47. Using Community Circles As SEL Lessons

Welcome to episode 47 of the Counselor Chat podcast. Today we are diving in deep and talking about how to use Community Circle as SEL lesson.

Episode Highlights:

1. Introduction to Community Circles:

  • Community circles trace their origins to ancient traditions, fostering inclusivity and mutual respect.
  • The circle format ensures equal participation and promotes active listening.

2. Setting Up Community Circles:

  • Physical setup: Arrange seats in a circle without barriers for optimal engagement.
  • Establish guidelines: Co-create rules emphasizing respect, confidentiality, and active listening.
  • Teacher involvement: Teachers remain present to demonstrate commitment and contribute insights.

3. Implementing Community Circles:

  • Introduction phase: Initiate with lighthearted topics to build trust and rapport.
  • Progression: Transition to deeper discussions on topics like personal integrity and community contribution.
  • Varied approaches: Utilize storytelling, multimedia, and interactive activities within circles to engage students.

4. Benefits of Community Circles:

  • Transformational impact: Promotes empathy, breaks down social barriers, and fosters a sense of belonging.
  • Encourages active listening: Emphasizes that participation includes both speaking and listening.
  • SEL integration: Aligns with Social and Emotional Learning objectives, enhancing emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.

5. Resources and Further Exploration:

  • Book recommendation: “Circle Forward” serves as a comprehensive guide to implementing community circles.
  • Prompts and check-ins: Access resources for engaging circle activities and check-ins to deepen student participation.
  • Training opportunities: Explore professional development to enhance circle facilitation skills.

Resources mentioned in this episode:



Carol: You're listening to the counselor chat podcast, a show for school counselors looking for easy to implement strategies, how to tips, collaboration, and a little spark of joy. I'm Carol Miller, your host. I'm a full time school counselor and the face behind counseling essentials. I'm all about creating simplified systems, data driven practices, and using creative approaches to age students. If you're looking for a little inspiration to help you make a big impact on student growth and success, you're in the right place because we're better together.

Carol: Ready to chat?

Carol: Let's dive in.

