Magic Circles with

Circle Time

"Murray White emerges as the earliest and most significant influence on the establishment of this group process in the UK. His contribution for practitioners of techniques to raise pupils self-esteem and his inspirational work on Circle Time has helped to ensure that the emotional well-being of young people in schools is never forgotten. Through his work the lives of countless numbers of young people have been improved."

George Robinson and Barbara Maines - Lucky Duck Publishing

Magic Circle to Enhance Self Esteem

Institute Social Inventions Workshops in schools have found the following Magic Circle procedure helpful. It could be used to advantage in all primary schools. The Magic Circle procedure has been developed by Murray White, the headmaster of Kings Hedges School in Cambridge , and these extracts are taken from his article in the Times Educational Supplement (30/06/89)

Research has shown a strong link between a child's self esteem and his or her academic success; children who feel good about themselves learn more easily and retain information longer. In fact, they do better in every way: if they have a sense of well being they are much more likely to be able to handle the ups and downs of daily life, including prejudice, abuse, addiction, delinquency and violence.

With this in mind I instituted Circle Time for every class in this junior school in September 1998. Previous to this, for several years, I had been taking classes and groups spending time discussing behaviour, exploring feelings and playing games, with pleasing results. Staff had commented on the changes the activities had brought about in the children, both individually and collectively. One said "My class doesn't like playing yours (addressed to the class teacher) at rounders. They always win. Your class seem to be able to work together so much better".

I ask all the teachers to begin Circle Time each day with the class sitting on the floor in a circle If possible the teacher will be sitting first, waiting for the circle to form and able to greet each child individually on arrival. Before the register the day begins with a round. The teacher says an incomplete sentence, gives an example to finish it off, then the child next to her repeats the phrase and puts his own ending on it, and so on. It has several purposes. It is a re-establishment of the group, an important joining together in a class. Children can 'pass' if they wish, but few do.

Even in a large class the level of listening to others is clearly high. Some enjoy the chance to be really imaginative and direct in their answers many quickly recognise it as a safe environment where they can really say what they are thinking. Today I am feeling nervous said a seven year old two weeks into term. I wish I was with my father if I knew where he was admitted a shy eleven year old girl. Sensitive teachers will hear these and respond appropriately later.

Our rounds are about all sorts of things. What makes me laugh is. Even a round where a child chooses a fruit they would like to be often reveals much. For the children self disclosure in these rounds by the teacher is valuable too. Rounds also help the retiring child to feel included. At the beginning of the term lots of activities are centred around getting to know each other and on the creation of a close, warm class identity.

After registration and the opportunity to share with everyone anything that has happened during the time the children have been apart, comes the selection of the special child for the day. This is universally popular with the children and I would guess foe many of them an unusual experience.

Selection was first made by balloon popping. Balloons were blown up, each child there name on paper inside one, and they were hung form the ceiling. Each day one balloon was popped and whoever's name appeared was child for the day. After every child had had a turn another method - riddles - was used, so that each child had two special days in the term. Its importance in the children's lives was evident. On the second time round one nine year old boy said its Wednesday today and it was Wednesday last time I was chosen. Others chimed in to remember the days of the week when it was their turn.

There is considerable opportunity for variation of the procedure but the principles of specialness are clear. First the child is presented (often by yesterdays holder) with a badge. In our case it was made of cardboard on string, but on one side it says 'I am special' and on the other side 'I'm great' or something similar. Then s/he will be asked to leave the room while a discussion takes place about all the nice things that can be said about them (it is a real delight to me to see smiling children outside doors waiting to be called back) or alternatively they would immediately begin to ask children who volunteered by raising hands to make their comments.

There are always plenty of contributions and the vast majority are genuine. The children receive them with quiet pleasure. Some make real discoveries. One eleven year old boy was told by others that they admired his ability to deal calmly with other pupils' aggression. The next day the group was discussing feeling words and he suggested surprised. When asked to elaborate he said had been surprised to find out how much he was liked. He appears to have gained a lot of confidence and joins in discussions much more freely.

Faced with a barrage of compliments it can be difficult to remember or even believe the. It is important to get the children to preface there remarks with phrases like 'I think you' or 'I believe that you'. In this way the recipient accepts it as an opinion and cannot contradict it. Teachers record the comments while they are being said and the sheet is presented to the child.

Also, the child is asked to tell the class which comments mean most to them. You are nice to be with is always a favourite. This part of the ceremony ends with the child being asked to name and tell us one thing about themselves of which they are pleased, perhaps proud. It often causes difficulty and here we see the measure of low self-esteem. I shall always remember the capable 11 year old girl who eventually said in a low voice 'I am good at maths' and then in a whisper added 'sometimes'.

Part of the fun of circle time is that the special child is asked if he or she wants to be called by another name for the day. Nicknames used among friends become universally accepted and other children take bigger risks and choose their popular heroes and heroines. Special children are also given, or can claim, other privileges. One very popular one is elect to sit on a chair in front of assembly; this means the whole school will acknowledge they are special. The Special Child also chooses the game for the day. A repertoire of games has been built up and incorporated in circle time. These again have many purposes. One is to act as energy raisers. They are useful at other times as well.

There are three rules in Circle Time: only one person speaks at a time; everyone can have fun; no one can spoil anyone else's fun. It is a time when the children find out a bit more about themselves and what they are capable of and how they relate to each other. There are lots of serious, lively discussions where feelings are discovered, explored and accepted. The children come to realise that if they understand themselves it will help them better to understand others. The value of cooperation and friendship is examined and emphasised using practical exercises.

At least twice a week in Circle Time each class splits into groups of three. This is the children's opportunity to talk and be listened to, where they will get close attention from peers and exchange ideas and opinions which are then brought back to the big group for an airing.

Of course arguments, quarrels and other unpleasant situations still abound in school in school as children follow there old patterns of behaviour in getting their needs met, but there is a growing awareness that there is an alternative. I believe children flourish when in an environment structured by definite controlled limits, but within these they must be encouraged to become responsible for their own decisions and helped to achieve autonomy. Self-esteem develops when children have a basis for evaluating present performance and making comparisons with earlier behaviour and attitudes.

Various sanctions and punishments are used but it is important that these do not harm the child's self concept. It is essential to differentiate between the doer and the deed, 'I like you but cannot accept your behaviour'.

Recently two eleven year old boys not generally known for their community spirit or for their need to tell me anything, told me quite casually in their classroom how they had approached two younger boys in the playground who they knew were frightened of them and said "Ok, we'll be your friends". Another boy with a reputation of aggression had gone out of his way to make friends with a first year child.

Towards the end of term the emphasis switched to goal setting and achieving targets. Children were asked to think of small specific targets - things which they thought desirable for them to do or to learn to do, either at home or school - or to keep a daily record. By encouragement from everyone and the use of simple will exercises, the children were helped to realise how they can achieve their potential.

Visitors to Circle Time have been numerous, and sitting on the floor in the circle, are readily accepted by the children. Also the children were happy for a video to be made of parts of it, sponsored by the Artemis Trust.

Other activities included taking photos of every child and displaying them in the entrance hall for all to admire and the making of booklets called 'All about me'. They have all been aimed at enhancing self-esteem.

The importance of self-esteem is stated very eloquently by Dorothy Corkille Briggs in her book "Your Childs Self-Esteem" (Doubleday 1970):

"A person's judgement of self influences the kinds of friends he chooses how he gets along with others, the kind of person he marries and how productive he will be. It affects his creativity, integrity, stability and even whether he will be a leader or a follower. His feeling of self worth forms the core of his personality and determines the use he makes of his aptitudes and abilities. His attitude toward himself has a direct bearing on how he lives all parts of his life. In fact, self-esteem is the main spring that slates each of us for success or failure as a human being."

"Self-esteem is the jet fuel of motivation"

Muray White

Circle Times address many of the needs of today's children. Increasing stress in their lives comes from their homes, their schools and their lives generally, and Circle Times act as an excellent vehicle to counteract this by helping to build and maintain really solid levels of self-esteem. For a healthy, prosperous, flourishing society we need to ensure that future generations are happy, creative, responsible children today, with the motivation to learn readily and behave well, and these are the benefits which high self-esteem brings.

Circle Times are the experiences children have,in a set period of time every day, when the teacher in each class in school gives priority to establishing a totally safe environment where every student will be enabled to evaluate and appreciate her/ his uniqueness and special qualities and because of that feel secure enough in her/himself to warmly endorse the qualities of others in the group. For a short time the academic curriculum is set aside and affective education, i.e. education of the emotions, is dealt with in a structured way. For many it will be the first time that the pupils realise the vital role that their emotions play in their behaviour patterns. This is where they can have the opportunity to see the difference it can make to try new ones without fear of ridicule or criticism. They will come to enjoy the freedom of expressing an opinion on matters which concern their daily living and feel comfortable about listening to and respecting the views of others.

