Circle Solutions is a philosophy for healthy relationships and a pedagogy for teaching them. It is based in the principles of agency, safety, positivity, inclusion, respect and equality. I have decided to expand on these principles to support good practice, with a separate post on each principle. Each post includes Circle activities to support that principle as well as the reasons why it is important. Click on the heading of each principle below to access the full article.
The word agency is commonly applied to an organisation that does things on behalf of others – a travel agency, a real estate agency. When students have agency they make decisions on behalf of themselves. It is about choice, but also about taking responsibility. In Circles this agency is not only individual but applies to the whole Circle – for example, students decide on the ‘solutions’ they are aiming for in having a class where bullying doesn’t happen.
A safe distance: safety is embedded in the Circle pedagogy in several ways. Issues are addressed in Circles but never incidents – there is no naming, blaming or shaming. It is not a space for sorting out a problem but a safe environment for defining and designing a class that is a good place to be.
Circle Solutions is based in positive psychology. It incorporates the burgeoning knowledge in this field to support student endeavours to learn about themselves and others, promote an emotionally supportive learning environment and enhance resilience. It is using strengths based language with a solution focus.
The principle of inclusion is also incorporated in the Circle pedagogy where participants are mixed up so they interact with those outside their usual social circle. The expectation is that everyone will work with everyone else. This does several things – it breaks up cliques, it helps people get to know those they would not otherwise communicate with and in doing that it facilitates new perspectives on each other. This happens most actively when pairs are looking for things they have in common. There are no individual activities in Circles, everything happens in interaction with others, either in pairs, small groups or the whole Circle. The most vulnerable students are those most quickly excluded – Circles actively fosters a sense of belonging.
When people ask how they want to be treated by others, most say they want to be respected. When asked to define what respect means for them, they say being accepted, being listened to, not being judged.
Equality is also embedded in the Circle pedagogy where participants sit in a Circle together, and everyone in the Circle participates in all the activities – including the facilitator. Circles are never a time for teachers to ‘stand and deliver’. The quality of facilitation makes all the difference to both long and short-term outcomes for Circles. The ability of the facilitator to sit back and be on the same level as everyone else is a critical skill. It is the difference between being in charge of proceedings and being in control of people.