Restorative circles create an opportunity for us to come together to begin building connections and relationships in the classroom. Not only are they an excellent tool at the beginning of the school year, but also they are great to use throughout the school year for things like reviewing academic content, addressing harm or challenges to the classroom community, and intentionally maintaining relationships within the classroom. They can also be used for morning meetings as we seek to build and create opportunities for students to practice social skills. 

Circles allow each of us to see commonalities within each other; they create space for us to empathize with those in the circle and relate to those around us in ways we otherwise may not have previously connected. Circles create space for each student and adult to feel seen, known, and heard within the classroom community, and they can improve our classroom culture by nurturing respect and promoting students’ sense of safety and belonging.

How to Begin the School Year with Restorative Circles

As we look to a new school year, consider creating classroom agreements or charters through the circle process, discussing the topic of respect, conversing about school during the pandemic, and considering the most challenging, difficult, or rewarding part of the experience for our students, or facilitating a circle simply to get to know each other.  

To begin a circle, it is helpful to have your room set up in advance, but if that is not possible, students can quickly adjust the learning space to accommodate the creation of the circle. We will want to make sure that nothing is obstructing the circle or a student’s ability to be fully part of the arrangement. As students settle in, it will be important to walk students through the responsibilities and expectations of the circle. These can vary, but here are a few things to keep in mind. 

  • Welcome students to the circle and share the purpose of the circle. Guide students through any norms the group would like to establish for the circle so that each person feels valued and heard. 
  • Choose a talking piece. Be sure to establish the expectation that the individual with the talking piece has the floor and all others will actively listen. 
  • Begin your circle with a check-in/starter. This can be a low stake question, and as simple as, “Give one word to describe your day so far.” Pass the talking piece to the person who will begin the conversation. 
  • Next, choose a series of icebreakers or get to know you questions to ask the circle participants. These can range from basic “get to know you” questions to more specific questions pertaining to the type of classroom they would like to have. 
  • End the circle with a “check out” round. The check out round can circle back to how students are feeling now, or it can be used to summarize what they learned, or address something they might be looking forward to doing after your class. 
  • Lastly, thank the participants for honoring the circle time. This will serve as a closure, and students can begin putting the room back together. 

Ideas for Check-In Questions

  • What is your personal weather report (cloudy, sunny, rain, overcast, etc.)?
  • What time did you get on the bus or in the car today to make it to school? 
  • What color represents how you are feeling right now? Or feeling about school?

Ideas for Ice Breakers/Get to Know You Questions

  • How long have you attended school in the district?
  • How many siblings do you have? 
  • Youtube, Netflix, Gaming or Reading? 
  • What is one word that describes you? 
  • Who is your favorite teacher and why? 
  • If you could have any superpower what would it be?

Classroom Specific Questions

  • What does respect mean to you?
    • Follow up questions could include:
      • What does respect look like? Sound like? Feel like? 
  • What does the schoolwide norm/expectation ______ mean to you?
    • Follow up questions could include:
      • How do we know if the norm is being honored?
      • What would it look like if it was not being honored? What might we see? Hear? Notice? 
  • Individual, Partner, Group work? 
  • What’s one goal you have for yourself for this class/school? 

Check Out Questions

  • What did you learn about someone you didn’t know before today? 
  • What is your most important takeaway? 
  • What is something you are looking forward to today after you leave class?

It takes intentionality and purposeful planning to create the classroom environment that we all desire. Circles allow us the opportunity to begin nurturing this environment and growing our relationships with each other on Day 1 and provide us with the insight we are not always able to gain through other classroom experiences. 

For additional circle prompts, check out these 101 Circle Prompts.

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Using Restorative Circles to Begin the School Year was authored by:
Haley Street

Assistant Principal at Holly Middle School

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