Why Community Circle is SO Important, Especially this Year

Back to school this year, is certainly not what any of us could have ever imagined, but community circles can still make a difference. Distance learning for some, physical distancing and masks for others. These are stressful and uncertain times; for us and especially for our students.    In the midst of everything that will be different, I know of one routine that will be happening in my classroom, no matter what comes our way. Community Circles have and will always be the most valuable part of our day, and nothing, NOTHING, not even a world pandemic will cause me to take this away from my students.    Why? Because community circle is just too important!

Introductions and a Quick Story

Hi everyone, my name is Stacey and I teach Grade 6 in Ontario, Canada. (Well, I think I do anyway. We don’t start school until the first week of September and it is anyone’s guess right now what the year will look like).

I love teaching middle school aged students! It is intriguing to me how these kiddos seem so big and so little at the same time. They are beginning to have deeper worldly thoughts to share and are still little enough to be eager to do so, making conversations in this grade AMAZING. If I go back to school in two weeks and am told that I am teaching Grade 2 again (Ahhhh!), I would most definitely incorporate community circles…but there is something about hearing 11 and 12 year olds debate important issues that I am so moved by. For instance, last year, I had my 6th graders create their own community circle prompts based on Global issues. One student included a quote about world hunger.

You wouldn’t believe the conversations that sparked from this one line. My favourite was one of my students stated that she felt that Mother Teresa understood that not everyone is able to donate thousands of dollars or travel to third world countries to help, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a difference. We all need to do what we can and if helping just one person is what you are able to do, than do it. 

Amazing right? But I bet you are thinking, how do we get to this point?

Academic Circles

First of all, I need to mention that when I say community circle, what I mean is a variety of social and academic prompts that lead to discussions in all subject areas. In my opinion, community circles that are simply social prompts (e.g., what is your favourite song?) or even ones that are restorative (e.g., what are some calming techniques that you use?), are not sustainable. As the year goes on, and the amount of curriculum that needs to be covered increases, community building activities tend to go by the wayside. This is precisely why social AND academic circles are the way to go. Academic circle prompts include quotes to infer, global issues to debate, number talks to solve, topics to brainstorm, success criteria to collaborate on and character to develop. Each day a new topic, each day new learning, that continues to build that community that we are all looking for, the whole year through. 

The Value of Community Circle; The 4 C’s

Holding morning community circles for the duration of the school year, is critical in building the 4 C’s in our classroom. Although these skills were always important, now more than ever, we need to be their for our students and teach them these essential skills for now and their future.

1. Community Circle builds on Community (hence the name :).

Community building is our September goal right? Build a community in September, so that our students feel safe and willing to take risks for their learning.

Right and wrong! Community building certainly is important for September, as we build important relationships with our new students, but it really shouldn’t be JUST a September goal. Community building is an all of the time goal. With the amount of curriculum that needs to be covered, completing daily academic circles will help to continue to build community all of the way through the school year.

2. Community Circle builds on Communication

Ever walk into a classroom where the students are sitting at their individual desks and it is completely silent? This is my absolute nightmare!! (No really, I was the kid (and am now the teacher) who feels the need to make noises when there is too much silence.)

Communication is everything. Think about all of the situations that we use communication on an everyday basis. Ordering a coffee? Communication. Job interview? Communication. Needing to use the bathroom in a foreign city? Communication (perhaps even communication in another language!). You get the picture. We need to teach students the skills for letting others know how we feel, what we want, and those that help us work together as a team. Community circle gives students authentic opportunities for discussion each day on a variety of topics to help build on the communication skills needed for the 21st century and beyond.

3. Community Circle builds on Collaboration

Community circle in my classroom is a collaborative activity. Although in the end, students share individually, each day students begin by think-pair-sharing about the prompt, prior to sharing on their own. Debates, number talks, inferring and problem solving all require a great deal of brain power, brain power that is enhanced when there is more than one brain. You know what they say’ “two heads are better than one” (whoever they are??). By beginning with paired discussions, students can share their strengths and learn from others, allowing each to gain the confidence that they need in order to feel safe enough to offer their opinions. Since academics are involved, rather than just social prompts, I also see this confidence evident in student work, since students are able to build on their understanding and debunk misconceptions prior to beginning the task on their own.

