As this new school year begins, I have been discerning resources I can share that will empower you to get started with circles, that include not only sample circle questions, but also the “what”, “why” and “how”.

 ”Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles“, by Amos Clifford, developed for San Francisco Unified School District, I feel is the simplest and most comprehensive resource for getting started with circles.  You can look at the table of contents and click to the topic you wish to explore.

Why are circles important?  Very simply, circles give everyone an opportunity to be seen, heard and valued. There are no back rows in circles and everyone is equal, no one has more power or importance than anyone else.  Circles help create and strengthen community.  Once trust is developed, they are a great way to problem solve and respond to community challenges that arise.  It is very important to use proactive, relationship building circles first before moving on to response circles.

I had the honor of working with and learning alongside Norwood ES, who was honored in 2016 as a National School of Character. Their STAT teacher, Jennifer Pilarski and Behavior Specialist, Mike Gorecki, created this helpful circles getting started 1 sheet.  NorwoodCommunityCircles

If you learn best by seeing things in action, below are 3 short videos that give you a window into classes in elementary schools…

In addition to building and strengthening relationships, circles provide a wonderful vehicle for teaching and reinforcing virtues and Social and Emotional Skills.

“A Circle A Day:  Circle Questions Aligned to the 5 Keys of Social and Emotional Learning” was created by Oakland Unified Schools and can be used as a springboard for creating circle questions connected to SEL.

Keep in mind that it is important to create circle norms, ideally with your students, before getting started.  This will help to create a safe and predictable space.  It is also important to review the norms and agree to them before sharing begins.  If students begin to go off track, gently remind them of the norms as well as the circle questions.

Though there are a lot of resources that can help you with circle question suggestions, it is really best to have students create questions of interest to them.  Just be thoughtful to discern whether they are low, medium or high risk questions.  You can invite students to write their questions on index cards or do a shared writing with younger students.  The person who created the question can also be the circle keeper for the day and bring in or choose their own talking pieces.

It is essential to give students voice and choice.  It is helpful to have 2 different circle questions so that students may choose the one they are most interested in answering or feel most comfortable answering.   It is also important to allow students to pass or say, “come back to me please”.

To keep all students engaged and help them develop empathy as well, it is helpful to invite students to do the “me too” sign when someone is sharing something they feel the same way about, the “silent celebration wave” when they want to celebrate with or for another student, and/or make a heart with their fingers to show compassion. You may also want to do a power clap or other quick state changes/attention grabbers to wake up the brain and keep students energized.

Finally, though it is important to use circles with your students, it is essential to circle up as colleagues as well!  If you want to engage families during back to school night, you just might consider doing a circle and asking them to share a strength their child brings to school and/or their biggest hope for their child this year.  The courage to give voice to your families is sure to jump start relationship and trust building beyond the walls of your classroom.

I hope this is helpful to get you jump started with using proactive, relationship building circles!  Thank you for your commitment to creating a safe, caring and connected school community!

Wishing you a new school year filled with much joy, meaning and purpose.

With love and in service,

Dara