What are circle approaches, and how are they used?
The use of circles in groups is timeless and is an integral part of many indigenous cultures. Circles approaches aim to maximise participation in groups by creating safe spaces for participants to talk honestly and be heard, collectively learn and find solutions, and build the confidence and skills of all. Circles approaches are forward-looking, change-oriented and inherently democratic. They are increasingly being used in primary and secondary school classrooms and discussion groups, in restorative justice programs, in mediation, with indigenous communities and in a diverse array of group facilitation processes.
A common factor in the success of circles approaches across this broad range of applications is the valuing of relationships by building the quality of collaboration and respect within the group.
Circles approaches acknowledge that process is as important as content for the success of any endeavour—and a critical component of process is how well people collaborate with each other. Initiatives often start out with good intentions but fail to achieve sustainable outcomes because the focus has been singularly
on content—what is done, rather than process—how it is done.
Strengths in Circles is a readily-usable resource that offers a safe (and hopefully, enjoyable) opportunity for people to reflect on how they are working together and what they might do to maximise the effectiveness of their team. ‘Learning to Be’ and ‘Learning to Live Together’ are two of the four pillars of education for the 21st Century (Delors, 1996). However, the focus in schools is often on the other two pillars—‘Learning to Know’ and ‘Learning to Do’ (the knowledge and skills of the academic curriculum). Although academic success opens doors, it does not guarantee that individuals will flourish in their lives, nor does it build healthy communities that benefit everyone. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) or ‘relationship education’ as it is often called, is becoming increasingly needed in schools as families and communities sometimes struggle to model or teach the skills needed to establish and maintain healthy, supportive relationships.
Co-author of Strengths in Circles, Sue Roffey, has developed ‘Circle Solutions’—a philosophy and pedagogy to help ensure that Social and Emotional Learning happens in a safe space. The Circle framework is active, reflective and discursive (Roffey, 2014). Participants think and talk together about issues not incidents. Very little takes place with individuals; activities are almost all in pairs, small
groups or the whole circle. Discussions often use the third person and no one is expected to disclose personal information unless they choose to do so. No single person is put on the spot where a response is demanded; all participants are given multiple opportunities to contribute.
Many Circle activities are based on games, promoting positive connection with others and providing the opportunity to solve whole class issues from a constructive and solution-focused perspective. Circles practitioners believe that this is a more effective way of promoting pro-social behaviour than ‘anti-bullying’ strategies as it gives responsibility to everyone for the emotional climate of their class.
Circles grow ‘solutionaries’—people with answers to things that matter. The Strengths in Circles cards grew out of this Circle Solutions approach to working with groups of people of all ages to maximise full participation in finding solutions and making decisions that are respectful, strengths-based and optimistic.
Order a set of our Strengths in Circles cards and open up a world of circle activities.
Share with us your experience of Circle Approaches.
(Above is an extract from the booklet that accompanies ‘Strengths in Circles’ card set, authored by Sue Roffey and Russell Deal)