Time to talk – Developing the use of classroom circles as a tool for social and emotional learning (SEL).

Circle time can be a great opportunity to build community and respond to community needs. Through considered thought and the use of reflective questioning, student dialogue can assist us when informing, building and restoring the social and emotional needs of our learners. 

When we sit in a circle we experience a stronger sense of community. Every person in the circle shares responsibility for its functioning. Circle culture is unique as it allows flexibility to respond to the need that has arisen and we all can respond in a way that is bespoke to our student needs and their context.

The facilitator/ teacher does guide the circle but each person takes the lead when it is their turn to speak. Some guidelines are given and the group also makes its own agreements. Each circle will form its own way of working and decisions are made, but by consensus of the whole group, and sometimes this means decisions will come slowly or take unexpected forms. As a result, this method assists students to see, feel and listen to the perspective of others and also be given the opportunity to have their ‘voice’ heard. Circle time dialogue builds the kinds of honest, authentic dialogue that is necessary to effectively respond to circumstances (Clifford, 2013).

Guidelines to assist with the running of an effective social and emotional learning circle.

The circle time begins with a quiet and gentle reflection and the groups norms or agreements being reminded to all participants through the teacher. These can be similar to the following:

  1. Everyone’s opinions and feelings are respected through listening to the speaker and maintaining silence.
  2. One at a time. There are many different techniques to assist such as a talking stick or similar for participants to talk. It is a great idea for participants to bring along any objects they have chosen which can be kept in a basket that can then be used at different times.
  3. We will not rush one another when trying to understand and participate. Participation can be delivered in a number of ways. We can each take turns going clockwise around the circle or participants can put their ‘hands-up’ if they wish to contribute. The person with the talking stick can then pass to the next person or the guide can choose who will speak next.
  4. While sharing our experiences we do not need to use names of children, parents or staff.
  5. The circle time is closed with a brief reminder of the points discussed and the decision which was agreed upon

As a wellbeing coach I am fortunate to have had the experience and opportunity to work with children and adults of all ages in a variety of contexts. I am confident that when guidelines are set and maintained, the unique setting of circle time offers an opportunity for deeper learning and a strengthening of wellbeing.

‘By being part of the decision making process we feel that we belong’.

Photo by istock.com


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