Circle of Adults
Circle of Adults was devised and developed by Colin and Derek over a number of years (Newton and Wilson, 2006). It represents a lengthier but deeper approach to team reflection and problem solving as contrasting with Solution Circles (Inclusion Press, 2016) and Insights and Solution Circles (Inclusive Solutions , 2016). Many experience this kind of problem solving as person centred even though strictly speaking it more often a team who is stuck with an individual and who need to problem solve deeply away from the person to develop deeper strategies based on richer insights.
We believe that the more complex the problem, the more diverse the team needs to be if understanding and relationships with challenging young people are to be at their best. We developed this approach in the face of intractable behaviour problems in schools, a rising tide of exclusions and in the face of a disturbing, instinctive attitude that a high number of pupils ‘just don’t belong here’.
Building on earlier attempts to develop group and teamwork and mutual support among teachers this model evolved. Since the beginnings of developing this work we have seen the approach successfully used across a very wide range of situations and agencies including senior social work practitioners, care workers, managers, behaviour support workers, health professionals, police and so on.
Regular meetings are held between a concerned circle of adults, as diverse a group as possible. In these groups emotions are shared, personal feelings and reactions explored as well as deeper understandings gained about individual young people and what they bring. Aspects of the system, which help and hinder are explored, and detailed problem solving is engaged in. These groups are powerful and do make a difference. We feel that the task facing teachers and other professionals of understanding and coping with emotional turmoil and hard to manage behaviour is not an easy one and processes which can offer front line staff essential group support and supervision must be welcomed.
Step by Step
- Group members are welcomed: and theoretical values and background to the approach are outlined emphasising the importance of inclusive educational opportunities for those with most challenging behaviour, the need for team support and reflection opportunities for front line staff.
- Introductions are made and ground rules and aims are clarified.
- Live issues are gathered from the group: One situation of concern is selected that appears to reflect shared issues.
- Case presentation: The teacher/worker who raised the concern is asked questions to elicit the child’s ‘story’. Key themes are recorded on a large graphic posted where all can see it and take note of the emerging ‘big picture’. The teacher is asked to keep a clear focus on the child and is guided so as not to let their own ‘ideological editor’ allow judgmental thinking or inaccurate generalisations. Positives and negatives about their behaviour are elicited. Feelings are probed – ‘what does it feel like being with this child?
- One member of the group is asked to ‘listen’ to the presentation and subsequent discussions from the perspective of the young person him/herself.
From time to the process facilitator asks this member of the group how they are feeling about what they have heard so far.
- Additional questions/information from the group about pupil are gathered from those present
- The process of relationship is described: The story of the teacher’s relationship with the young person is described. Metaphors and analogies are invited. How would a fly on the wall see your relationship? If you were alone together on a desert island, what would it be like?
- Impact of previous relationships/spillage from one relationship to another (Transference/Emotional resources explored): Teachers are asked who or what situation they are reminded of? They are asked whether there has been any transfer of past relationships onto the child or projection of their feelings into the child? For instance, does this situation remind you of any of those angry but helpless feelings you had with your own son when he was and adolescent? Exploring the child’s possible transference, questions are posed such as, is any role being transferred onto teachers by the child? For instance, are you being treated as if you were her father?
- Counter transference: What feelings actions or thoughts are being used to counter this transference from child to the teacher? For instance, are you doing anything to avoid being treated as if you were his parent?
- System/Organisational factors: What aspects of the school’s organisation help or hinder this pupil’s emotional/behaviour development? What areas of the curriculum provide successful experiences for the child? For instance does the pastoral system of the school provide space, or time and skilled personnel able to counsel this young person and work actively with their parents?
- Synthesis of emerging themes by the Graphic facilitator. The content of the graphic so far is summarised and the group’s attention is drawn to emerging themes.
- What understandings/hypotheses can we begin to draw out from the emerging story? This is an important stage and it is essential to keep thinking rich and open ended, inviting as many as possible hypotheses. Participants need to be led through a creative brainstorm of understandings, and theories that might begin to explain what is happening.
- What alternative strategies/interventions are open to be used? Brainstormed and recorded. ’ Either/ors’ need to be avoided at this time also. This needs to be a shared session in which the teacher who is presenting the concern contributes as much as anyone. Care is needed to ensure that this person is not overloaded with other people’s strategies. The problem presenter has final say on strategy selection.
- First Steps agreed. Presenter of the issue then selects the next steps they will pursue and with what strategies. Where possible a ‘coach’ is appointed to check in with the problem presenter that agreed deadlines for completion of first steps are met.
- All stand, form a circle and reflections on the process are shared in the ’open space’