At McKinley, we dedicate ourselves to cultivating a safe community that openly welcomes and inspires every person to be respectful, responsible, safe, and prepared. While we pride ourselves on building relationships and fostering a loving, welcoming, and safe environment, we realized that we were not addressing the root problem for many of our students.
We discovered that student behavior was a result of not feeling safe among their peers. While our students establish relationships with adults, they are not building relationships with one another. Their lack of feeling safe is compounded with the effects of chronic stress and the lack of skills to regulate their emotions often resulting in disruptive, aggressive, and explosive behavior. We are not addressing their needs. We need to build community within the classrooms and support students in building trusting relationships with their peers.
Community Circles are a way to build communities of trust and respect. The class sits in a circle facing each other and develops common expectations such as listening to the person with the talking piece and using gestures and words that are encouraging and supportive. These expectations are reviewed daily to ensure students feel safe to share. The teacher supports students to engage in mindfulness activities to build self-regulation skills, questions to promote community, activities to build teamwork, a focus of learning to learn a new strategy, skill, or expectation and a closing activity to transition back into academics.
Community Circles are also a way to discuss student concerns in the classroom and to collectively develop a solution. In one classroom, the students were upset that their seats were moved. The teacher shared that seats were moved because there was too much talking during lessons. The students and teacher developed a system for flexible seating that allows students to sit where they want. If the class becomes too loud, then they return to their assigned seats.
We are in the beginning stages of this process and already teachers are expressing a change in their classrooms and students are sharing that they feel safe. Community Circles have become a favorite part of everyone’s day as they spend time growing, learning about each other, and building trust.