the Participant is ready and onboard. She’s open to being held by the Facilitator and ready to honor the Facilitator’s leadership style and plan for the meeting, without judgement.
Each month, a new leader will bring a different facilitation style and a different comfort level with leading to your Well Circle. As you observe and experience different leadership styles, a few things to keep in mind:
- Honor the less confident facilitators in your group as they step into this new role and find their power. Not everyone is comfortable sharing her ideas in a group setting, or facilitating others from her skills and passions. There are so many different ways people can lead, and different leadership styles. Even if it’s not how you’d lead, offer space and take time for each Well Circle member to do her thing in her own way.
- Once a year (or more if you have a Circle smaller than 12 people) when it’s your turn to facilitate, prepare and show up like you mean it — with courage and vulnerability.
- On your facilitating month, consider sharing something outside the subject areas you know inside out. Use this Circle as an opportunity to flex, experiment, and explore topics that you’re interested in, but don’t know much about. (Find inspiration in our Moon Manuals as well as Packet 5: Modalities and Packet 6: Rituals from this set.) All of these approaches will help you grow as a leader.
Stepping Up To Lead
Volume 3, Section 2
You don’t have to have any “ideal” qualities or outstanding qualifications, solid certainties, or exceedingly wise insights to be a leader. It takes some courage, but leadership can be learned.
With Well Circles, we’re striving to create communities and sacred spaces where members grow and feel safe. To make that magic happen, strive to be a vulnerable leader rather than a venerable one. The time for you to lead is also the time for you to be honest and open about your uncertainties, fears, or questions. If you’re feeling anxious in the days or weeks leading up to facilitating, reach out in advance to a trusted Well Circle member, friend, or even to At The Well. We’re here to help you, and your sisters are too.
Volume 3, Section 3
“Facilitate” comes from Latin facil, which means “to make easy.” The facilitator’s job is to smooth the process for everyone else, making the space and goals of your time together welcoming and understandable.
Whether it’s your first Well Circle gathering or your fifteenth, below are some surefire ways to make your facilitation smooth as silk.
PREPARING YOUR WELL CIRCLE MEETING
Mix up the activities you plan for your Circle meetings; different people connect with different kinds of sharing, ritual, and creative expression. Some people like freewriting, while other prefer to sing. Some light up when doing art projects, and still others are fueled by facilitating juicy conversations. Check out our Moon Manuals for ideas of how to use your meeting time, and Packet 5: Modalities, which offers best practices for creating activities in different mediums including song, storytelling, meditation, and health science to name a few.
CHECK FOR BALANCE
As you make a plan for your Well Circle gathering, take a step back for some perspective: Is a lot of sitting involved? Where could a five-minute break fit in if the room starts to get antsy, or where you might incorporate movement or stretching into the ritual practice itself?
LESS IS MORE
Resist the urge to over-plan. If you’re a natural born over-planner, make peace with the likelihood that you’ll need to skip sections of your plan if you run out of time. It’s very easy to plan for waaaay more than what will comfortably fit in the time you’ve got. As you devise a plan, think deeper rather than wider. Spending more time on fewer activities invites more depth.
Getting clear on your kavanah can help you figure out what you want to prioritize, and help in the moment if time runs out and you need to decide what to cut. Here’s a useful question to yourself as you prepare to facilitate: What do I want the participants to leave with by the end of this meeting?
TIME IT OUT
Once you’ve built your plan, estimate the time it will take to complete each activity. The parts when everyone shares — like the opening go-around — shouldn’t have a harsh time limit. In sections like this, over-budget your time. And always allow time for transitions. (Remember it’s even valuable to build in a little extra room at the beginning of the Circle for people to settle in.)
TALK IT THROUGH
Talk your plan through out loud to get a better sense of all the elements to consider. A friend, a fellow Well Circle member, or someone else in your life who has experience planning activities for groups will have wise insights. Encourage that person to ask questions and give feedback about the way you’re wording your prompts, facilitating transitions, and setting up activities.
During Your Well Circle Meeting
GIVE CLEAR DIRECTIONS
If Circle members are partnering up, how should they do that? Should they turn to a neighbor or connect with someone else? Frame the activity by telling members what you have in mind.
