This past week we had parent conferences. While there were many great things to share on both sides of the conversation, one of the things many talked about was the community circle. Why I was resistant to the idea in the beginning, the result has amazed me.
For those unfamiliar with the community circle, let me briefly explain. Our class gathers around to share about different things going on in our classroom, school or lives. We have all agreed on some basic ideas that allow us to share freely without judgement or fear. Some of the agreements we have include agreeing to keep what is shared among ourselves (with the exception of telling trusted adults like parents) and no using of names of others. We start by sharing a fun, quick topic such as what is your favorite number or color. Then comes the bigger topic. These range from tell about a time you have been bullied to when have you been dishonest and how did it make you feel. We always try to end on a more positive note such as what is your favorite food or superhero.
While I can't go into details about what is shared in the circle, I can tell you the difference it has made in the students, the class and the teachers. First, the students have opened up in ways that were completely unexpected. We now keep a tissue box in the middle of our circle. It's not always the topic you think will bring the tears that makes the students cry (sometimes sobbing happy tears). They are willing to share their sad thoughts/experiences as well as what they find happiness in, and it has changed how they feel about school in general. The kids are now talking more in front of their classmates outside the circle, even the shy ones who previously wouldn't have said a word. (At the conferences one of the parents even shared that her daughter has asked that they now have a circle at home. Love it!)
This has also allowed the class to become so much closer. I have a class of some pretty quirky (in all the best ways!) kids. The year started with a few grumblings of "I don't want to be in the group with ____" as they always say. We no longer hear that. I truly feel that having the trust that has come from the community circle has changed how they perceive each other. They are willing to work with others that were once "different" from them. The shared experiences brought about through the community circle topics has created a true community within our classroom.
The other change has been with the teachers. While I can't totally speak for my amazing student teacher (who I know enjoys the community circle as much as I do), I am different because of this shared experience. I am much more invested in what the students share. This is not to say that I didn't listen to them before this year. It creates a different understanding when you see kids being so raw in front of their peers and you get to be a part of it. More students are reaching out to me outside of the circle when life seems too tough for them. The teachers share in the circle as well, usually about our experiences when we were kids that go with the topic. Recently I opened up about my current life so the kids could see the adult perspective. I can tell you I teared up as much as the kids did.
No matter how big my class gets in future years or how tight the schedule becomes, I will find a way to fit in the community circle. In this day and age, I don't see how we can go without providing our students an outlet for their emotional needs. And I don't know how I can continue to teach them without being able to know them on this level any more.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching