When people have agency they have choices and take responsibility for making things happen. When we work with schools, classes, teachers, students or parents, we do not impose answers, but help people come to their own decisions about ways forward. We do this by providing information, guidance, ideas, evidence and supporting strategic thinking. We see our work as a co-operative endeavour.

Agency is incorporated in two Circle Guidelines:
  • You can choose to pass. You only say and do what you are comfortable with.
  • We will listen to you because what you say is important – this means that you also need to listen to others. This privileges student voice.

The word agency is commonly applied to an organisation that does things on behalf of others – a travel agency, a real estate agency. When students have agency they make decisions on behalf of themselves. It is about choice, but also about taking responsibility.

In Circles this agency is not only individual but applies to the whole Circle. Students decide on the ‘solutions’ they are aiming for in having a class where bullying doesn’t happen.

Much of the time young people are told what to do and how to do it. They are also told what to think. They are encouraged to make the ‘right’ decisions and choose ‘good’ behaviour mostly because this is what pleases the adults around them. Learning in school is often didactic – delivering information to students. Although sometimes students are asked about the application of their learning and occasionally asked to critique, exams are often based on memorising what they have been told. The Circles pedagogy is more in line with Socratic learning – discussion that leads to critical thinking and the development of ideas.

Behaviour in school is often about control, students doing what they are told because they get into trouble if they don’t.

When Circles are facilitated according to the Circle principles they provide students of all ages opportunities to develop thinking skills. The aim is for students to learn what different options are, reflect on these and then decide for themselves. This enables them to choose behaviour and then take responsibility for the choices they make. It is learning from the inside out about how to be and how to live together well – not control from the outside in.

A major feature of Circle Solutions as a pedagogy is the focus on group work and collaboration. This means that the whole class takes responsibility for the emotional climate for learning. It is not up to one or two people but everyone.

CIRCLE ACTIVITY: Put 50 or more values on the wall of the classroom at the beginning of the school year. Students vote on the values they want in their class that year. Each student has up to ten votes – they can use all on one value or spread them around. You can do this with initials or post-it notes. Give students enough time to think before they vote. Once the values with the most votes are announced the Circle divides into small groups to decide on how these values will be translated into class guidelines.

These are then written up on the wall for everyone to see. No rules have been imposed but everyone has collaborated in taking responsibility for how they will treat each other and participate in learning. This ownership makes a difference to how well the class runs.

CIRCLE ACTIVITY: Confidence Cake. Students are divided into groups of about 4. They are asked to think about what people need to grow confidence. What experiences, what support, what strengths enable someone to be confident, be prepared to have a go even if they might fail. Once they have decided ingredients, and amounts of each they think about how to mix them together and then how to bake the cake. Finally they decide on their cake decoration. Senior students enjoy doing this. Younger students might work together on a recipe for a friendly class.