Secondary SEAL Recommends Jenny Mosley's Circle Time Approaches (2007)
The text below is taken from "Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning for Secondary School (SEAL). Further Reading Booklet. Secondary National Strategy 2007 - which in turn was adapted by the Government from J.Mosley (2002) Important issues relating to the promotion of positive behaviour and self-esteem in secondary schools. Positive Press.
Social and emotional aspects of learning: further reading
Promoting SEAL through circle time
Circle time sessions provide a potential vehicle for the classroom delivery of the SEAL curriculum. Circle time is a time set aside each week when a whole class of young people and their teacher sit in a circle and explicitly engage in a structured programme of games, experiential activities, discussion and relaxation strategies. It usually lasts for 40–60 minutes (longer or shorter depending on the social and emotional competencies of the young people and the teacher’s level of experience and skills). It aims to provide an emotionally safe forum for participants to engage with a range of key issues, including peer relationships, conflict resolution, shared goal setting, justice, friendship, democratic principles, respect for individual differences and freedom of choice.
The very act of sitting in a circle emphasises unity and equality, and symbolically promotes the notion of equal responsibility. The teacher adopts a facilitative role in order to encourage participants to feel they too have the authority and control to solve the behaviour, learning or relationship problems that concern them. Effective facilitators will show the following qualities and skills:
• enthusiasm and a positive approach to the pupil and the activities;
• good eye contact and the ability to show emotional warmth;
• empathetic listening;
• the ability to recap and reflect back what a young person has said;
• the ability to keep up a lively pace during the session;
• the ability to use effective encouragement;
• the ability to respond pro-actively to negative behaviour;
• the ability to have fun through building in creative resources to the circle session.
Circle time operates within an agreed framework of guidelines: participants take turns to speak, listen and bring their ideas or concerns to the circle. Individuals are given time both to volunteer their own concerns for group help, and to offer encouragement to others. By dealing with issues affecting the classroom in this way, participants are encouraged to experience themselves as citizens of the classroom. By taking school improvement issues to a school council from the class circle, they are also able to experience being citizens of the school.
But isn’t circle time just for primary schools?
Circle time, the basic act of people explicitly giving time to engage with each other in an open, honest and supportive way lies deep in the origins of human development. As our society has developed, and become faster and busier, the skills of calm listening and reflective speaking have eroded. Primary schools, in the late 1980s and 1990s, embraced the practice of circle time as a way of bringing in the concept of an emotional curriculum to balance the increasing academic demands. It became a gentle grass roots movement and now the majority of primary schools run circle time sessions for whole classes, and smaller circle times for emotionallyneedy pupils. Thousands of children, used to working in a circle from the age of three, are now
entering secondary schools. Simple ‘hands-up’ surveys in secondary Year 7 assemblies reveal that possibly 80–90% of pupils have experienced regular weekly circle times.
However, like all pedagogies, it may have been taught badly or well. Some circle times are boring, dull or teacher-dominated – some are vibrant, inclusive and empowering. Whether the circle sessions were weak or powerful, young people are now used to the whole notion of ‘encountering’ each other with no tables or books between the speakers and listeners.? Through whole-class circle times they are used to taking turns, and knowing that they can choose to speak or listen. They have a clear concept of the ‘golden rules’ that can create a calm and positive ethos. They are used to celebrating each other’s successes through praising and nominating each other for good social and emotional skills and signing class awarded certificates.? Interestingly, if you look at the history of PSHE in secondary schools, it has its roots in different forms of circle time. Pioneers like Button (1982) and his ‘Developmental Groupwork’, Brandes and Ginnis (1986) ‘Student Centred Learning’, and TACADE’s (1985) and Hopson and Scally’s (1984) ‘Lifeskills Training’ all held the circle as being pivotal to the successful implementation of their social and emotional skills programmes. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, huge surges of
time and financial energy went into putting these programmes into place. Many failed to flourish in a long-term sustained way. To put it simply, success depends on the level of support from senior management and the level of personal development and circle time training and ongoing support received by the teachers implementing the programmes.
The benefits of regular circle time for secondary pupils
• Encourages eye contact which supports young people to become more emotionally literate and able to ‘read’ body language.
• Actively promotes the concept of respect for individual differences as everyone gets the opportunity to speak and be listened to.
• Enables a class to work on team building. Many circle time activities foster collaboration, cooperation and shared fun.
• Offers a regular experience of emotional safety. By establishing early on the ground rules (‘no put downs’ and ‘no naming individuals negatively’) young people learn to become more trusting, open and able to take risks.
• Facilitates the development of self esteem.
