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.