Carolyn Corbi brings 31 years of teaching in an urban New Jersey school district to her work as a Priority Schools Consultant for the New Jersey Education Association. She is a fierce defender of public education and understands first-hand the power of the student/teacher relationship. Carolyn is also a champion for social justice and the work of trauma-responsive schools.
One of the many tools in her overflowing educator’s tool chest is “circle practice.” In early January, Carolyn guest wrote this blog detailing what circle practice means and why she is a practitioner of the craft:
I asked Carolyn to update the readers of this blog on how she is using circle practice in a virtual format. She is still impacting her students and staff through this unprecedented period of distance learning and living. Our “now normal” has proven challenging for educators, students, and parents. It is important to provide our students with familiar rituals and traditions that can carry them through this time of extreme uncertainty.
These are strange times, indeed, especially for our most vulnerable students who view school as a safe place. Many of those same students know that school is a stable environment where they are nourished physically, mentally, socially and academically through the relationships with their classmates and the adults in that school building. Mid-March, that came to a screeching halt. Not only were students throttled into a lockdown quarantine, but so were the very adults that work daily with them. This has been difficult for all parties involved.
As a consultant for NJEA in their Priority School Initiative program, I knew that circle practice was an excellent way to rise up during this odd historical time. I have been using “The Circle Way” in various classrooms, with age groups from kindergarten through 12th grade, yielding lots of positive outcomes. I actually wrote about it in a previous blog post. Circle practice can be restorative, healing or just conversational and community building. My work takes me to three different urban schools, two in North Jersey and one in South Jersey. I was asked to work remotely as of March 13, so I reached out to our educator teams in each of the schools I support. After two weeks of new policies, this “virtual” learning thing and crisis management learning was uploaded in our minds, we started meeting virtually and were able to talk and see each other. That led to my first virtual PD. I was asked to delve into virtual circles and take a deeper dive into the history of “The Circle Way”. This particular school had been embracing circle practices, restorative practices, and healing circles. Several classrooms have been using this practice since early September and many teachers are facilitating circles in their classrooms several times a week. The PD went off without a hitch, and we actually held a virtual circle with a check-in question and a check out question. I will be listing several of those questions at the end of this piece.
The next day, I was asked to join the 3rd-grade class in South Jersey, which I have formed a strong bond with via circle practice. We have practiced, weekly, in their classroom with their teacher as a co-facilitator. Several students have co-facilitated it as well. The reading specialist joined our virtual meeting and four 3rd graders. Unexpectedly, the teacher asked me to run a circle. Of course, I was thrilled. I was excited to just see everyone’s faces and hear their voices. I grabbed my chimes and rang us in. Our check-in question was, “Tell me one word describing how you are feeling at this exact moment”. The answers were varying with the exception of one. A student who was holding her kitten stated that she was “falling apart”. I told her we would address that later on and I was feeling that way too, on many of these quarantined days. Our “big” question was, “Where is the first place you are going to visit after we are allowed to leave our houses?”. Those answers were telling. Three of the four students said, SCHOOL. This made sense to me but I was still surprised. The check out the question was, “What is the thing you miss most about school?” Answers were “my teachers”, “learning”, my classmates”. We then circled back to the young person who was “falling apart”. The teacher and I both lent support by saying things like, “We understand and sometimes feel like that too”, we also answered by suggesting “she continue taking care of her new kittens”, “to write either of us using her class dojo”, “hold onto positive thoughts”, “continue with her studies in math, reading, and writing”,“and more importantly, for her to show up to the virtual meetings that are being set up like the one today”. She left us with a great big smile and said that she already felt better. THIS is the work. Building relationships among our students in the classroom, so when things like this happen, we continue building onto those relationships and strengthen them even more. Generally, “what is said in circle, stays in circle”, however, this lesson is too important to not share. This is so easily done by holding a circle in your classroom, several times a week. It is a great way to combat trauma as well. We will all need these types of skills as we work on re-entry programs after this quarantine is lifted.
This is circle practice before COVID19…
Staff/Faculty from PD session on “The Circle Way” in a virtual format…
*Speak with intention
*Listen with attention
*Care for the well-being of the group.
*What’s said here, stays here.
Questions to Ponder During Quarantined Times:
*What am I grateful for?
*How am I moving my body today?
*How am I getting outside today?
*What is a joy you are bringing into the room today?
*What is a hope that you are bringing into the room today?
*What is one word that you are leaving with today?
(S.I.P. Simple. Impactful. Portable.)
*What is keeping you afloat, these days?
*What curiosity are you bringing today?
*What systems do we need to let go of?
*How are you feeling today? Physically? Mentally?
*What is taking up most in your headspace, right now?
*Have you been drinking enough water? Eating enough?
*How have you been sleeping?
*What did you do today to make you feel good?
*What is something that you are looking forward to in the next few days?
*What is the first place you will visit after the quarantine is lifted?