Washington Middle School Fosters Community With Classroom Circles
“What is disrespect?” asked Washington Middle School fifth grade teacher Deb Rein to her class who sat in a circle in her classroom. “We are going to go around the room and everyone will have a chance to tell me what they think disrespect is.”
“It is acting like no one else is in the room but you,” said one student.
“Not caring what the other person thinks at all and not really listening to someone,” said another.
“When people are disrespectful, they often don’t respect themselves enough to respect others around them,” said Rein. “There might be something inside that is upsetting or bothering them, or that happened to them during the day, which makes them be disrespectful to someone. You need to think about that when you are talking with someone who is being disrespectful. I want you to know that if you, or your friend, needs help for any reason, ask for it.”
Rein was having a discussion about respect in her classroom during Washington Middle School’s weekly Community Circles. The circles are held every Wednesday morning and the entire school participates. Teachers, school counselors and school staff work in classrooms with students helping them to develop a stronger community at the school through conversations revolving around goals of respect, responsibility and safety.
“You can show your feelings in a community circle,” said Washington Middle School fifth grader, Jeanette Park. “What you say doesn’t leave this room and the circle gives you a chance to let whatever you are feeling out to your friends so you can feel better.”
The school-wide Community Circles are a way for students, who come to school with many issues on their minds, to process their thoughts and feelings so they can better handle their situations and be more present in class. The Community Circles are also a great way to establish a supportive community in Washington Middle School through authentic dialogue between students cultivating a culture in which everyone feels like they belong. Circles help to build self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills. During circle time, participants sit in the circle to discuss group issues or reflect on their feelings. There is a centerpiece and a talking piece, used to identify who is allowed to talk at a particular time. The community circles build trust between students, between students and staff and it creates a social environment in which students can safely risk self-disclosure, authenticity, confrontation, and expressing affection. There are no wrong answers and students are not compelled to share but most do.
“We get to know each other better in the circles,” said Washington Middle School fifth grader, Charlotte Baehr. “It’s good we get to learn more about each other so we can help each other if we have a problem.”