George Lucas Educational Foundation

Advice for Starting Circles?

Advice for Starting Circles?

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Kati, Thanks for your terrific presentation in today's webinar. I love the Circles approach and have seen it play out in different ways. (Eagle Rock School in Colorado calls it Gathering, which I describe in this blog: Can you recommend any resources for teachers who want to incorporate this powerful ritual into their practice? Any advice on what to avoid doing? Thanks!

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Tricia Beck's picture

I have been using a "circle" format for the past four years as a closure with my groups of gifted elementary students with great success. We use a stuffed monkey as our "talking piece" and call this "Monkey Around" time. I have integrated several tools from my training as a professional life coach to teach students how to look for the positive and acknowledge themselves and others. They LOVE this ritual.
Thank you so much for your wonderful webinar yesterday, highlighting the importance of addressing the SEL needs of students. It was so validating to hear that what I know works with students is being done by others, and that the larger educational community is taking notice!

Pamela DeRossitte's picture

Suzi -- A couple of years ago I was looking for some good resources for a graduate school paper, and discovered a lack of great information. I think that's why this Edutopia seminar is so timely and important. The idea is not new, this balanced and fair process for communication, but it also is not common. Once you try it, you and your students will love it, and will benefit across the board. Also, this process lends itself to personal creativity -- I love Tricia's "Monkey Around" time theme. The important idea is to experience respectful communication.

Pamela DeRossitte's picture

Tricia -- I love your creative and playful approach to your circle time process. This is the style of ritual that helps us address "the whole" child. (Educational systems love to say "we teach to the whole child," without really knowing what that means. I think these are critical skills ~

Kati Delahanty's picture

I love the creative and playful approach too, Tricia! I'm sure your students absolutely love it!

I was trained in circles from a restorative justice perspective. We started a partnership with The Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University because we were looking for an alternative for suspensions.

Carolyn Boyes Watson's book Peacemaking Circles and Urban Youth: Bringing Justice Home
Kay Pranis's book The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking
are both great resources.

Here is a summary of Kay Pranis's book:
Pranis, Kay. The Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005.

This Book Summary written by: Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

This book explores the peacemaking potential of a storytelling practice drawn from ancient Native American traditions using a talking peace. Circles bring together people as equals for honest exchanges about the challenges each has encountered. As such, it is a time-worn peacemaking approach that is also consistent with modern desires to be democratic and inclusive. In so doing, the participants learn from the wisdom of other members of the circle. Participants sit in a circle, but without a table between them. There may be objects in the center that have some shared meaning to serve as a focus for the group. Dialogue is regulated by a talking piece, any object that is passed around the circle and grants the holder the sole right to speak. Circle processes are used in a broad range of contexts from crime victims to classrooms to the workplace. Circles are used for a variety of purposes such as talking, understanding, healing, sentencing, support, community-building, conflict, reintegration, and celebration. The book provides a checklist of sorts to see if a Circle would be suitable to the situation and also has a variety of illustrations throughout.

Circles are built upon two main premises. First, it presumes participants share a set of values, regardless of what they may be. Second is a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things including the fates of everyone in the group and the effects of our behavior on others.

The Circle Process is designed to create a safe space for participants. It does so through five structural elements. The first point is the ceremonies to mark the opening and closing of the session to designate that this space is unique. Second, guidelines for interaction are agreed upon by participants and they, like all decisions, are reached by consensus. These guidelines generate expectations for behavior. The third important element is the talking piece. It regulates the conversation and slows it down offering opportunity for reflection. Circles also have a Keeper or a facilitator. This fourth element is not intended to direct the group, but she works to maintain the collective space and stimulate reflection. The final aspect is consensus decision-making. This makes participants consider the perspectives of others and also have the courage to speak their opinion. Consensus can be reached, Pranis argues, even if there is not full agreement provided everyone believes they have been allowed to have their say.

Sean M. Brooks's picture

Our group has been called the "Conflict-Violence Prevention Group" over the past 2 years. We take SEL to the next level by having students meet in my room during their mid day homeroom class. Any student is welcome but not made to attend. Our school has 1160 students and 70 plus attend 3 days a week.
We video tape their discussion, edit it and present it to the whole school. The videos should be on the web soon, following all student and parent permission. The students run the group outlining topics, providing solutions to common issues and helping one another on a daily basis.

Video proof to come....... along with commercials we shoot with students, puppets (don't worry it's funny, not corny) and other antics to get across positive messages and decrease violence.

Kati Delahanty's picture

That's awesome, Sean!
I can't wait to see the video. How do you structure the discussion? Do you come up with the topics or are they student-generated? Are they in response to real conflicts and acts of violence in your school?

Pamela DeRossitte's picture

Sean -- this is an awesome idea, and demonstrates a method for allowing the students to take a leadership role in providing insights and solutions to this critical topic. Applause, applause, applause. Will be looking for the video ~

Susanna Palomares's picture
Susanna Palomares
President, Innerchoice Publishing

The Magic Circle, a circle approach researched by Dr, Lotecka for his doctorate, is still alive and well. Now it's called the Sharing Circle. Free downloads for educators of guidelines, procedures, and circle topics focusing on social and emotional learning are available at-

Takes the guesswork out of how to do it!

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