3. Circle work

A restorative approach is needs-led. Circles help everyone to reconnect with each other and help to create a class community where everyone looks out for one another and supports each other’s need for safety through understanding (self and others) and joint action. Understanding how we can help ourselves and how we can support others can help us all develop a way of being and acting that will build a safe space for the community to come together. It may be a good idea to have a ‘light touch’ to begin with so the young people get used to being in a circle again and talking with their peers. Delving straight into students’ experiences of coronavirus without creating a safe space will be counterproductive.

For those unfamiliar with Circle Process be aware that there are some core guidelines to follow for success:

  1. Everyone in the room is in the circle. If for some reason anyone is unwilling or unable to take part, then they really need to be elsewhere. The impact of an ‘outsider’ in the room can badly affect the group dynamics and the sense of safety and trust. That being said it is perfectly acceptable to sit in a circle and ‘pass’ on contributions.
  2. A talking piece is used to indicate whose turn it is to speak. The talking piece is passed around the circle, usually clockwise, to each person in turn, ensuring everyone gets an equal opportunity to contribute. It is not thrown across the circle to whoever wants to speak. (a practice which favours the more extrovert or more confident).
  3. It can be helpful to have a time-keeper and decide in advance how long everyone has to speak. 
  4. Only the person holding the talking piece has the right to speak. Everyone else has the opportunity to listen (and this means that the facilitator must not comment after every contribution or they will be breaking the talking piece rule, rather than setting the example!).
  5. In case a real problem is encountered (or some real distress is shown) and the facilitator feels impelled to intervene then it can be useful to have an ‘emergency talking piece’ but this really must only be used in emergencies.

If social distancing is still being adhered to here are some variations:

  • Instead of passing the talking piece by hand use an object that can be passed along the floor by feet or encourage everyone to have their own personal talking piece kept on the floor. Each takes it in turn to pick up their own talking piece when it is their turn to speak.
  • Space the chairs much further apart than usual, if at all possible

There are several different types of circle. Three are described here:

  1. Simple circles
  2. Programmed circles – sometimes called Circle Time
  3. Circle Meetings – for decision-making, problem-solving and addressing challenging issues

a) Simple Circles

The simplest is one where there are one or 2 ‘go-rounds’ during which everyone has a chance to contribute. 

Usually the circle facilitator asks a question and everyone responds in the way they wish.

It is recommended that if the first question is likely to surface problems or difficulties that the second question deliberately invites a more positive or lighter-hearted response.

E.g.     Question 1 – What has been the hardest thing for you during the time at home?

            Question 2 – What one thing will you miss about staying at home?

b) Programmed Circles

Many schools, primary and secondary, use a process sometimes called Circle Time. This follows the same structure each time so that people get familiar with it (and eventually young people can take responsibility to design and run them for each other).

Circles like this are used to develop emotional literacy, health and wellbeing; connectedness, fun and shared ownership. They are the perfect process for RESTORing class connections (and staff teams love these types of circles too – the laughter is very healing) 

There are some ideas below and more will be shared – keep a look-out for new ideas being up-loaded.

Suggested Structure:

Check-In:       “My name is and one thing I have enjoyed doing

 during the ‘lockdown’ was ….”

Mixer             Gets people moving around (a quick one is to go round labelling everyone A
                        or B and then invite the A’s to stand up and change places with other A’s) 

Main Activity A more in-depth activity, often in pairs or small groups 

Debrief           Sharing what has been learnt 

Energiser       Remember to have fun and get people moving about 

Check-out      “One thing I have enjoyed about today’s circle is ….”

Circle Warm-ups

People will not have sat in a circle for a long time. Go over the guidelines carefully and start with some simple undemanding activities and games. 

When the group is ready, the following activities begin to encourage sharing about what has been experienced.

Significant Object

– Everyone is invited to bring in an object that has been significant to them during the

  Lockdown and each taking it in turns to explain its significance

Think, Pair and share

This is a useful activity to give people a chance to rehearse an idea or thought with a partner before sharing it in the open circle.

– Assign the circle into pairs

– The question is posed 

– A minute is given for reflection

– Each person in the pair has their turn to tell their partner their own answer

– Using a talking piece each person in the circle has their turn to share their answer

A whole range of different questions could be used over a period of time. Choose just one per circle however – and invite everyone to answer the same one.

1) My favourite food during lockdown (nb sensitivities around this if anyone was depending

   on a food bank)

2) My favourite activity during lockdown

3) Something I learnt to do during lockdown that I hadn’t known how to do before

4) My weirdest lockdown experience

5) The song I will associate with Lockdown will be …

It could also be nice to invite suggestions for go-rounds – perhaps on a piece of paper into a hat first to sift out any that might be too edgy or inappropriate.

Negative to positive

This is a series of 2 go –rounds that begins with a negative and ends on a positive

1a        The worst thing about lockdown for me was…

1b        The best thing about the lockdown for me was …

2a        The hardest thing about lockdown for me was …

2b        The easiest bit of lockdown for me was …

3a        What I will miss about the lockdown time is …

3b        What I certainly will not miss about lockdown is …

Things in Common 1

Assign pairs around the circle

Each pair has a few minutes to identify 2 things they both liked doing during lockdown.

Then using a talking piece the following feedback routine is followed:

The first person of the pair to speak says:

“We both liked …” and names one of the things they chose.

The second person to speak says the second thing they chose

And so on around the circle

Things in Common 2

Pyramid Build

Assign pairs around the circle

Each pair has 3 minutes to identify 3 things they both liked doing during lockdown.

Each pair hooks up with another pair. In the 4 they now have 3 minutes to identify 3 things that all 4 liked doing during Lockdown.

Each 4 hooks up with another 4. In the 8 they now have 6 minutes to identify 3 things that all 8 liked doing during Lockdown.

Finally, the group of 8 prepare a mime routine demonstrating the 3 things they all liked doing and the others have to guess what they were.

Drama based activities could also be used to bring lockdown experiences to life such as:

Frozen Image work

Human Sculpture

c) Circle Meetings

If the group feels safe, then a deeper sharing process using the 5 questions from Restorative Enquiry could be used to give everyone a chance to talk in more depth about their experiences.

Have a large pack of Needs cards to distribute in the centre of the circle for the 4th question

The facilitator has a talking piece and poses each question in turn – which is answered around the circle by each person in turn (it may be agreed that everyone has no more than 2 minutes to speak) 

– What was happening/happened during lockdown?

– What thoughts and feelings came up for you during this period?

– Who has been affected by this virus and the lockdown?

– What do you need now to keep yourself positive?

– What can you do to meet these needs?

If anyone chooses to pass this is honoured although the facilitator does check-in with those who passed after each round just in case they want to come in now they have heard everyone else.

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