Getting Started with Circle of Friends
Q: How often should my Circle of Friends meet?
A: Most Circles meet once a week. If meetings are held less often facilitators will likely not be aware of issues that may crop up, not to mention the Circle won't be as cohesive and active as it could be. Without maintaining a high profile through regular Circle meetings, kids are less likely to interact.
One standard model that works quite well is the following:
• Meet weekly
• Meet on the same day each week so it becomes predictable for your students, for everyone (peers and focus student)
•Once a month is a meeting with peers only
• Some groups do one out of school additional activity per month. This is not required.
Q: When should I hold Circle meetings?
A: Time is always the issue in schools, isn't it? There is no one answer to this question, and it depends on your situation. Options include before school, after school, during lunch, during study hall, or even as part of recess... anytime you can fit it in. It may be impossible to find the perfect time of day; the important thing is to find some time somewhere and keep it consistent.
It's common to hear, "I'd love to run a Circle of Friends group, but I'm just too busy during the school day and don't have the time". Well, that's one way to look at it, but here's another: Strong Circles can result in fewer behavior problems and happier kids. What does this look like? Fewer detentions and suspensions, more time in class and on task, a decrease in bullying...In the not so long run, you'll find that Circle of Friends will actually save you time!
Q: I always start the year with good intentions, but I'm having a difficult time following through with my weekly meetings due to having so much on my plate at work. Then I end up feeling guilty. Help!
A: Research has shown that the strongest, most consistent groups are run by more than one facilitator. If you find another co-worker to facilitate your group with you, you will have someone holding you accountable, you can share the work load, and you'll have twice as many ideas. After all, two (or more) heads are better than one!
Q: Should parents be notified their child is participating in a Circle?
A: The focus child's parents should be notified and permission obtained. This is especially important if you will be sharing information about the focus child's specific disability with their peers. If the parent does not want a Circle of Friends for their child, then you will not be able to do it. However, this is quite rare and parents are usually very grateful.
It is becoming more common for parents to actually request a Circle be implemented for their child as part of their IEP. It is also a good idea to notify the parents of the peers. They, too, are often eager for their children to participate since this activity promotes service to others, a value for many parents today. Click on the 'Paperwork' link for parent permission forms.
Q: What if a student's parents want a Circle of Friends but do not want their child identified to peers as having autism?
A: You can still do a Circle of Friends without specifically identifying a student as having a particular disability. It is recommended whether or not you disclose a specific disability, you do some type of 'We all have strengths/We all have challenges' lesson with your CoF group. The purpose is to point out similarities and that we are all more alike than we are different. Try to avoid your peers thinking their job is to "fix" the focus student.
Q: What if my focus student doesn't want a Circle of Friends?
A: This isn't very common, but it can happen. It can be a big step out of their comfort zone to all of a sudden be "forced" to engage in conversations and interact with other children. However, kids don't always know what's best for them...we make kids try broccoli, don't we? If the parents have agreed, then you've got the green light to move forward. You may say something to the focus child such as, "I know you like being alone and are o.k. not talking or playing with the other kids, but your parents and teachers think it would be a good thing for you. I know it might be hard at first, but the other kids really want to get to know you better. I promise I'll help you so it won't be so tough".
Q: My focus student has behavioral goals and is on a behavior plan. My general education co-workers are critical of me when he is allowed to attend CoF meetings and functions. They believe he is being rewarded for poor behavior. What should I do?
A: CoF is an intervention designed to improve social skills, behavior, and to foster true social inclusion. Some CoF facilitators write CoF as an intervention or strategy in a student's IEP as a way to deliver services and meet annual goals. Using CoF as a reward/punishment would be like taking a remedial reading class away from a struggling reader when he/she is not behaving in class. Silly, right? Consider educating your peers. While CoF looks (and is!) fun for children, there's a lot more involved than having a good time. It is a way to deliver educational services. And, if it's in the IEP, it's not an option to eliminate the intervention.