• Establishes the teacher as someone who actively cares for the pupil’s views and is prepared to support them.
• Initiates the concept of ‘collective responsibility’. The open forum step of circle time focuses on the class coming up with ideas to ensure they all act as a kind, calm learning community.
• Helps establish that positive encouragement is good way of relating to each other as they themselves nominate each other as role models of social and emotional skills – and sign the certificates.
• Helps young people to practise inner locus of control and develop empathy for others.
Social and emotional aspects of learning: further reading
General guidelines for setting up circle time
The following guidelines will help practitioners to set up effective circle time sessions.
• Timetable circle time sessions on a regular basis, with all participants aware of when they are scheduled.
• It is essential to plan circle time sessions by deciding on the theme and intended learning outcomes for the session, then selecting coordinated activities for each step of the session.
• Make sure there are chairs of the same height for all participants, including the teacher/facilitator. Young people have to be trained in how to set up the room, so that the tables are moved safely to the sides, and a circle of chairs, with a clear space in the middle, is formed.
• Initially limit the time spent on circle times. Start with 20 minutes circle time until the teacher has built their own confidence; have different alternative work activities ready for when the active experiential circle session ends.
• Vary activities and keep a brisk pace.
• During the round a ‘speaking’ object might be used to pass around the circle, allowing each participant the opportunity to put forward their views. They can ‘pass’ if they wish. However, it is wise to give them the sentence stem, e.g. ‘I am worried about…’ or ‘I am pleased because…’ sometime prior to the circle session, so they can have their ideas ready.
• The ideal of confidentiality should be promoted, while accepting realistic constraints. It is a good idea to set up Chat Time one-to-one listening system, (in primary schools this might be known as Bubble Time), and Think Books (non-verbal listening) so that if pupils have anything they would like to discuss further with you, that they consider too personal or controversial, they have a vehicle for doing so in private.
• Participants may nominate themselves for help with any social, emotional, community or academic problem, but no one (including the teacher/facilitator) can choose another person to focus on.
• Evaluate circle time sessions with the pupils and support staff regularly.
• Make sure any injustices are followed up. Circle time should not exist in isolation, but provide a vehicle to address problems and find acceptable solutions.
• Always end on a positive note. The last thing anyone leaves the room with is the one thing that they will remember.
Ground rules for circle time
• signal if they wish to speak, or if using a speaking object only speak when they are holding it (the facilitator may interrupt by touching the speaking object);
• speak positively to each other – no put-downs;
• listen when someone else is talking;
• not name anyone in the circle in a negative way – They must say, for example, ‘someone is bullying me’, ‘I don’t like it when people….’ rather than use a specific name.
Social and emotional aspects of learning: further reading
The facilitator must:
• try not to say anything negative. If a pupil’s behaviour is annoying, use proximity praise – praise another child in the circle for showing the desired behaviour;
• try to value all opinions equally.
• take turns and participate alongside the pupils.
Structure of circle time sessions
Preface – at the very beginning remind young people of the social and emotional skills they will be using during circle time: looking, listening, speaking, thinking and concentrating. Draw attention to these throughout circle time using non-verbal praise and verbal praise. Some teachers play a quick game to specifically focus on the above skills before starting circle time.
STEP 1 – Meeting Up – Involves a wide range of games that promote group cohesion, mix up the groups, provide a sense of fun and enjoyment, and reinforce social, emotional and behavioural skills, rules and routines.
STEP 2 – Warming Up – Involves a ‘round’ that gives everyone a chance to speak. A speaking object is used to focus on the speaker and a ground rule emphasises that all others must listen.
Stem sentences are used to encourage participation.
STEP 3 – Opening Up – This is the heart of circle time and provides a forum in which aspects of the curriculum can be delivered using a range of approaches including for example discussion, debate, philosophy, literature, drama, puppets and poetry.
During this step pupils can help each other to tackle complex problems – generating alternative solutions and setting individual or class goals and targets.
A problem-solving open forum is scripted in the following way: ‘Is there anyone here who would like help with…?’ The pupils reply with ‘I need help because I…’. Other pupils respond with ‘Would it help if I…’ or ‘Would it help if you…’. The self-chosen child then selects his target from all the ideas offered.
School improvement issues can be discussed using a similar script. Ideas generated can be presented to school policy makers perhaps via the school council. They could be recorded, as in the example in the table below.
STEP 4 – Celebrating Success – Involves participants acknowledging their own and others; successes. It is an opportunity to give positive feedback. Young people not only nominate each other but, after circle time, the whole class sign the certificate for the nominated children.
