You are ready to start using Circles in your classroom to build community, solve problems, and teach more engaging lessons but you are not sure how to get started.
It can be daunting to start your first Classroom Circle and the truth is that, while there are some guidelines, there really is no right way.
Even the wonderful, “Restorative Circles in Schools” book from the International Institute for Restorative Practices does not suggest a particular script but allows for great freedom from teachers. However, when you are unsure sometimes a structured script can help so I created a FREE Circle Planning Worksheet to get you started.
The following is the basic structure for a Classroom Circle. Feel free to skip any of the sections below depending on your time frame and need, with the exception of the Guidelines! The guidelines assure that the circle will be safe and a positive experience for students.
Here is where you state the purpose of the circle to the students. Your goal is always to bring your classroom together as a community, to create a space to share in ways we normally cannot. Set a positive tone for students to transition into the circle.
Example of opening:
“We are sitting in a circle to build community and connection in our classroom. When we
sit in circles like this one, we are borrowing a tradition from Native People, who used this
as a practice to hear and value the voices of each member of the community. ” Or, today we are in a circle to discuss an issue that has come up regarding bullying in our classroom,” or “Today we are going to discuss the book we have been reading.”
You may also read poems, quotes, or do a breathing exercise.
Whether you are a PBIS school, a Restorative school, or both, setting expectations is a central part of creating a safe and respectful community. In a PBIS classroom, this would simply be called establishing expectations. In a Restorative classroom, we would call it fair process because everyone in the class would participate in generating rules and guidelines about how we treat each other. Allow students to identify and agree upon shared values, things they want to make sure happens in the circle so they feel safe. For example, they will want people to listen to each other and not make fun of each other. Maybe they will want to be assured of the confidentiality of anything said in the group will go no further. Once you have established your circle guidelines, you will all hold each other accountable as they directly impact the success of the circle.
Examples of guidelines:
During the quick 2-3 minute check-in portion, you really just want to get everyone’s voice in the room and get a read on how everyone is feeling. Invite students to talk about how they are feeling at the moment.
Examples of Check-In:
“Name one word describing how you are feeling?” “If your feeling was a
weather pattern, what would it be?” “On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being terrible and 5 being
amazing, how are you feeling today?” (then allow them to show their hand in order
around the circle)
4. Discussion Rounds
This is the work of the circle, where you talk about whatever topic you need to discuss. You might have an academic topic like reviewing previously learned material. You might be teaching a Second Step or another Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Or, you might simply want to build a sense of community in your classroom. If circles are new to your class, you will want to start with low-risk questions. This is not the time to ask for everyone’s most embarrassing moment, darkest secret, or worst sin. Later you can discuss more serious subjects and ask moderate or high-risk questions as more trust is built.
Examples of Questions:
Community Building: If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be? What is something you value about yourself? Why?
Academic: Name one thing you remember about (factoring/the book we are reading…), The main character in the book we are reading is like/not like me when…
Problem Solving: How have you been affected by this situation? What change would you like to see in the classroom/in this school? What can you do to promote that change?
Ask students to express how they are feeling at this moment as the circle is about to
end. You will want to get a read on the room - is anyone upset, do they all seem calm and ready to move back to learning?
“Share one word about how you are feeling at the end of the Circle,” or “Share one thing you most appreciated about the circle today.”
The closing marks the end of this special time for students so they are able to transition back to the normal classroom and learning environment. It is also a good time to acknowledge the work done in the circle.
I have known classrooms that have a classroom chant, some a special foot stomp and hand clap routine, while others vary their closing activities between deep breathing, reading a quote, or even doing a silly high-five game.
I hope this FREE DOWNLOAD of a Circle Planning Worksheet & Guide will be helpful for you in planning your next circle. Please leave any questions, suggestions, or experiences in the comment section below!