Sequence of Events in an Circle
Step 1: Arrive (before the circle): Check in with yourself prior to starting the circle. Assess your energy level, your emotional state, physical condition, and anything else that will have an impact on how you show up as a circle keeper. The goal is not necessarily to change anything, but simply to be aware. This awareness of your actual condition can be a powerful ally in circle keeping.
Step 2: Opening the Circle: After the students are seated in a circle, it is very helpful to have a routine that you use as a ceremony at the beginning of each circle. This marks a transition from regular classroom time into the “special” non-ordinary time of circle. This is a good time to place items into the center of the circle to help give it focus. Some teachers read a poem or some inspirational prose, or place a battery-powered candle or flowers in the center.
Step 3: Teach Circle Guidelines: Remind the class of, or ask them to recall, the guidelines that reliably help circles function well. Write them on the board as students recall or use posters. They are:
Step 4: Make and Remember Agreements: In addition to the intentions, which apply to all circles, each individual class should be given multiple opportunities to make additional agreements, for example about confidentiality, gossip, and so on. Let the group find its own wording. Use a like “fists to five” to generate consensus. All agreements should be by consensus. Agreements are not imposed by an authority; they are negotiated by the group.
Step 5: Connection: Do a check in Round with the talking piece. Begin every circle with a check-in round, in which all students are invited to respond to a question. This gives students a chance to put their voice into the circle and feel connected. In the first circles, keep this question very low-risk, and make it progressively more personal at a pace the circle can handle. It can be helpful to ask students for ideas about check-in questions. Relevant questions are preferable…meaning those questions that have to do with the actual situation. So, if the students have just returned from a holiday, a relevant question might be “share something memorable from your holiday.”
Step 6: Responding to Challenging Circumstances: Restorative Content. If there are “live” issues to discuss, this is the time to move into them with restorative dialogue. It is important to name the issue clearly and accurately; it’s best when this comes from the students, but can also work when issues are named by the teacher. Lessons 3 and 4 in Part 3 of this resource help students learn how to identify and name issues. Note that the approach used in these lessons is to learn about restorative dialogue by engaging in it, through progressively more direct and challenging dialogues.
Step 7: Closure Question. Ask students to comment on their experience in the circle. If you have very little time (as is often the case) ask for a two-word checkout: “Say two words about your experience in the circle today.” This “rounds out” the circle.
Step 8: Close the circle: In a way that is intentional—perhaps even a bit theatrical—put away the center, ring a bell, or make some other small gesture to signal moving back from circle time into ordinary time.
Step 9: Debrief with colleagues: What did you learn? Any surprises? What memorable things happened that you want to remember? What frustrations did you encounter? Find a trusted friendly colleague who is also doing circles and debrief each week with these questions or similar ones. Sit in a circle and use a talking piece…trust the circle!