This section contains ideas for circles that help build trust, positive feelings, and a sense of belonging within the classroom community. While they can be used at any time, these circles are particularly recommended for when students seem reluctant to share in circle.
Goals for Community-Building Circles
We feel connected to other people when we sense that they see us, know us, and care about us. That’s what connection circles are about: being seen, being heard, being known, and developing affection. Therefore, the objectives for these circles are that students will feel:
Implicit Questions of Connection
Whenever we humans are in a group we have several unspoken questions, and we immediately begin searching for social cues that will help us answer them. These questions are:
Circles are an ideal venue to support these investigations. They can be used to develop connections, understanding, belonging, affection, agreements, and trust. Even when circles are not explicitly about restorative dialogues (dealing with a specific conflict), if they are helping to connect people in a positive way they are fundamentally restorative because they help to restore a culture that is positive and healthy and safe.
Basic Connection: The Check-in Round
Near the beginning of every circle is a check-in round. A question is put into the circle, and the talking piece is passed so that everyone in the circle can answer.
Almost any low-risk, relevant question will do. The key is that everyone has a chance to have their voice heard, and to reveal something about their inner lives so that others can see them, and they can feel seen. See if you can identify a question that is also about something relevant to an actual social situation prevailing in the class.
Students love to suggest questions for check in and check out. It’s good to let them do so, especially when they’ve had experience with a few circles. When students contribute questions they feel ownership and responsibility for the circle. One way to get student questions is to ask for several ideas and then choose one or combine a couple. Often it’s good to add “and why” to a student’s question; for example a student may suggest “What is your favorite movie.” Modify this to “What is your favorite movie, and share two reasons why.”
Type of Circle: Basic, Popcorn, Fishbowl, Spiral
Many classrooms dedicate a circle to discussing how to bring problems that students are noticing to the attention of the whole class, so together the whole class can work to solve the problem. Convene a circle and ask the students for ideas about what kinds of problems might be appropriate to bring to circles for discussion. Then ask what a good procedure might be for naming these problems. Let students contribute ideas until they arrive at a solution. A typical solution is to have a box into which students can put notes about problems they feel should be discussed in circle. Some circles can be dedicated to this discussion. Basic and fishbowl circle formats are useful for this (see lesson plans). These circles can give students the feeling of being empowered. They can also help teachers who feel they have been carrying the burden of classroom problem solving by themselves experience the relief of having students who partner with them in this important task. See lessons 5 and 6 in Part Three for detailed descriptions of circles of this type.
Story of the Day
Type of Circle: Basic, Popcorn, Small Group
After a field trip or other special event where students have had an unusual experience, their learning is greatly enhanced by this type of circle. Gather students into the circle and, using the talking piece, invite them to tell a story in which something is shared from their day that was meaningful or interesting to them. You may have to model this; this activity is best done as a story in which there is a bit of plot. It can help if you suggest they tell it in the third person: “A boy was wandering on the trail one day when spotted a rabbit…” Encourage them to add details. As they students to each other’s stories they may realize their day was richer than they had previously been aware of. To close this circle invite comments from students about one thing that stood out for them.
Type of Circle: Basic
This is a version of show and tell that works for any age.