Preface each activity by letting members know how much time they’ll have. Talking about time before anything begins can help you feel more comfortable asserting yourself in the moment. Forecast with at least a ballpark estimate, especially when facilitating a writing or art project.
What materials will members need? Describe whatever members will be using when you begin the activity. Have all materials ready and accessible.
How will members come back together after individual or pair time? Give members a heads up about how you’re going to cue them when their time is up.
MAKE SMALL TRANSITIONS WITH CARE
Words are powerful and important. Take good care in how you communicate in the sacred space of your Well Circle meeting.
Imagine this: A room abuzz, energy high, people talking and connecting. Suddenly, you yell out, Hey! Over here! Okay, stop talking!
Here are some alternatives for gracefully getting your Circle’s attention:
Start singing a song to get everyone’s attention. Just humming a recognizable melody can work well. Wordless melodies called nigguns are used in Jewish practice all the time, and perfect for this.
Ring a bell or sound a singing bowl.
Simply say, Can I please have everyone’s attention? at a slightly higher volume than the conversation.
Other kinds of transitions to consider:
If members are working in pairs, indicate that it’s time to switch roles by ringing a bell or another sound cue.
Give everyone a verbal one to two minute heads-up that the time for the activity is almost over. Ask everyone to look up when they’re finished so you know where everyone stands.
These are just a few suggestions. Everyone has their own leadership style — find yours and bring it.
TUNE INTO THE FLOW
Well Circles bring together many humans with diverse responses, desires, and sensitivities. When you’re the meeting leader, pay attention to body language and fluctuating energies of the group. Are people fidgeting? Zoning out? What can you do to refocus people?
MODEL OPEN BODY LANGUAGE
Humans pick up a lot of information from body cues; positioning your body in a way that’s open and comfortable will help others feel the same.
Try keeping the front of your body open and receptive. Rather than crossing your arms, relax them at your sides.
Focus your attention fully on each person as they speak. Make eye contact, offer a soft smile without forcing it, and orient your body in the direction of whomever is speaking.
To minimize distraction and encourage people to stay present, keep your outline or plan for the evening and your timekeeping device — preferably a watch rather than a phone — next to you for reference.
Facilitating In Different Modalities
Volume 3, Section 4
Choosing A Modality
While there are many factors that go into being a great facilitator, let’s first look at what happens when you follow your passions (and strengths). Below are some practices you might explore as part of your Well Circle. Identify a few you’re excited to use. At The Well calls each of these a modality: A directed approach that helps us create community, sacred space, and connection.
These may be skills you already have, or maybe there’s a modality that intrigues you and you want to learn more about it by incorporating it into your Well Circle meeting plan (even if that requires a little more time and energy). This isn’t an exhaustive list; just some ideas to get you going.
Verbal storytelling (sharing and witnessing)
Arts and crafts (drawing, collage, mask-making, map-making)
Writing (stories, poetry, journaling, letters)
Readings (poems, Jewish texts, articles, passages)
Movement (journey dance, embodiment, yoga)
Theater (skits, improvisation)
Mindfulness (guided or personal meditation, dream interpretation)
Music (singing songs, making/listening to music)
Food (preparing, sharing)
Text study (analyzing, debating, and exploring the stories from Judaism’s ancient text(s)
Spoiler alert: There’s more to this! In Packet 5: Modalities we’ve done a deep dive exploring leadership mediums and best practices.
TOOLS FOR PROCESSING POWERFUL EMOTION
Because Well Circles often have a lot of intimacy, trust, and comfort, meetings can bring up strong feelings — vulnerability, anger, tenderness, and others. If you’re planning an activity that might unlock some deep feeling, consider making time in the meeting to process what just happened. Here are a few ways you can do that.
Have everyone write or silently meditate after a conversation or activity is done. Afterwards, invite volunteers to share in small groups or as a whole Circle.
IN SMALL GROUPS
Have women get in groups of two or three. Explain that each woman will have five to ten minutes to speak while the others just listen with undivided attention, allowing each woman time to unpack where she’s coming from, or what she’s thinking, validated by the presence and focus of her Circle. When the group comes back together, you can invite women to share out to everyone, or to offer insights they gained from listening.