Carol: Hi everyone. It's Carol here. Thank you so much for joining me on this week's episode of Counselor chat. Today we are going to be talking all about community circles and how we can use community circles as our classroom sel lessons. Before we dive in to our topic today, I haven't shared a review of the podcast in a while, and I wanted to share one with you because this just made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside. It really touched my heart. And it's from J. Sankin 15. And the title of it is helps to motivate. And it says, if you are feeling a little weary in your position, this is the podcast for you. Carol gives great tips and feedbacks for our profession and helps me see the big picture when there are days I'm seeing no picture. Thank you. And really, that did just mean so much to me. Thank you so much for sharing. I have to say, if you haven't left a review, I would really love to hear your thoughts about the podcast, because this podcast really isn't about me, but it's my way of serving you and really helping to promote the profession. I feel like I wear my counselor hat an awful lot, whether it's working with students or working with other counselors. And there's really nothing else I'd rather be doing than helping people. And so if there's something here that you find helpful or something that you want to know more about, let me know. And that's why those ratings are so important, because it gives me a chance to know what's on your mind and what's good and maybe what needs a little tweaking and what you want to listen to. But they also help other counselors find this little podcast, too. And that's my goal, is to reach counselors and help them and support them and get them information that they need. Because sometimes we just can't go out for PD. It's just not part of our budget or we can't fit it into our program. So hopefully this little recordings, these little recordings that I do can make a difference. And that's really all I'm shooting for. So if you haven't left a review, I would absolutely love if you did, and maybe I'll share it on the podcast, too. Anyway, are you guys ready to talk about community circles? Because I am loving, loving, loving them. Now, I have probably talked about community circles a gazillion times since we started them this year. And really, it hasn't been long. I mean, we only recently started these community circles. I went for training. This actually was my third training on it. I've done some other trainings with other counselors throughout the last couple of years, and I tried to implement them, or I started, but I didn't go in with a lot of gung ho or a lot of fidelity and keeping them moving. And our principal is really supportive of this, too, because community circles, they've really been around for a long, long time. I mean, they are rooted in some ancient roots and traditions, and they were first employed by some of our indigenous communities, not just here in the Americas, but across the world. And so the shape of the circle itself is pretty significant. So when we talk about a community circle, we talk about a group or a classroom of individuals that is sitting together in a circle with nothing in front of them because it allows every member to see all the other members and that no one is in a position of power. So ideally, nothing can block any individual's view. Like, there's no tables or desks or anything like that in the way. It's just simply us sitting in a circle. Now, in my school, we sit in chairs. We also have one classroom. Well, we do that in one classroom. In another classroom, our teachers made these little. They're like paint buckets, and they put the little foam pad over the top of it, so they're kind of like a cushion. And so some kids will sit on there, some kids will sit on the rug. But we all do sit in a circle. And I admit I have really bad knees, and I don't sit on the floor because it kills my knees. So I do sit in a chair, and that's okay, because we're still all sitting in a circle and we are all there. We can all see each other. So we do do that. The other thing about the circle is that they're really a place of active listening and respect is really the key for what happens in that circle. We also use a talking piece, and we pass that around from person to person, community member to community member, and only the person with the talking piece may speak. We also have a circle keeper, and right now I am the circle keeper. I kind of start the circle and end the circle and guide the questions. But my hope is as we get going a little bit more and our kids become very familiar with this whole process, that we will pass around who the circle keeper will be so that kids have the opportunity to be the circle keeper and provide the guiding questions as well. It has been really, right now for us, a pretty transformative process in the classrooms that we're using them in. And I am in a k through six building, and we are only doing our circles with our 4th, fifth and 6th grade. I did start with fifth, I moved to six, and then I'm just really starting with fourth. And by just starting, I mean we've had like three or four community meetings already, but it's still fairly fresh compared to our other classrooms, our fifth and 6th grade classrooms with a community circle. I think what scared me before is a lot of from really diving in much earlier than I started, was that a lot of times people use community circles as a way of a restorative practice. And sometimes I know when I thought about a community circle, I thought about students sitting together and really hashing out problems within their classroom. I think as you move through the circle process, that is definitely a piece of what they're for. But in the very beginning, it's really to foster a sense of school community. You don't really want to address conflicts right away. You want to build trust, you want to build a positive relationship. You want to foster a sense of belonging. And I think those are the most important things that our circles are really doing within our school. So the way that we start this and the way that I'm using in classroom lessons is whatever I would typically do within a lesson. I'm kind of bringing those topics to our circle. And as we go around and around is when you pass the talking piece and it makes its way around the entire circle and everyone gets the chance to speak, and then it stops with me. So it starts with me and then it ends with me. And so that would be around. And then for every round, you have, well, really one question that you're asking the students to think about. And so we will do these different rounds with different questions. And there's lots of different ways that you can do circles, too. They don't just have to be about talking or sharing an answer to a question, but there's a lot of different ways to incorporate ideas and spark kids interests with them as well. Like, I have read a story in them. I have used powerpoints within our circles. So there's definitely different ways that you can run your circles. I've even had some circles where we are moving around. They're in a circle, but I'm making them do something and I'm going to share all that stuff with you in