And the last C…drum roll please!

4. Community Circle builds on Curriculum

When you set your circles up right, you included a variety of academic prompts that allow students to continue to build on their reading, writing, math, science, etc. skills, while reaping all of the other wonderful benefits of community circle (i.e., Community, Communication and Collaboration). If I have seen it once, I have seen it 100 times, community circles that do not involve academic prompts die out. Okay I may be exaggerating… I don’t even know 100 people…but the struggle is real. Academic circles are the way to go, in order to continue to build on community, while focusing on the much needed curriculum in your classroom.

Bringing it all Together       

I do have a point really I swear. And here it is….As you can see (or hear in your head as you read), Community Circle is just too important to leave out. Students need to feel a sense of community, they need communication and collaboration skills for now and their futures, and they most definitely need to learn the curriculum for that grade level. Community circle does all of that in one 30 minute routine.

Okay back to the whole pandemic thing (Fair warning, I tend to go off on tangents on topics that I am passionate about…this blog is called Passionate Ramblings after all :). If you are still not convinced, let’s add the stress of COVID to the mix. Not only does this morning routine build on Community, Communication, Collaboration and Curriculum, it also gives students the opportunity to discuss important issues and connect to each in a meaningful way during a time where connections are everything. Social emotional learning has become more important than ever, and by allowing students to gather each morning to discuss feelings and ideas about a variety of topics, they are developing emotional skills that will help them to deal with the many stresses that are coming their way. We need to keep our students talking; we need to keep our students collaborating; we need to continue to build relationships and understanding of other’s emotions; we need to keep building on self regulation strategies. When set up correctly, community circle will build on all of these skills, helping students to learn to cope and rise up during these stressful times.

So to quote Dr. Seuss (sort of)…
I will have them in a mask, I will have them with my class.                                   
I will have them sitting over here and over there, I will have them sitting anywhere!

With everything being so up in the air it is anyone’s best bet what this will actually look like, but I will share how I used circles for distance learning in the Spring and how I plan to start in September.

Do you want a free two weeks worth of prompts? Join my email list and I will send you them today! This freebie is also available in my TpT store, however, joining my email list will give you direct access to my upcoming freebies. I am looking forward to connecting with you.  

Interested in Building the 4 C’s in your Classroom?

If you are interested in checking out my full year social and academic community circle prompts for the middle school classroom, you can find them in my TpT store. Click here or on the images to check them out. This product comes with an in class and distance learning version. The distance learning version provides information about how to use this product for online learning.

As for in class circles, I will work out exactly how this will work with my students, but my thoughts are to have them stand around the perimeter of the room and use a ball as our talking stick. I will get back to you about how this worked, but in the mean time, I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment on how you are or are planning to use circles in your classroom. I have also created a post on Facebook to ask for thoughts from those of you who are already back to school. If you have any thoughts that could help the rest of us, please click here to chime in. This is not going to be easy, but with a little flexibility, I know that we can do this! Like I said, it is just too important not too.

Wait there is more! Do you want a free two week middle school community circle prompts? Join my email list and I will send you them today! This freebie is also available in my TpT store, however, joining my email list will give you direct access to my upcoming freebies. I am looking forward to connecting with you. 

So that is it…that is why masks, social and physical distancing or even different locations won’t stop me from holding community circles in my classroom (whatever grade it ends up being) this year.

P.S. This was my first blog ever! How did I do? I would love to hear your feedback. Please email me at 1passionateteacher@gmail.com. If you enjoyed my passionate ramblings, and want to learn more about me and see some of my products and ideas, you can also check me out on PinterestFacebookTwitter and Teachers Pay Teachers. Also, don’t forget to follow me by adding your email. 🙂