STEP 5 – Calming Down – The final stage brings a sense of closure, and ‘bridges the young people’ into the next part of the school day. It provides an opportunity for visualisation and meditation activities and quiet cohesive games.
This week’s circle time was about:
These are the ideas we came up with:
This week we are working on:
These ideas will go to the school council:
This structure below can be used to provide a coherent delivery of the classroom work described in SEAL.
Helping to embed circle time in secondary schools
• Ensure that the senior management team and teachers/facilitators who are chosen to implement circle time have been given proper training. Secondary teachers, as part of their training, benefit from being able to observe a skilled facilitator using the approach with young people from their own school.
• A long-term vision is recommended as it takes about five years to turn a school around. Therefore many schools invest time and energy into training all those teachers who deal with Year 7 intake. All Year 7 subject teachers need to be trained in circle time methodology so they can feel positive and confident about delivering their subject in line with it. It is helpful if the tutors are also their class’s PSHE teacher as the consistent use of circle time helps the adults to build up a holistic picture of the pupils’ strengths and needs. However, some schools only use PSHE specialists. If this is the case then time must be built in for the tutor and the PSHE teacher to share their knowledge of the pupil.
• Outside specialists – some secondary schools buy in experienced accredited circle time consultants to train their years 10, 11 or 12 pupils, so these young people can become circle time ‘teachers’ for younger pupils. They have the energy and enthusiasm to take whole class circle time programmes into tutor groups and PSHE and subject lessons. Pilot studies have shown that it is vital that the tutor and the subject teacher agree to participate as part of the group and to give a short weekly time slots to working with pupils to focus on the planning and de-briefing of the sessions.
• A regular ongoing adult voluntary support group. Pilot studies show that teachers welcome the opportunity to get support should they be experiencing any problems trying to promote active experiential approaches, like circle time. Teachers need, their own personal and professional development training. The circle time forum has always been essential to adult training. Industry uses the concept of ‘Quality Circles’ as part of their management training. Health professions have always engaged in concept of group supervision – taking place within a circle.
• Co-teaching – it has already been suggested that the older pupils can work with the teachers to ensure vibrant and positive circle times. If this is not possible some schools make the best use of the excellent active experiential skills of their drama specialist (if they have one). They do not give their drama teacher form tutor responsibilities; instead they timetable him/her to go and support other teachers implementing the circle approach.
The whole-school model
Circle time is likely to be most effective when embedded within a whole-school approach, an example of this is the Whole-school Quality Circle Time Model (Mosley, 1999). This describes a democratic and practical school management system which addresses social and emotional issues through a systemic approach. Its features reflect closely the philosophy, guidance and practice embodied in SEAL.
The model is designed to build a sense of school community. It advocates the setting up of circles for all groups involved in the school, linked to each other by representatives. Such representatives from the individual circles can take school improvement issues to the regular ‘policy maker’ meetings. Thus the whole school becomes a ‘listening school’ in which all can influence the school via a transparent democratic process.
Essential features of this model include:
• the setting up of listening systems for all pupils and all members of the school community (i.e. one-to-one, group and non-verbal listening);
• a strong focus on the emotional health and well-being of staff – all staff need to be able to model the personal qualities and behaviours they expect from pupils;
• a very visible moral system – ‘The School Values’ – these are ‘being’ rules which apply in all parts of the school. They come from the pupils’ own ideas, are displayed everywhere and provide a clear statement of the school’s code of practice. Examples might be:
We respect ourselves
We respect others
We respect our work
We respect our environment
• clear safety routines i.e. the ‘doing’ rules, e.g. ‘We walk on the left hand side’, ‘We line up calmly’
• a highly motivational system of rewards and sanctions.
All adults and pupils share the rules, routines, rewards and sanctions. They provide a secure framework for positive behaviour reinforcement. Everyone speaks the same language; everyone can catch pupils behaving well. They can say precisely what pupils are getting right precisely when they get it right. Pupils are then able to recognise, believe, and internalise positive messages about themselves and their peers.
Button, L. (1982) Developmental Groupwork with Adolescents. John Wiley: London.
Brandes, D. and Ginnis, P. (1986) A Guide to Student Centered Learning. Simon & Schuster Education: London.
Hopson, B. and Scally, M. (1984) Lifeskills Teaching Programmes1–4. Leeds: Lifeskills Associates: Leeds.
Mosley, J. and Tew, M. (1999), Whole-school Quality Circle Time Model. David Fulton Publishers: London.
This reading was adapted with the kind permission of Mosley, J. (2002) Important issues relating to the promotion of positive behaviour and self-esteem in secondary schools. Positive Press.