just a minute. But for our circles, let me just give you a little rundown of what you need to do to start it because it didn't happen overnight. So as you start your circle, you want to make sure that there is a seat for everyone in the class, even the student that's absent and the teacher. The teacher really has to be a part of it because first of all, they have a lot of insight, but it's their classroom and students need to feel like their teachers are a part of that and are caring and they want to be there as well. So I know before, I would sometimes have teachers who would slip out to go make copies during classroom lessons or use the bathroom or just take the ten minutes or 20 minutes or half an hour to go get a cup of coffee. When we do a circle, our teachers remain in the classroom and they are part of the lesson. So that has helped, I think, a lot with lessons as well, because what we talk about can also then get carried through within the classroom when I'm not there. So that has been great. After you have your setup of putting together a circle, like everyone's sitting in the circle, you need to make sure that you have some sort of a talking piece. Now, traditionally, the keeper of the circle picks the talking piece, and usually it's something that is significant for them. So I brought in things like for talking pieces, like a little piece of wood. It was like part of a tree. And it was actually one of our first graders. For their field trip this year, they went to a tree farm and they were showed how you plant trees and harvest different pieces of the tree for different things and how they graft trees, but they also showed them how they would cut a Christmas tree. And so they had cut a section of the trunk. And so little kid brought that to me because they're like, this smells so nice. I thought you'd like it. And so I brought this. And that was our talking piece for one day. Another day. It was just this little hello sign that I have in my office. The meaning behind that is that when people come to me, I want to make sure everyone belongs. And so we're talking about belonging today. And I thought this was important. At another time, it was just this little chimy heart that I have. I had received that as a gift, and so it's kind of special. So every time I try to pick a different type of talking piece, sometimes I use the same one, but for the most part, I try to pick something different. Occasionally it's just the lollipop because the classroom teacher had one and maybe I forgot one in my room. So you can use basically anything after you have your talking piece in your circle. In your first community circle, you really need to establish guidelines and expectations. So you have to go around and have each person think about what would be important, to feel like it was safe and respectful, to be able to share and tell other people your stories within the circle. And so we went around the circle and we established our rules and expectations. Now, sometimes you just can't start the answer off with a student. Sometimes you're the one that has to guide those answers. When we were talking about those expectations, I started. Then I passed the talking piece to the teacher. I made sure that they were sitting next to me, and then we started passing it to kids. But for most of our classes, the rules and the guidelines that we've established are pretty much the same. And that's to not judge what people say, to not put people down, to really make sure that you're listening, to be respectful, to be confidential of what people are saying. Like, if somebody says something, you don't go outside and tell other people about it. You listen with an open heart, and those are the basic guidelines. But we have a lot of others, too, but they really all center around listening and respect and really, that confidentiality, after you do that, you have to kind of all make sure you read them over and then you agree. And then we usually do a check in. So in the first session, I actually did the check in first, after we had the talking piece and I explained what the talking piece was. We do a check in. So a check in. I usually try to do something different, like, what's your high? What's your low? Or what's your buffalo? Meaning, what was the highlight of your day or your week? Or what was the low part of your day? And what was your buffalo? What was that kind of silly thing that happened that you want to share about? Sometimes it's our sweet and our sour. Sometimes we give how we're feeling based on a weather report. We always do some sort of check in. That way we know, do we have to support each other? Do we have to give somebody grace, do we have to be extra sensitive because someone's maybe not feeling too well? So the check ins are really important. And then after that, we really start diving into some questions. For the first couple sessions, it's really important just to do more general questions. Like, if you had to wear the same color shirt every day, what color shirt would it be? Or if you were a tool in a toolbox, what tool would you be? The first session or two, they were just kind of these light and easy, nonthreatening type of questions with our kiddos. Now we're starting to really talk about some of the topics. In one, we did a lesson on how we wanted to be remembered. So what I did for that was I made a PowerPoint of all these character traits that aren't necessarily character traits that we would want to be associated with, like greedy or disrespectful or dishonest or lazy or sneaky, all these really negative characteristics. And so I had all these in different fonts in black and blue. They were all in the color of black and blue all over the screen. And then I had kids, they looked at it, and I was like, what do you think this means? And so we passed around our talking stick, and everybody kind of guessed what we were going to kind of be talking about for the day. And then when it got back to me, I showed them the next screen on the PowerPoint, which said, think, wonder, discuss. And so I'm like, now, what do you think it might mean? So we passed it around again, and then from there, we just kept going a little bit deeper, like, what do you notice? And so, well, I noticed that all the words are in black or blue, kind of like a bruise. Like, they can hurt you. And those are things that I don't like in people or that makes me angry. And so then we just kept going around and talking about all these things, and then I would just add another layer of questioning. Would you like to be associated with these words? And if not, what kinds of words do you want people to associate with you? And then we tied it back to, if we don't like these words and we want to change them, how would we change them? And how do we make sure that when we're in our classroom community, that we foster a community where we are those words that we want to say? So it was a really powerful, powerful lesson. But you can shape your community circles to really dig deep, to talk about integrity and perseverance and all those things. It's how you start to frame the questions. Remember, you really have to first build that community where they feel safe enough to speak. The other thing with the circle