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Communal Practice Affirming Personal, Interpersonal, and Community Development

Creating time and opportunities for “Circle,” a practice that supports comprehensive human development


Circle is a practice that is foundational to Valor’s social-emotional learning (SEL) approach. The purpose of Circle is to continually practice and improve personal, interpersonal, and community development. In addition to creating a safe space for growth and development, Circle helps create trust and build relationships among students and staff. It also provides space to check the pulse of the school community and individual students, identifying early warning indicators and addressing them before small issues become big ones.

There are three essential components to Circle: Commitment, Practices, and Work. Commitments create an intentional culture to support SEL practices and are spelled out in more detail in The Valor Commitments. A set of well-defined practices for Circle serve as the structures and protocols that enable personal, interpersonal, and community development. The Work component of Circle involves the content and activities that promote individual, relationship, and community development.

Circle provides opportunities for multiple forms of development. Personal development is practiced through present-moment awareness exercises, checking in on the emotional states of individuals, and Badge Work that each student must complete. Interpersonal development is practiced through Appreciations, Resonances (how and why others’ actions have impacted you), and creating a time for “relationship work” in Circle. Community-based practices focus on check-ins, addressing events or themes that impact the community, discussing and processing these events, and providing opportunities for community support.

Students participate in Circle in “Prides” - intentionally diverse, same-sex groups of students. Teachers, acting as facilitators, lead the Circle practice and interact as needed to guide student growth. The structure of Circle is as follows:

  • Seating - Students sit in a setting free of distractions and only bring materials related to Circle.
  • True North Practice - A present-moment awareness exercise to help students be in the “here and now.” (Suggested duration: 2 minutes)
  • Check-ins - Mentors check-in with the community, focusing on the current emotional state and overall experience of each student. This also provides a time for students to communicate whether they have work to share with the community. (Suggested duration: 5-10 minutes)
  • Circle Work - Students are provided opportunities to share/do individual, relationship, or community work. (Suggested duration: 30-45 minutes)
    • Resonance - Students share how and why other students’ work has impacted them. Resonance occurs during Circle Work.
  • Appreciations - Students recognize the words or actions of others with specific details, including the three key components below: (Suggested duration: 5 minutes)
    • Evidence
    • Information about how or why their actions impacted you
    • Close in a meaningful way, which may include mention of the value of the relationship or simply saying thank you.
  • Closing - Students stand shoulder to shoulder, and the mentor requests a student (or students) share closing remarks, typically to communicate something learned that day. (Suggested duration: 2 minutes)

Valor uses two key criteria of Circle Fidelity and Circle Quality to determine whether a Circle is successful. A Circle Walkthrough Tool breaks down each criterion into two questions and provides indicators and examples that can determine whether each component is being met. The questions the Circle Walkthrough Tool is designed to answer are:

  • Fidelity - Is the Circle physically strong? (Proper seating, free of distractions, etc.)
  • Fidelity - Is the Circle technically sound? (Are all of the components of Circle utilized in the proper order?)
  • Quality - Is there strong presence among Circle participants? (Are they prepared, engaged, receptive, etc.?)
  • Quality - Are 1:1 authentic connections being made?