Values: A Circle to Start the New School Year

An introductory circle invites participants to consider values that are important to them and the group.  

To the Teacher:

This activity uses a circle format (see our Introduction to Circles) to help students consider values that are important to them and the class -- without putting students on the spot this early in the year. Following the activity are several suggestions for coming back to these values later in the year. 

Materials Needed
  • Chairs set up in a circle 
  • A center piece
  • A talking piece
  • A bag  
  • Values cards

Opening Ceremony 

Read the following out loud, slowly, pausing as needed. 

Slow Me Down

by Wilferd Peterson
Slow me down
Ease the pounding of my heart
By the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace with a vision
Of the eternal reach of time.
Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tension of my nerves and 
muscles with the soothing music of the 
singing streams that live in my memory.
Help me to know the magical, restoring
power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations
of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat
with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines
from a good book.
Slow me down, and inspire me to send my roots
Deep into the soil of life's enduring values that they may grow
Toward the stars of my greater destiny.


Introductory Go Round 

Send the talking piece around asking students to share one thing that helped them to slow down and relax over the summer break.  
The poem mentions minute vacations. During the school year, as things start to get busy again even hectic at times, it's important to find ways to center ourselves and remain calm.  We can do this through taking "minute vacations."
The poem mentions slowing down to look at a flower, chatting with a friend, patting a dog or reading a few lines form a good book as minute vacations.  
Send the talking piece around again asking students what might be a "minute vacation" for them - what helps them slow down or calm down, especially when their days are far from calm, when the world around them is chaotic.

The Nature of Circles

Begin by giving students a little information about what Circles are. (See our Introduction to Circles.)  Then elicit and/or present the five characteristics of a Circle:
  • Sitting in a circle
  • Using a talking piece
  • Having a center piece at the center of the open space between participants
  • Using an opening & closing ceremony
Keep this introduction short.  Elicit as much information as possible from participants. Circles, after all, are about participatory learning.  As the Circle Keeper you'll be drawing on the knowledge of the group; bringing out different voices and perspectives; asking open ended questions, summarizing and contributing as a participant, not necessarily as an expert.  
If your students are not be familiar with circle process yet, questions to consider asking are:
  • What do you notice about today's classroom set up?  
  • Have you ever participated in a talking circle before?  What was that like? 
  • Who has ever used a talking piece?  What was that like?
Elicit or say something about circle time being a time apart from the regular school day for people to share of themselves and get to know others in the community in new and engaging ways.  It is a place for people to practice being their best self, become more aware, feel empowered and build connections over time. 
Explain that for all this to be possible it's important to do some community building, to get to know one another but also to come up with a set of shared values to help ground and guide the community.   
The poem we read as part of the opening ceremony ends with the lines:
Slow me down, and inspire me to send my roots
Deep into the soil of life's enduring values that they may grow
Toward the stars of my greater destiny.
It is these values that we'll be focusing on for the rest of our time together today, in the hope that we can build a circle that supports all of us to "grow toward the stars of our greater destiny."


Core Values Grab Bag

Explain to students that values are principles or qualities that are important and desirable when groups of people come together.  Values can support people in creating a safe space where they can share openly and honestly. Values are at the root of healthy, strong communities.
Explain that you have a range of different values written on cards in a bag that you will send around the circle so that everyone can pick one. See below for suggested values for the cards. (Alternatively, arrange the cards on a desk or table for students to select.) Ask students to read the value they picked, before passing the bag to the next person in the circle. Students can exchange their value if they don't know what the value means and/or can't relate to it in any way. 
Ask students to think about an experience they had in which this value played an important role - either because it was present or because it was lacking.
Send the talking piece around asking each student to describe this experience.
Ask each students to contribute their value to the center piece after they shared. 
Explain that these are the kinds of values for us to consider as we build our circle community. In future circles, let's consider which of these values resonate with us the most, which we consider most important and whether there might be others we'd like to add.    


Closing Ceremony

Ask students if they were to forget everything else about today's circle, what is the one thing they'd like to remember and hold on to. 


Below find some words describing values that you might use for the Circle. Leave some blanks for students to add more values for your community to consider as needed.




Core Values Go Rounds for Future Circles

Core values, shared and discussed, are at the foundation of a strong and functioning circle community. For this reason, you might want to consider returning to them at different points not only early on as you're still building the circle community, but also later, when you get into more challenging conversations with your group.
Consider asking students to look at the values distributed across our center piece, then ask them to:
  • Pick one of the values that you think will be important for us, as we come together as a group over the course of the coming year.  Why do you think this value would be important to have as a foundation of our circle process?
  • What might get in the way of this value as we continue to come together in our circle? 
As you prepare the circle for a particularly difficult conversation (or if you're already in a difficult conversation), consider asking students to return to the values on the center piece and ask them to consider:
  • What value do you think will be important for us as we embark on a challenging conversation; as we talk about this issue; as we try to listen to one another even though some things may be hard to hear, or we may strongly disagree.  Why do you think this value is important at this time?
And as you look back on a particularly difficult conversation, consider asking student to return to the values on the center piece and ask them to consider: 
  • What value did you find most challenging to uphold in our circle just now?  Why do you think that is?