13 Jan 2015

Building Community & Inclusion- Week 2

What a tough time slot that 1-4:30 is!  Most students are arriving to class after already having had a 3 hour morning class and then lunch.  Oh well- we will embrace the challenge!

My intention for last night’s class was to continue to build community as a whole group (we have 6 new students), introduce a different perspective to circles (Micheal Montgomery from the WQSB presented!), and build inclusion in the small community co-constructor groups.  I also wanted to model the structure of the class (opening circle, activity & closing circle-reflection).  Here is what we did and a few of my reflections sprinkled within.  We’ll start with my Lesson objective (which I, of course, forgot to share with the group– one of the things I push the most, I forgot to do…sigh!)

Learning Intention:  Students will experience the various uses of circles (trust/courage)

So that we can continue to create a safe, trusting space, build community and unleash positive energy for ourselves and our students.

Success Criteria: closing circle reflection

You will know you understand when you can represent your key learning and describe its implication for your practice.

Opening Circle:  LIVE WIRE strategy

– Each member of the circle is given a short wire (we used pipe cleaners) and they were asked to represent how they are feeling- based on experiences since last week/today.  We then went around the circle to share those representations.

Reflection- I find this a great strategy to get the sense of the space people are in.  It helps me make adjustments to the planned lessons and also gives me some insights on effective groups (creating a balance of energy, etc)

Extensions:  Students could represent content understandings, how they felt about the most recent test, when something emotional happens to the group (lock-downs, etc).


– Each member of the group states their name and does an action that represents their interest  (miming golf swing, opening a book) or what they feel like ( jazz hands, star jump, shrug).  Like the traditional wave, the person to the right repeats the name and action and this follows around the circle until it returns to the original group member (wave).  With such a big group, I chose us to do an ‘echo’ which has the whole group in unison (we tried!) stating the name and action.

Guest Presenter:  Micheal Montgomery (WQSB)  

I was lucky enough to meet Micheal this year during our Tribes TLC training session.  His varied experience with circles through a NGO perspective was one I wanted to share in this class.  Selfishly, I also wanted to learn more about the different uses of circles.  Micheal shared his experience working internationally as a Child Rights, Participation & Protection Advisor for the International Institute for Child Rights and Development .

1. Unity Circle

Intention:  creating a safe, trusting space, building community & unleashing positive energy

Process:  Together we used webbing to work with a physical dimension of circles- discussing the balance of the circle, the role of power we each play.  We played with leaning back, closing our eyes and leaning back & sitting down/standing up together and reflecting on how that felt.  The lens Micheal kept reminding us- was to think of our students and those youth who will be in our care- what role do we have in building their trust in their community? In us?

I have done this work a lot in the Destination Leadership/ DestiNation Imagination camps Alan Earwaker & I have run for the past few years at the WQSB to build community among the 60-70 young leaders we put together for 2 days.  Alan (our Outdoor Ed specialist/consultant and generally awesome facilitator) introduced me to the power of circles to build trust and connection using webbing.  Alan calls this work Raccoon Circles- For more information check out this resource by Dr. Jim Cain:  Teamwork & Teamplay- Building Unity, Community, Connection & Teamwork
2. Self in working with young people 
Intention: reconnecting with own childhood experiences of school and being taught

Process: Groups of 4 addressing 2 questions –
a. Think of your own experience at school – what made you feel safe/unsafe
b. Think of a teacher who really connected with you and helped you – what were the important characteristics of that teacher
Big Group debrief – what can you take forward in your own work?

3. Two examples of Circle work – handouts (Circle of Trust, Circle of Courage) 
Process: discuss key principles that emerge from both regarding safe environment and positive youth development.
Big Group debrief – what can you take forward in your own work?

Micheal used the following resources:

Circle of Trust- Touchstones-


Circle of Courage-


For more information on circle of courage & outdoor ed: see Look to the Mountain

* We ran out of time for the 3rd part, which is really too bad.  I would love to say I picked it up in the closing circle, but I definitely did not run that well at all…. more later on that.


Intention:  to review readings for class.

– dividing the group into A & B; A’s step into the centre and face B’s.  In partners, they will answer (taking turns and changing roles after 30 sec- I will facilitate) the guiding questions.  Once the first question has been discussed by both A & B, the facilitator will move a circle (A’s or B’s) a few steps to the right or left so the partners change.

Reflection:  This is a great activity to build safety in discussion (especially when students haven’t completed all the readings) It also gives everyone the same time to share & pick up different perspectives as you go along and chat with new partners.

*This is challenging for some students as the noise level can make it difficult to concentrate and can over-stimulate the senses.

Extension:  Using content questions- have students bring along a graphic organizer to jot down key findings from other students, repeat the same questions so more information can be shared about the specific topic, use chairs so this can be done seated, this can be done for problem-solving.

GROUPINGS- There are lots of ways to form groups.  This class I used ‘hello in different languages’-

Description:  With the names on the back of a card, students had to greet one another using the language on the card they were given to find their groups–

extensions:  animal noises, sports (Olympics), jigsaw pieces, musicians, pieces of art from the same artist, etc.

Cooperative Learning:  I am very grateful to the training I have had in collaborative learning.  Thank you to Dr. Barrie Bennett and the training I have received with Beyond Monet and Cooperative Learning I am very strategic about how I run group work.  It is my experience that group work can be a disaster unless it is run with a lot of thought- I also really like grouping students using their own requests (card with 7 names on it of other students).  I will sometimes keep a group for a term (not for all activities!) or will change them up if I see that they aren’t working.  It is pretty tough to do this on the first meeting with a group of 40…We’ll see how it goes.

beyond monetbennett

A great resource for me is Johnson’s Five Basic Elements– check out some of their work here

Inclusion:  What’s in your cellphone/wallet

Intention: Before getting the newly formed groups to work together, I always try to do a short inclusion activity.  This class was to share one item that they have in their cellphone/wallet.

Reflection:  We learn a little more about each person by what they choose to share & how to share, make connections and get a sense of what is important (and perhaps what could impact their time to do group work!)


I only mention this here because I realized (it was pointed out!) that I need to better prepare for how groups select the date of their presentation (in our case- when they are the community builders).  It was a bit of a free-for-all.  Next time, I will be prepared with a way to make this more FAIR!  Thanks Rachel for the suggestions of:  a trivia quiz (from the readings??); playing cards with the order revealed; straws; or even oldest combined age, etc.


I was hoping to show the following TED talk by the ‘real’ Freedom Writer teacher, Erin Gruwell:  Becoming a Catalyst for Change.  My intention was to discuss how we have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students…even though sometimes it feels a bit hopeless or we are in structures that aren’t ‘with us’.

Closing Circle:  LIVE WIRE REVISIT

Intention:  was to represent their take-aways or learning and/or how it applies to their practice (see my success criteria!)

Reflection:  Total fail.  I was worried about time, felt rushed & my delivery was rushed and unclear.  What I wanted to do was have the group reflect and represent what they learned.  Instead, I asked how they felt- which was not specific to today’s learning and the actual reflection process I wanted.  Next time…

Always a process….



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