Thursday, January 29, 2009

Circle Time

Today, all teachers at my new school had a PD (Professional Development) day on an approach we will be using as a whole school, Circle Time. Wellbeing Australia defines circle time as “a democratic and creative approach used to consider a wide range of issues affecting the whole school community. The strength of circles is that they address values, attitudes and skills within a structured, safe and supportive framework.”

The PD was facilitated by Sue Roffey and it was great not to be talked at and endure death by powerpoint on such a hot day. Sue encouraged us to get involved and the workshop was experiential. It had two purposes that I could see: increasing our knowledge about circle time and our confidence in using this pedagogy, and to build up the staff as a team, given that the staff numbers this year have more than doubled to 26 teachers. A bit of research turned up the following info about Sue: “Dr Sue Roffey is an educational psychologist and academic at the University of Western Sydney. She's spent many years teaching children with learning difficulties, and now believes that children's emotional literacy, that is, their understanding of themselves and how they relate to others, is a crucial but sometimes neglected part of their education.”

Sue herself describes circle time thus: “Circle Time is a structured framework for social and emotional learning and promoting a positive class ethos. This means it has powerful potential to reduce bullying, increase resilience, explore values and improve communication skills. It deals with serious and important issues such as understanding feelings and reducing prejudice in a way which is highly motivating for students.” There are always three rules for a circle time meeting: everyone must listen to the person who is speaking to the group, no put downs, and everyone has the right to “pass” if they do not wish to or cannot respond to a question. It is mostly about inclusion and about respect. Sue has a number of publications that I will be following up.

At first glance it seems as though it is especially suitable for primary schools, but after seeing how well it worked for us as a group of adults, I will have no hesitation in using this technique in secondary classes. I have a year 8 homegroup this year and I am so looking forward to getting to know them. I will spend a bit of time tomorrow decorating my homegroup room ready to welcome the students on Monday.

For those who have not seen my 365 challenge photos, I thought I’d put two of them here: My colleague, office mate and fellow English teacher, Mel, and a glimpse of my desk in our brand new building. The value of today for me as a new staff member was that it helped me and the many other new teachers get to know more about each other and about the values of the school. I will report back on the experience of using this pedagogy as time goes on. It is anticipated that we will be doing it once a week for about twenty minutes with the students in our homegroups, so I should something to report soon.

Work colleagues

My bit of the office


  1. Hi Jo

    This circle work reminds me of the "Circles of Trust" that I have been reading about in the work of Parker J Palmer.

    The book in which he goes into detail about them is called A Hidden Wholeness.

  2. Hi Jo!

    I loved reading about this--it confirms once again for me that it is all about relationships. This sounds like a great way to increase the feeling tone in any classroom. I believe that in order for students to really excel, at any level, their learning environment has to include relationship-building activities.

    As a former 3rd grade teacher, we did implement something like this, and it did help. But in my role now, as I am working with middle school and HS students, I can absolutely see a place for this. I am anxious to hear how it goes with your grade 8 students. I think you are right on.

    As always, thank you for your thoughtful post, and I always learn from you! Thanks for being part of my PLN!

    Nancy Pratt (from Phoenix, we met at NECC) :)

  3. Hi Jo,

    Great to see that you have been learning about Circle Time. We used it at my previous school with varied success - it needs to be established early as a protocol and used regularly enough to benefit students. It's also good to use it to celebrate as well as when things go wrong, so that it doesn't become purely a restorative tool. Once students are confident with the format, it is much simpler to introduce other role playing such as 'hotseat' activities.

    I'd recommend you invest in some resources to support circle time in your classes. There are circle time posters, which are circular in shape and have the three protocols displayed effectively - this was a great visual aid. I also found the Heart Masters cards and particularly the Mind Masters Thinking Cards were great for getting students to look at multiple perspectives and develop empathy. Some of these resources are here:

    Sorry if I have just repeated info you received today, good luck with it all, sounds like a great fit for you.

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  5. Circle time sounds very effective and sounds like it could work very well in getting people to interact together. Circle time does sound like it would be a good way to reduce prejudices in schools.

  6. Hi Jo
    We had some Circle Time PD last year but not by Sue. I used it in my classroom as a class meeting format and it certainly worked for me. We also included each week 2 students of the week & the whole class had to contribute a phrase on a poster identifying a positive trait of each student of the week.

  7. peaches11:13 am


    I believe that this strategy will work well. In my opinion, any positive reinforcements that students can participate in are a plus. Allowing students to the opportunity to talk or pass on a topic reduces the stress of children thinking that they are forced to peak and hopefully it will encourage them to participate voluntarily. Also, speaking to other students in a respectful way might help students realize the importance of respect toward each other and appreciate others social and cultural differences.

    In a class that I am taking we are reading a book entitled, On Being a Teacher, The Human Dimension by J.Kottler, Zehm and E. Kottler. In this book the authors emphasize the importance of children actually learning, teaching children to think and talk without the instruction of the teacher all the time. I believe this would be a great asset to that technique.


  8. Jo,

    I emailed in December to ask if you would be interested in reviewing my new book, Teaching for Intellectual and Emotional Learning (TIEL): A Model for Creating Powerful Curriculum. I had not heard from you and decided to follow up. As I read about your professional development on circles I was sure you would be interested in this book that brings together the intellectual and emotional aspects of learning and teaching. The book focuses on creating project-based curriculum that teaches students how to make decisions, plan, and self-evaluate their work which, of course, empowers students and helps them build confidence as learners. The examples in the book are 2nd-5th grade but the principles are equally applicable in middle and high school--maybe even more. I just returned from the King's Academy, a new private boarding high school established by the King of Jordan where I visited a friend, attended classes, and did some professional development. The teachers saw how TIEL could help them with high school teaching. I plan to return next year to do more work.

  9. Nice blog about circle time. I liked that you included two definitions of circle time by two different people. I also think that the rules are very important to let kids know when doing circle time. I think that circle time is a way to keep fairness in the classroom. This way no one is too far in the back or too close up front, everyone is in the same position basically. The fact that they all get to have a chance to answer and talk is very good as well. I like your point that circle time is not just for primary students but can work with any group.

  10. Anonymous7:39 am

    Hi Jo
    I'm Brenda from Beenleigh SHS - we just had our whole school (Year 8-12 secondary school) trained in circle time a couple of months ago. Staff response was fantastic and we are currently developing a full SEL program using cirlce time as the framework.
    Hope your cirlces are going well with your Year 8's.

  11. Hi all, great to read about the Circle Time discussion. I'm a student Wellbeing Counsellor and work with Circle Time, I love it and so do the Children. Brenda- who did your Circle Time P.d?

    Thank you.


  12. Hey, just came across this post while researching resources to include in the new edition of the Circle book - this will be entitled Circle Solutions for Student Wellbeing and be published by Sage in February 2014. Lots of new ideas! Doing some introductory training in Sydney and Brisbane in August 2013 with TTA Australia if anyone is interested. Getting great feedback from teachers about the difference Circles are making for their students and in their classes - but they do need to be facilitated appropriately for sustainable outcomes. Negotiate the RAPIDS - Respect, Agency, Positivity, Inclusion, Democracy and Safety!

    Thanks to everyone, Sue