Community Circle

Classroom Circle, Restorative Circle, Talking Circle, Dialogue Circle, Listening Circle, Peace Circle, Open Circle

A Community Circle is a safe discussion space in which students and the teacher sit in a circle so that all members’ faces are visible to one another. What distinguishes a Community Circle from a group discussion is that Community Circles are explicitly used as an opportunity for students to build community. In a Community Circle, the teacher participates as an equal member of the classroom, facilitating discussion rather than directing it. To give space for students to share their authentic voice, teachers can have students submit topics or have students lead the discussion. Community Circles increase motivation and engagement, empowering students by giving them an opportunity to express differing thoughts and opinions in a safe, non-judgmental space. Essential Components to Community Circle:
* Circle: All students face each other without barriers between them
* Talking Piece: Object held by speaker (e.g. feather, rock, sea shell, etc.) that gets passed around the circle
* Facilitator: Student or teacher
* Student-Centered: From setting the agreements (rules) to leading the discussion, all aspects of Community Circle are student-led
* Routine: A set list of steps for the group to follow during the Community Circle

Ready-to-Use Resources

Classroom Management Tool

Community Circle: Visual Group Agreements

Instructions for how to select and establish norms through a student-centered approach for Community Circles. Includes suggested group agreements appropriate for elementary students as well as a customizable resource to support student-generated ideas.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 · Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Classroom Management Tool

Written Group Agreements

Instructions for how to select and establish norms through a student-centered approach for Community Circles. Includes suggested group agreements appropriate for upper-grade students as well as a customizable resource to support student-generated ideas.

Grade 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Implementation Tips

Establishing Group Agreements
When implementing Community Circles for the first time, teachers should have students participate in establishing the [[ | Group Agreements]]. Having the students involved in this part of the process increases engagement and accountability.
Creating Protocols
[[| Protocols]] may differ slightly based on the purpose of the circle, but regardless of purpose, all protocols have similar elements including:
--Having student buy-in to group agreements
--A set of norms that each member is expected to adhere to such as showing mutual respect)
--A talking piece (i.e., an item that an individual must hold in order to speak)
--Multiple rounds with open-ended questions and [[ | activities]] related to the circle's core purpose.
Selecting Questions
Teachers should first begin with non-controversial questions with topics that will be familiar and fun to the students and can be answered quickly, requiring little to no introspection. After circles have been an established routine, teachers can begin choosing questions that will build intimacy and authenticity. The topic can be new and unfamiliar, controversial, and require introspection. [[ | Sample Community Circle Questions]]
Asking Questions
Ask questions that do not have an assumed answer or imply that there is a right or wrong response. For example, rather than ask, "Why is it important to be a good friend?" a teacher might ask, "What makes a friendship work out well?" The latter question in the example allows for students to provide their own authentic response rather than provide an answer that they assume the teacher is wanting to hear.
It is not recommended that teachers take written notes during this activity, as it is a closed, confidential circle, but teachers can use this time to informally complete a mental check on students’ levels current status or levels of understanding.
Closing the Community Circle
Finish with an activity that connects students to their own bodies and state of mind such as a Deep Breathing exercise.
For more Community Circle Activities and Resources
Visit [[ | Restorative Practices]]


Daily Check-In
Begin the class check-in by having a student facilitate and ask a set of predetermined, low-risk questions and/or seated activities (e.g., deep breathing). Once trust has been established, community circles can be used to help students process challenging emotions (e.g., stress, anger, grief, etc.) by providing a safe place for students to share feelings and/or significant events happening in their lives. To decrease risk and increase student participation, teachers can provide multiple options for student expression (e.g., think-pair-share, raising fingers in correspondence to a 10-point scale, illustrations, journaling, etc.).
Reflective Activity
Community Circle can be an opportunity to reflect on instructional activities (e.g., controversial topics in literature, current events, etc.) on a deeper level by having students share their thoughts and feelings. For example, a student might choose to discuss how their personal experiences are or are not reflected in a novel being read in class or how they felt an activity provided them an opportunity to display a strength or further develop a skill. As the talking piece moves around the circle, students speak and listen to their peers as well as ask and respond to one another’s questions. Teachers can guide this process toward deeper learning and community building by asking an open-ended question about a topic or activity and providing a list of sentence frames for students to use to build thought-provoking questions and responses.
Conflict Resolution
Students can use Community Circles for conflict resolution for both specific (e.g., peer to peer conflict) and general problems (e.g., issues with class norms). Conflict resolution circles can be scheduled or unscheduled. An example of a scheduled circle could include a “Problem Solving Topic Box” that is provided for students to submit anonymously written topics throughout the day. A student or the teacher would then select a problem from the box prior to beginning a scheduled circle. As a group, while following the group agreements (e.g., mutual respect, confidentiality, use of the talking piece), students work collectively to come up with a resolution to the issue. The need for an unscheduled circle may arise when a conflict occurs in the classroom and relationships need to be repaired in the moment. One strategy to use within a conflict resolution community circle is role play, which can be an effective way for students to gain a deeper sense of empathy.

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