A Checklist For Circles

I like to start every week with a to-do list. It keeps me on track, focussed and stops me from procrastinating or forgetting things.

When I go shopping, I make a shopping list. I list my goals, exercise plan, the podcasts that I’ll listen to, articles that I’ll read and my jobs around the house. I find that the lists I create are helpful. At the same time, I just use them as a guide and not a step-by-step process. I rarely get through an entire list and most of the time, I find myself digressing from my plan and taking a different path. That’s okay. I’m comfortable doing that. I also understand that some people hate lists, they don’t find them helpful, or they make them feel like they are just being set up for failure. I get that as well.

During a recent planning session with the fantastic team of educators and leaders at one of our Partner Schools, we decided that it would be helpful if I created a list of the key components and aspects that make Restorative Circles work. A little bit like a ‘Circles Check List’. It was a great suggestion and we agreed that it would be really valuable for their team.

Here’s the ironic part…I didn’t write it on my list and as a result, it didn’t get done. I don’t like it when I forget things or when I let people down. So, in an attempt to make things right, I’ve now created a Circles Checklist. It’s not only for the school that I promised but also for any other schools in our community that might find it valuable.

I hope it helps…..

  • Think about the space – if it’s not there, find it or create it. Architecture is important.
  • Frontload your kids – talk with them about what you are about to do. That is, you are about to run a circle.
  • Does it fit? – I’m not talking about the space. Instead, that running a circle fits with your lesson design.
  • Circle, Square, Squircle or Oval – It really doesn’t matter what the exact shape is.
  • Everyone in – No one sits behind another student. We are all in one shape.
  • Be where they are – If you sit on a chair, they sit on a chair. If they sit on the floor, you sit on the floor. Just be at the same level.
  • Object Free – Avoid having objects like tables and chairs in the middle of your circle.
  • No Special Spots – As the teacher, don’t sit in the same spot every time. Mix it up.
  • Less is more – The best circles are short and sharp, that is 2-15 minutes.
  • What’s your focus? – Is it to check-in, check out, prepare, respond or is it for learning?
  • Engagement is everything – It’s not a group counselling session where everyone gets to debrief.
  • How do they engage? Is it share two words with the group or turn and talk to the person next to you? Is it non-verbal signals like thumbs up, an emoji card or the number of fingers (sometimes a safe starting point)?
  • Short contributions…by everyone. No opting out.
  • Let the magic happen – The more you do it, the easier your day will be, and the better your connection will be with them. Circles build relational trust.

The above points aren’t a lockstep list where you must have everything perfectly lined up and in order. If you get some, great, if you miss some, that’s fine too.

Have fun!


Check out other articles Simon has written here.