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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Glenview Elementary

Grades K-5 | Oakland, CA

Using Dialogue Circles to Support Classroom Management

At Glenview Elementary School, dialogue circles are part of a program aimed at building collaboration, respect, and positive behavior among students.


Using Dialogue Circles to Support Classroom Management (Transcript)

Edwina Smith: Before I started doing Circles in my class I found it very difficult to start the academic day. Students had things that they wanted to share that had happened with them, things they were concerned about, and I had a very long line of about thirty-- twenty-five to thirty students every morning wanting to share personal time with me. It made it absolutely impossible to start the academic day. After the presentation of Circles in our staff development I knew that would be the best way to have each student share and be heard in the classroom.

Here at Glenview every teacher holds Circles for classroom management, for resolving conflicts and also to involve students in activities. Every day I begin with mindfulness to really get the students focused and centered and ready for learning.

I’m going to need you to either close your eyes or to look gently at the ground.

The next thing I do in Circle is a check-in with a scale from one to five. This allows me to assess whether or not they’re ready to learn.

Okay, I’m a five and I have a lot of things I need to get done today, but I’m looking forward to getting them done. Would anyone else like to share why you’re a five today?

Student: Today I’m a five because I can’t wait for Spirit Week.

Student: I’m a one because my head still hurts from Sunday.

Edwina Smith: In order to keep order in the circle we use a talking piece, which is a symbolic piece to signify who has the floor, who’s able to speak. At the beginning of the year I asked the students what topics they feel as a class we need to discuss. The students write the topics and we place them in the cup.

Oh, our next topic is going to be about stop bullying. How can you stop bullying?

Student: Well, I think since most bullies bully through pain you can try to see if you can help or make them feel better.

Student: If you see someone getting bullied, stand up for that person and tell the bully firmly and strong to stop bullying.

Edwina Smith: I like the idea of not being a bystander, ‘cause that’s somewhat being part of the bullying process if you see it happening and you don’t say anything. But it takes a lot of bravery, a lot of courage to say, “Hey, that’s not right.”

As part of a program called Restorative Justice, Circles are also used to resolve conflicts that come up during the school day.

Student: Sometimes at recess Sidney and Marnie would come over and, like, just start talking about us and saying mean things about Denai.

Teacher: Is it your job to make Denai’s job at school hard?

Student: No.

Teacher: So you choose to either be the bully that you’re being or to be someone’s ally--

Student: Okay.

Teacher: --and make a better choice.

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  • Producer: Alyssa Fedele
  • Editor: Daniel Jarvis
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Camera: Daniel Jarvis, Mario Furloni
  • Sound: Douglas Keely
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Promoting Positive Behavior

Dialogue circles are gatherings in which all participants sit in a circle facing each other to facilitate open, direct communication.

Dialogue circles provide a safe, supportive space where all school community members can talk about sensitive topics, work through differences, and build consensus.  

At Glenview Elementary School, circles are part of a program called Restorative Justice, which is aimed at building collaboration, respect, and positive behavior among students. The circles were implemented in classrooms slowly, and after two years, there was a marked improvement in classroom behavior. 

How it's done: 

Starting the Day on a Positive Note  

Dialogue Circles were put to use in classrooms at Glenview after the teachers had experience using the technique with their peers. When first implemented, feedback and support from the SEL counselor was provided.

After two years, the school experienced a discipline shift as staff worked together to address misbehavior through community-building instead of punishment.

Check-In Circles

Check-In circles are a great way to start the day by inviting students to share their feelings and listen to others.

  • Teachers should include themselves in the circle to signal that they are facilitators and listeners during these gatherings, not authority figures.
  • Use a “talking piece” to remind students to pay attention to the speaker and that only one person talks at a time.
  • Mindfulness exercises help release tension and build focus on the present moment.
  • Devote at least five minutes to circle time; you can gradually expand, as students get more comfortable.
  • Always allow students to opt out if they choose.

Sample Activities to build comfort and trust:

  • On a Scale of 1 to 5: Ask each student to rate how she is feeling on a scale of one to five, where a “five” might signal an upcoming birthday, and a “one” might mean troubles at home. Start the activity by sharing how you are feeling and why.
  • You’re in My Boat: Have a student share something personal, such as an experience or something he is interested in by saying, “You’re in my boat if…” For example, “You’re in my boat if you like French fries,” or “You’re in my boat if someone got upset with you this morning.” All who agree with the statement get up and change seats; the others remain seated.

Peacemaking Circles

Peacemaking circles can be used to help resolve conflicts between individuals or to address academic issues. Conflict resolution circles focus on restoration in lieu of punishment and their goal is to repair harm, support relationships, and solve problems.

  • Encourage students to reach out to teachers when they have a problem.
  • To start the circle, establish who initiated the circle and ask students if they know why they are there.
  • Define the issue, starting with the student who initiated the circle. Focus on raising awareness of each student’s feelings and perspectives.
  • Ask questions that emphasize choices and how choices relate to students’ values.
  • Encourage students to share at least one positive thought about the student they are in conflict with.
  • Ask the student who was harmed what would help them feel better.

Academic Intervention Circles

Academic intervention circles give students an opportunity to voice their needs, and help teachers and administrators understand the issues students are grappling with.

  • Include family members, teachers, counselors, and/or administrators to develop strategies that address the student’s academic and emotional needs, such as one-on-one tutoring or home visits.
  • Keep track of at-risk students, including their issues and the circle of individuals who are coordinating supports for them, to be sure they are getting the help they need and are making progress.

Comments (2)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

VirginiaIngle's picture

This is the first time hearing about Dialogue Circles. While watching the video on what is involved with using Dialogue Circles I could not help but feel inspired. Working in an all boys school I infer that I will be challenged with conflicts within the classroom. Using this strategy I will be able to establish a safe and supportive learning environment. Allowing students to share how they are feeling that day as well as discussing important topics that they chose will help create this type of classroom. Establishing a calm atmosphere by using mindfulness will help my students become engaged in the goals and expectations in our classroom. There are many aspects to Dialogue Circles that will help my students feel supported and valued. I cannot wait to try this in my classroom!

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