Knowing the basics of holding a circle is one of the most applicable and directly transferable skills for parents and educators to have when implementing restorative practices (RP).
A restorative circle, in the practice of RP, can serve several purposes. A circle can be an effort to build culture within a group, to sustain or deepen relationships, to make a group decision, or even to repair harm that has occurred. This can be a proactive response or a restorative response. Circles which are held by an individual in the community are called “circles” because of the sense of belonging that equal, proximal placement throughout a room can evoke. Surprise! Everyone will be sitting in the shape of a circle. In a circle there is no leader, each individual assumes the position of leading together. Everyone is responsible and accountable for the time shared in a circle.
The Steps to Holding a Circle
- Introduce/ Open
- Content Round
Let’s look at the steps to holding a circle and talk about each stage.
In step one, we are making a plan for our circle. This largely involves step 5, our content round which will differ depending upon the reason a circle is being called. When planning, we must consider the amount of time we have for our circle, the number of people present, the risk level of the questions we will be using, and the needs of the individuals participating in the circle.
In step two, we are introducing our circle and making our community aware of the focus for the circle. This step sets the tone for our time spent together. It can include a quick group exercise or reading a poem.
In step three, we are using our pre-established community values/agreements/guidelines, OR we are taking time to create them together. The purpose of this step is to ensure proper boundary maintenance and safety for everyone involved. A few examples are:
- Raise your hand when you would like to share or wait for a talking piece to be passed to you
- Use active listening when a peer is speaking
- Speak from the heart!
In step four, we use a check-in as an opening circle round. This is for the purpose of gauging other factors that might influence an individual’s ability to engage in the circle. This also begins circle prompts with one that encourages vulnerability and honesty for the person sharing, and empathy and openness for the people listening. Some examples of check ins are:
- Share on a scale of 1-10 (1 being, “I am having the worst day and feeling awful,” and 10 being, “I am having the best day ever and feeling amazing”)
- Using Zones Of Regulation, share what color you are in
- Using the weather, check in by describing how you feel (Use our free emotion posters to help guide expression of how you are feeling)
In step five, we begin the content rounds of our circle. This is where the focus of the circle that was called is most apparent. In part 1 of this series, I introduced proactive circles and responsive circles. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on holding circles that are proactive in nature and are intended to strengthen community. Present a prompt, and ask each individual in the circle to respond to the prompt and pass it along to the next person. A few examples of prompts that might be used in a proactive restorative circle are:
- If you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be?
- What is something that has always been “true” for you?
- Who is a person that you admire, and why?
- What makes you feel important and respected in your classroom?
- What is your favorite place to be, and why?
- What has been the best part about your day so far?
- Who makes you feel safe, seen, confident, or brave?
In step six, we can open the floor to any reflections that a participant would like to share or any questions and announcements that either pertain to the circle or do not at all! This leaves time to debrief from the circle and orient ourselves to the day ahead.
In step seven, we are closing our circle. This can also include a short activity or a poem. Usually this is a formal conclusion that cues everyone it is time to move on to the next adventure, block, or task for the day. One example of this is:
- Conscious counting: each person has to represent one number in the number of people there are in the circle. Without speaking over each other, one at a time, we count. We will start over if more than one person says a number at the same time.
Considerations for holding a circle are endless, and while there is a formulaic method to circle maintenance, no two classrooms are exactly the same and no two households are exactly the same, so adjustments are always made accordingly. Some items to consider for holding a circle are the flow of the circle. Do you want to pass a talking piece? Would you like each person to share consecutively or popcorn style? Another consideration is how you would like to address behavior that arises in a circle. Do we move seats around? Do we take a break from the circle and check in? Like many activities in a large group, it is nearly impossible to fully plan. Ultimately, keeping an open mind and availability to follow the lead of the group makes the process of a circle the most fun. Afterall, a circle is a time for the adults in the room, too. This is an opportunity to exercise authenticity and to model healthy communication.