Circle time at the beginning and the end of the week is a corner stone of Restorative Practice and is key to creating a school culture that nurtures a restorative ethos. Most Restorative Practice trainers will tell you that 20% of Restorative practice is responding to conflict, but 80% of it is preventing conflict through creating an environment where pupils learn empathy, consideration, emotional intelligence, self-reflection and self-awareness whilst nurturing connection and strong relationships. In the process of learning these skills, the root causes of challenging behaviour are addressed and intrinsic motivation to act out of care for one another is cultivated.
What is circle time?
There are different ways of doing circle time, but in its most basic form, pupils stand or sit in a large circle and take it in turns to share and answer questions whilst the rest of the group listen in silence. Often a ‘talking stick’ or another object is passed to the talker so everyone is clear who is speaking. Sometimes the ‘talking stick’ is passed around the circle so everyone has an opportunity to share. For some questions it might be more appropriate for pupils to put their hands up to speak or the leader might choose to invite specific pupils to share. Other variations include having a bean bag that the pupils throw to one another to speak, pair work or a ‘fish bowl’ where the pupils move from one partner to another. The options are endless.
As well as sharing and answering questions, circle time games can be played which further help the pupils to develop the interpersonal skills needed for Restorative Practice…and they are great fun! When done right, circle time is the highlight of the week and the pupils can’t wait for it.
Circle time top tips
In the first session it’s important for the whole group to agree on a set of ground rules that will protect everyone within the group. We recommend settling on five or less rules that everyone agrees on. Any more than this and it becomes too difficult for the pupils to remember and internalise them. In true circle time fashion, you can do a round where pupils get to say what the most important rule for them would be whilst someone writes them all down on a piece of paper. You could accompany this with asking the group for ways in which we can show consideration for one another and ways we can be inconsiderate.
Once the whole group has brainstormed, amalgamate the ideas into five core rules. For example:
- One person speaks at a time
- Hands up if you want to speak
- Listen in silence and look at the person speaking
- No put downs
At the beginning of each circle time, remind yourselves of the rules. You can ask the group what the rules are or throw a bean bag and each person who catches it needs to say a different rule.
Miss a go
One important principle of circle time is that the pupils have the right not to share if they wish. The danger is though, that this can be an easy way out of participating for those who are ‘too cool for school’. Tell the pupils if they haven’t got anything to share, they can say ‘pass’ and you will come back to them at them end. If they still don’t want to share at the end, don’t force them. After circle time, try to speak to them one-to-one and see if they will share when it’s just you. Edify them and explain how much you want them to be included and why you are doing circle time. Repeat every week until there is a shift. It might just take time for them to observe the others before they feel alright about sharing.
Pitch the questions right
When first introducing circle time, remember that asking your pupils to share in front of their peers is affectively public speaking. It doesn’t matter how easy the questions are to answer, it is quite intimidating for them to say anything. Make sure that you start with questions that are very safe for the pupils to answer. For example, the question “which ice cream flavour do you prefer, chocolate or strawberry?” is safe because the pupils can’t get it wrong and it is unlikely that anyone will contest their answer or mock them. It is a question that requires minimum vulnerability. On the other hand, starting with inviting pupils to share something that they have done that they regret would obviously be too intrusive. When planning your sessions, air on the side of caution and invest in asking seemingly trivial questions until you sense the pupils feel safe to open up a bit more.
Make it fun with games
A lot of listening can become tedious, especially for younger pupils. Combine questions with games to keep everyone engaged and the atmosphere light. For example, in one game each pupil has to share one true and one false fact about themselves whilst everyone else guesses which one is true. In another game, one pupil is blind folded in the middle of the circle and the rest of the pupils have to work in a team to pass a big bunch of keys around without getting pointed at. For more ideas and lesson plans, download our Restorative Practice pack below