is that we have a rule that it's passing is participating, because a kid doesn't have to answer if they don't want to. Maybe they're just not feeling it, or maybe they can't think of anything, or maybe they're just not ready to share their story. And that's okay, because if they're in the circle, they're still actively listening, and listening is participating. So passing is participating. That is a big role. And there's always one or two kids that will pass, and that's okay. They're still part of the circle, and we still love them, and they're listening, and we know that they're thinking about things, and that's what we want them to do. Other things that we have done in our circles is we've talked about some leadership things. And so I got a couple of hula hoops, and then I had people stand up in the circle, and I put the hula hoop. They kind of had to hold hands, but I put the hula hoops so that their holding hands was between the hula hoops. And then they had to, without breaking their grip, their hand grips, on each person to whatever side of them, they had to get the hula hoop over their head, through their body, and then get it to the next person so that they could do it. And that hula Hoop would move from person to person to person around the circle. And then we talked about what made this easy and what made this difficult, and how do we relate this to leadership. So there's really a lot of things that you can do within the circle that ties it all in to Sel. So there is a book that we use for training. It's called circle forward. I'm going to drop the link for that in the show notes. And that's a really good starting point. If you've never run a circle, it really breaks it down. Like, how do you start it? What are you supposed to do? And it gives a lot of prompts as to what you can do within your circle. And, I mean, it is limitless. There are so many different things. I also mentioned earlier that I used a book in our circle, and I read the book the last stop on Market street. If you've never read this story, it's just great. It's about a little boy and his grandma who are coming out of church, and they have to take the bus, and they're going downtown. And the little boy is like, grandma, why do we always have to take the know, johnny's family drives. They drive a car. Why can't we get a car? And the grandmother's like, well, we would miss, like, this person on the bus or that on the bus or this thing, and you wouldn't be able to see Mr. I forget what his name is. I'm going to say Dixon. Mr. Dixon, who's driving the bus? And so it's all about their bus ride. But then when they get off the bus, they're on Market street. This is the last stop on Market street. And the light bulbs and the streetlights are broken. And little boys like, grandma, why are we here? This is such a kind of a creepy place. I don't understand why we have to come here every week. And so they end up going to the soup kitchen in the neighborhood. And the grandma's like, well, because we have important work here to do. And so you realize that they're going to help serve people in the soup kitchen. And it really is a beautiful story about seeing the good in things. And so I read that story in the circle and then, of course, pass the talking piece around, and I said, why do you think I read this story? And it just so happened that we were doing a can drive at the same time. And so they're like, because we're doing the can drive and we're helping out one of the local soup kitchens. And so they were able to kind of relate that to why we were doing this and what it means and how it might seem, because the grandma had talked about how it might be embarrassing for some people to go to the soup kitchen and things like that and why it's such a great thing for people. So we really dove into a lot of those topics, and it was such a great way to have kids understand how to be helpful and non judgmental and just really look at the brighter things in life. Even when life seems like it's kind of bad or you don't have very much, that there's always something to look forward to. So, such a great sel, theme. So these are just a few examples of the power of community circles. If you haven't tried them, I would highly recommend that you give it a try. It is really, when I say transformational, it is transformational to see the difference of how the kids act. Even from the very my fifth grade class where I first started, I can remember the girls and the boys wouldn't want to kind of sit next to each other and when the girls had to sit next to the boys, the girls would kind of scooch over in their seat closer to the girl side, and the boys would scooch over closer to the boy's side, and there was like, this huge divide in the circle. And now they don't do that because they realize that they want to be treated or they have to treat others with the respect and the dignity that they want people to treat them with. It's not okay to kind of say, I don't want to work with you, or you have the cooties or whatever it is that they're saying now. So it's really cool how they're working together and coming together, really. So once again, if you have never tried a community circle, you really should. I'm going to drop links to the circle forward book, which is the book that actually not only just our school, but our district is using. It's kind of like the model for a community circle program. I mean, it's used in a lot of training programs. So I highly recommend this book. So I'll drop a link for that. But I also have some of the check ins with kids because that is also a very important part of the circle, the check ins. I will drop a link in there for some of the prompts that I use because they're fun and they're just little freebies that you can pick up and use. And even if you don't start a community circle, you can use them with your small groups or just check in with kids in general. I mean, they're just fun. So I will drop a link for that. Anyway, my friends, I hope that this inspired you to try a community circle or to at least look into it a little bit further to see what it might do for your own school. Go for some training, then explore it just a little bit more because they are quite amazing. So if you have questions or you want to talk to me more about it, don't feel like you can't ask me questions. Email me. Send me a DM on Instagram or Facebook so that I can get back to you. Email is always the best. It's carol@counselingsentials.org and I will make sure that I email you back and answer whatever questions you have. Yeah, I think you should try them. Anyway, my friends, I hope this was helpful. Once again, if you haven't left a review, I would love if you could leave me a review. And until next week or next time, have a great week.

Carol: Thanks for listening to today's episode of Counselor chat. All of the links I talked about can be found in the show notes and@counselingessentials.org forward slash podcasts be sure to hit, follow or subscribe on your favorite podcast player. And if you would be so kind.

Carol: To leave a review, I'd really appreciate it.

Carol: Want to connect? Send me a DM on Facebook or Instagram at. Counseling essentials until next time. Can't wait till we chat. Bye for now.