PRACTICES FOR RELATIONSHIP BUILDING
The power of Well Circles comes from the relationships of those who belong to them. Much of this sense of connection happens organically over time. There are also ways you can help it grow. Here are a few ways to strengthen relationships in your Circle.
Offer a prompt to the group. Invite members to speak to that prompt, going around the circle with the option to pass.
Women share their thoughts on a topic whenever they’re ready. Before closing, ask if anyone who hasn’t shared would still like to. Sometimes, an invitation is the magic key.
Open the floor for a go-around or popcorn sharing. Once everyone who wants to share has spoken once, women can chime in a second or third time. This moment is ideal to pay attention to who’s talking a lot, and who isn’t as vocal. If someone is dominating the discussion and you feel comfortable chiming in, you can offer a quick thought about the value of hearing from everyone and invite anyone who the Circle hasn’t heard from to share.
Building Sacred Space
What does sacred space mean? What does it take to build one? What does it look like to hold it? What counts as ritual and what does ritual offer?
These are important questions to consider as we grow as facilitators. Below are a few key elements of what we here at At The Well call building sacred space.
ARTICULATE YOUR MEETING’S PURPOSE
You’ll have ideas you want to explore during the meeting, perhaps based on the themes of that Hebrew month, the interests of the Circle, a women’s health topic that you’re interested in, or even current events. You can prepare the group for this focus by including your intention in a Circle email the week before the meeting. Alternatively, offer a couple of sentences about your intention in the welcome at the start of the Circle gathering, which brings everyone into the space.
STEP OVER THE THRESHOLD AND INTO THE CIRCLE
This is the physical practice of sitting down to a Well Circle meeting that can offer a spiritual or sacred resonance. For example, you might ask everyone to enter the circle by finding a seat in silence, taking a seat all at the same time, or by offering an opening candle lighting ritual that reorients the mind towards the power of the collective.
LEAD A GROUNDING PRACTICE
Grounding can mean something as simple as inviting everyone to settle in to a few moments of silence, or leading the group in deep, conscious breathing, or simple stretching. These activities are intended to calm the mind and spirit, rooting Well Circle members in the present, and releasing the hyperactivity of the outside world of the Circle.
CONNECT TO SOMETHING BIGGER
Welcome a spirit or essence of the Divine into your Circle. Name and welcome ancestors or other loved ones no longer present, or a powerful woman you look up to, or a cherished teacher. This practice helps us understand ourselves as part of a greater whole, which increases empathy and invites compassion.
Stay tuned: We dig even deeper into the significance and creation of ritual in Packet 6: Ritual. It even has more suggestions for grounding exercises.
Building Trust + Intimacy
Intimacy is a feeling of loving familiarity. When we feel intimate with others, it means we feel comfortable, close, and at ease with them. Trust is an important precursor to intimacy. From there, we can relax into intimacy; we know we’re being respected, considered, and cared for.
At their best, Well Circles include a high degree of trust and intimacy. Cultivating them — as with all of our work — requires care. We want to talk about two areas where trust and intimacy intersect that call for extra consideration.
Well Circles are a place for emotional and even physical intimacy — hugging when we come and go, knees touching in the circle, even cuddling. If a woman is sharing something vulnerable, offering a hand to hold or a hand on her back can be a better move than saying anything.
By the same token, closeness can also be triggering. Always ask first before offering touch.
We understand that at first, it may feel foreign to get physically close to people we don’t know well, especially because dominant culture teaches us to stay in our own private space. In Well Circles, we’re challenging that notion, experimenting and expanding with a different model of community and slightly different norms.
We went over this in Circle Logistics, but, like every Beyoncé song ever made, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again:
What’s learned in a Circle leaves the Circle, but what’s said there stays there.
Confidentiality is critical in building intimacy and trust. Confidentiality is something that you can establish at your first Well Circle meeting as a norm. The default is to respect the privacy and sharings of Circle members. As a facilitator, you can also invite people to let the group know if something is especially private and not to be shared.
Finding Your Inner Facilitator
Volume 3, Section 5
Finding a facilitation style that’s authentic to you takes time, and practice. Well Circles are a great setting to explore your identity as a leader and to stretch and flex your skills. It’s also a great place to observe others and learn from each other.
Take advantage of all your Well Circle has to offer and find your inner leader — she’s waiting.
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