Aboriginal Girls Circle

Posted: 01/09/2016

In researching for an article on the subject of circle work, being the theory and practice that sits behind Innovative Resources’ Strengths in Circles card set, we came across a wonderful video capturing an Aboriginal Girl’s Circle in Australia. Of course it was no surprise to see that Dr Sue Roffey, one of the authors of Strengths in Circles was supporting this wonderful program. On contacting Sue, she comCirclesmented that ‘the work with these girls has been one of the highlights of my life!  I learnt so much’. 

Here is what Sue had to say about her Circle Solutions work, and the use of Strengths in Circles as a resource.

It has been an honour to work with the Aboriginal community in Dubbo. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Wiradjuri people who are the traditional owners.

Aboriginal communities traditionally have a collective world-view. Each person is part of and responsible to their extended kinship network. For example, an auntie is not just your parent’s sibling but as important to your upbringing as your mother. Indigenous communities also have a relationship with the natural world that demands that they honour and protect it. Aboriginal law and customs regulate these relationships.

Mainstream Australian culture, on the other hand, is about individual enhancement, even if that includes exploitation of other people and the land. In education students are often placed in competition with each other and working together may be seen as ‘cheating’. This can put Aboriginal students in direct conflict with the norms of an institution. Getting an award might be seen not as something to be proud of but as shameful because it puts one person above others. There is great work going on in some schools to respect Aboriginal culture but also a lack of understanding in practice of this different world-view. We need to stop putting square pegs in round holes! The Aboriginal Girls Circle has been running in Dubbo for several years under the auspices of NAPCAN. It is based on the Circle Solutions ASPIRE principles that respect culture and facilitate group cohesion. The evaluation shows this has been effective.

The ASPIRE principles are:  

  • Agency: Girls make their own decisions and take responsibility.  They devise guidelines for camps and choose a community project to work on.  The role of the teacher is to support their efforts rather than tell them what to do.
  • Safety:  There is a choice to speak or ‘pass’ in the Circle.  This is critical for developing confidence.  All activities are in pairs or groups so no-one is ever singled out.
  • Positivity:  The Circle pedagogy is strengths and solution focused, exploring visions not deconstructing problems!  The Circle actively promotes positive feelings and the girls talk about how much they like having fun together
  • Inclusion: The girls are regularly mixed up so everyone works with everyone else and there are many activities designed to promote connectedness and belonging. There are also guidelines to respond to students who challenge to maximise their inclusion.
  • Respect: This is central to Aboriginal culture and the girls explore what this means.  In practice it begins with listening, not making judgments and not putting people down.
  • Equality: No-one is above anyone else in the Circle. The facilitator takes part in all the activities and although in charge of proceedings does not attempt to ‘control’ the girls.

The Strengths in Circles cards have been designed to facilitate discussion on the ASPIRE principles in order to construct environments that enable groups to flourish. With statements such as ‘We look out for each other’ and ‘We laugh together’ they are suitable for younger children to adults as well as all community groups.

For more information you can email sue@sueroffey.com




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