Circles & Peace Corners Made a 'Big Difference' in this Classroom

This second-grade teacher found a way to bring comfort and promote learning in stressful times.

For many students, including the youngest ones, coming back to school after Covid isolation was hard. There was certainly excitement, but also plenty of trepidation and anxiety when schools opened back up in 2022. And even now, more than a year in, the lingering effects of the pandemic continue to be felt in classrooms across the country.  

Over the 2022-23 school year, many school districts chose to emphasize and prioritize academics, as educators were tasked to make up for Covid “learning loss.” But drilling down on academics is hard to do when we don’t also recognize, and work with, some of the challenging feelings and behaviors stemming from the pandemic.   

The loss of life, health, and family livelihood, as well as the fear, isolation, and other hardships created, and exacerbated, by Covid, in many cases exceeded people’s regular coping skills. And we still don’t know exactly how these experiences have impacted our children. What we do know is that there is now evidence of a mental health crisis among children as young as five years old. 

Of course, working with big feelings and dysregulation is nothing new in early elementary school. Teachers know that unaddressed, such feelings and nervous energy can go viral. They can upend a classroom in a matter of minutes. Academics are interrupted, at times like this, whether we choose to deal with the feelings or not.

If, however, we recognize these feelings as cues to understand ourselves and others, we can work through them and support each other in building holistic, welcoming classroom communities that are conducive to teaching and learning of all kinds. Second grade teacher Erika Parisian says that the social and emotional learning (SEL) circles she facilitates in her classroom every week, and the “peace corner” she now has in her classroom, “have made a huge difference.”    

The weekly circles encourage her students to build a community where they can show up more fully, share personal experiences, connect with their feelings, and figure out who and how they want to be in the world. SEL circles build empathy and skills, which allow for a richer, more supportive classroom community. Erika believes that supporting children in developing the skills and practices needed to work through their feelings is important for building relationships, but she adds, it is also a powerful academic intervention.

In circle, you can work with students on recognizing, naming, and understanding feelings. You can introduce them to different centering and grounding techniques for when their feelings get to be too much. Add a “peace corner,” and students now have a place (and tools) to put their skills into practice. It can help to make your classroom a calmer, more supportive space for learning.



Erika has made the peace corner an integral part of her classroom environment, as she explains in the video above. It has helped build her students’ capacity to handle some of their big feelings and that has had a noticeable impact on academics.

Erika explains: “If students are experiencing things or perseverating on things that happened before they came to school, they can’t really access what we’re trying to teach them. Being able to regulate their mind, their body, their emotions – and having the power to come to a space where they know they have the opportunity to do that – is extremely powerful for them.”

And, she adds, “it feels like a big win for me as an educator.” Because “when we’re feeling dysregulated or angry or upset, it’s really hard for us to access all the parts of our brain that we need to learn successfully. So, to have a space where students can come to calm themselves is invaluable, because when they come back [from the peace corner], they’re ready to learn, ready to access the curriculum that we are teaching them.”  

Having seen peace corners work beautifully in classrooms around the country, I do have a word of caution: Make sure to use the space in a collaborative fashion. This is not a place to make students go when you’re frustrated with their behavior. That could send a message of exclusion and separation and is likely to make students feel bad and shut down. Instead, students need to understand that this is a supportive space where they can choose to go.

Erika explains that because of the way she has set up her classroom, students “experience a sense of autonomy. They can come [to the corner] when they need to and really make the decision for themselves.” This, she says, gives students “the power to regulate themselves and to join our learning when they have that sense of calm” again. And that, Erika adds, is simply “invaluable.”