Children who have previously acted in an aggressive or passive way begin to see the advantages of assertiveness and are encouraged by the benefits this brings. Bullying shrivels and withers away when the bully understands the reasons for this behaviour and with much support from the group gets his needs met in non harmful ways. Victims are helped to learn how to deal with difficult situations. Children come to see the great value in friendship and relationships in the class blossom. Peer pressure becomes group support. When harmony reigns, learning flourishes.

There is a very rich, diverse menu on offer in Circle Times. All the activities which take place are based on the philosophy that to achieve a healthy level of self-esteem which will ensure a life of well-being and contentment, children need the experience of feeling well able to deal with any problem or crisis they encounter and of feeling totally worthy of happiness, success, and respect from others. Enquiry can quickly ascertain that many children have already lost these convictions early in life through many varied negative experiences, but they can be helped to regain them, hopefully permanently, in Circle Times. Not by a quick fix, which is what so many approaches offer. The holistic way in Circle Times means that children will gently but firmly, sensitively but clearly, be shown how to use the skills which will enable them to see the difference between silly and sensible risks, so that they will ignore the former and have the courage to tackle the latter, be able to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages in all situations, think of the options, seek solutions, and act on their wise decisions. Because of the successes they gain now they will carry their self-confidence into adulthood and remember the skills they learnt to help them achieve it.

Spontaneity and laughter is every child's birthright but is often missing. Having fun is an important element of Circle Times. It is not difficult to imagine that smiles formed by an appreciation of the worth of self and others, generated in the classroom when young, could begin to have a long-term dramatic effect on the negative culture which exists today as these children become older.

Circle Times are now being conducted by teachers in schools all over the country for children of all ages. The teachers concerned need our encouragement and thanks for the vital role they are taking in helping our children attain the self-esteem they need to fulfil their potential and lead productive, fulfilled lives.

Murray White U.K. Representative, International Council for Self-Esteem 5, Ferry Path, Cambridge CB4 1HB

This was first published in SPES, the magazine f or the study of spiritual, moral and cultural values in education, April 1997.

A Psychologist says:
It is no wonder adults call the sessions Magic Circles when they have seen the benefits these bring to their pupils.
Circle Time quickly creates a climate of good feeling within a school, a community trust which leads to positive and proactive learning. No wonder Edinburgh teachers are giving it the 'Thumbs up'!

The Pupils say:
"Fun", "Brilliant", "Cool", "Wicked".
"You get to trust people more"
"Its a good way of letting the teacher know what you like and what your feelings are".
"They make us want to come to school more and enjoy learning at the same time".

The Teachers say:
"They want to work harder and co-operate with others because they feel of worth themselves"


"See what I can do"

Circle Time: the perceptions of teachers and pupils

The interest of teachers and educational psychologists in circle time has grown over recent years, and there has been an explosion of publications offering activities and curriculum on the subject. Despite this expansion in publications, there has not been an accompanying growth in efficacy-based research about circle time. The current literature contains little evidence of its effectiveness. The present paper outlines a research study, undertaken within one local education authority and as part. of the researchers work on the Education Doctorate programme at Sheffield University, that aimed to investigate teacher and pupil perceptions of circle time. It concludes that both groups view circle time as a positive intervention. The study raises questions about the possibilities regarding socially mediated learning.

For Evedence see Mage Circles, Second edition
Massive evidence surely shows circle time's effectiveness

[ Home ] [ Bio ] [ International Council ] [ Circle Time for Everyone ]
[ Keynotes & Seminars ] [ Publications & Resources ] 
Magic Circles ] [ Book Reviews ]

[ A. Circle Times for Teachers, Youth club leaders and all Professionals who wish to understand how self esteem impacts on children and teenagers and how to enhance it in their changes and themselves ]

[ B. Circle Times for Parents and those in contact with children and young people in a home setting to explain their influence on the self-esteem on those growing up and to offer many practical ways they can raise self esteem in them while nurturing their own ]

[ C. Circle Times for All. One or more days spent in the congenial company of other adults experiencing a mixture of serious and fun activities specifically designed to give your self esteem a major boost ]

[ E-Mail Murray ] [ Links ]