Convening a check-in circle on a regular basis creates a reliable and predictable space for students (and adults) to share important events that are going on in their lives that affect their learning. It allows other members of the community to learn what is going on in the lives of their fellow students and co-workers so that they may lend support or simply offer their compassionate understanding.
Ultimately, a regular check-in circle builds a sense of connection among those in the classroom or staff by sharing moods, feelings, and moments of joy and pain. It also increases self-awareness and awareness of others, while creating space to acknowledge and release tensions related to external pressures or situations.
Note: Application of Circles to resolve conflict or engage in difficult conversations requires training for facilitators.
The Practice: “Check-In” Circle
Through the structure of the circle practice, create a space to encourage all participants to speak their truth respectfully to one another on an equal basis and seek a deeper understanding of themselves and others. Consistency is important; establish the routine and be patient as participants learn to honor the rhythm of the talking piece and to trust others.
It is suggested that all Keepers practice answering the questions for themselves in preparation for the Circle.
The Circle presented here is simple and can be practiced with the easy-to-follow directions provided.
- Seat all participants in a circle (preferably without any tables).
- Choose one person (teacher, facilitator, or student) to act as Keeper of the Circle.
- The Keeper welcomes everyone to the Circle, explains its purpose, plans and performs the opening and closing, poses questions, responds to each round as a participant, and passes the talking stick either to the left or the right.
The Keeper of the Circle explains the purpose of the circle to participants:
- The purpose of this Check-In Circle is to provide an opportunity for participants to share what is going on for them and to acknowledge what is on the mind and heart of others.
- The Keeper of the Circle welcomes everyone to the space of the Circle.
- The Keeper of the Circle leads everyone in a mindfulness moment:
- Close or lower your eyes, take a deep breath, and listen to the sound. Open or raise your eyes when the sound ceases.
- The Keeper of the Circle begins with an opening (and ends with a closing later) to mark the Circle as a distinctive space for dialogue. The following quote can be used to open the Circle or the Keeper can choose one of their own:
- “I am because we are.” – African proverb
- Use a talking piece passed sequentially around the Circle, giving each person the choice to speak or pass when the talking piece comes to them. Honoring the talking piece means active listening to each person and respecting the right to pass.
- The right to pass reduces the fear and stress that may block higher brain functioning, making it more possible to participate constructively. The choice to say “no” encourages students to engage—provided the questions are real and meaningful and the opportunity to participate is always present.
- Remind students that they are invited to speak when the talking piece comes to them, to listen when they do not hold the talking piece, and are free to pass.
- The Keeper of the Circle poses one of the questions below for a round. The Keeper should always provide their own answer first and then pass the talking piece to their left or right:
- Tell us about a high and low point in your life in the past week (or last weekend, or last month, or summer, etc.).
- Hold up your hand with fingers raised to reflect how you are feeling this morning (this afternoon, right now). 5 fingers raised = “Terrific/ I am great/ I am available to help out anyone today!” 1 finger raised = “I am struggling/I could use some help today!”
- What are the roses and thorns in your life in the past week (or last weekend, or last month, or last year, or summer, etc.)?
- If your inner world was a weather report, what would it be today?: Sunny, Rainy, Windy, Foggy, Stormy, Cold, Hot, Cloudy, Clear Skies, Thunder and Lightning, etc.
- What do others need to know about how you are feeling today?
- The Keeper of the Circle asks participants:
- How did you like the Circle today?
- The Keeper of the Circle closes the Circle with the following quote (or may choose one of their own):
- “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
- Consider modifying the openings and closings with quotes or lyrics from songs that will inspire your particular students or staff; invite others to do the Keeping or do an opening or closing.
- Consider asking a student or pair of students to lead the Circle Check-In.
- Experiment with different kinds of check-in questions.
Circle Forward is a resource guide designed to help teachers, administrators, students, and parents incorporate the practice of Circles into the everyday life of the school community with comprehensive step–by-step instructions for how to plan, facilitate, and implement the Circle. It provides over one hundred specific lesson plans for the application of Circles in the many areas of school life.
The Center for Restorative Justice offers training and professional development in restorative justice practice for K-12 schools and universities. Also see the book Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School.