Mid-January of every year, I turn leading the Circle of Power and Respect (CPR) over to students. It’s amazing to see them grab hold of the leadership roles and run creative and powerful CPRs. This year was no exception.
We devote two advisory periods to student pairs planning and preparing for the meetings they will lead. While they plan, I walk around and watch it all unfold. Watching them plan reminds me of the value of our regular CPRs and how the students have internalized their importance.
Our almost-daily circles create an environment where students feel competent, empowered, and ready to be in charge.
The discussions are lively as the pairs debate which greeting to use and whether they should lead a favorite game or introduce the class to a new game. They talk about the merits of different games and how the game they choose will impact the energy in the room, strengthen the relationships, and be fun for their classmates.
I listen as partners choose what kinds of share questions will make every student in the circle feel included and competent.
Each pair meets briefly with me to review their plans, but there is usually very little I need to clarify. By now, they know what a CPR should look like, feel like, and sound like, and they have confidence in their plans.
My favorite part of student-led circles is the first time the leader gives the signal for attention, and instantly, all conversations stop and all eyes are on the leader. It’s so empowering for the student leader to have his or her peers follow their directions and treat them with the same degree of respect they give to an adult leader. A few students look to me initially to see how I will start circle, but they quickly realize that I am present as a participant, not leading the CPR. It’s all about their peers and their ownership of the circle, and they love that.
I learn so much when they lead their own CPR!
From the greetings, shares, and games they choose, I learn more about who the strongest leaders are, and about what the students value in circles.
From the games they choose, I learn how to lead livelier circles.
I notice how they have learned the importance of reflection through the questions they ask their peers at the end of the CPR.
And I learn again the importance of giving students autonomy and leadership in our classroom.
In the first half of the year, we build a climate in CPR that helps everyone grow into leadership. I always feel proud when I turn CPR over and watch them shine.
Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach in her classroom for more than eight years. She teaches high school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy, a public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Posted April 2014