Empowering Children Through Circle Time: An Illumination of Practice
Collins, Bernie (2011) Empowering Children Through Circle Time: An Illumination of Practice. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
The focus of the research is circle time, a widely used method in Irish primary schools. It involves children sitting in a circle with their teacher using method-specific techniques and strategies to promote self-esteem, develop skills and support positive classroom relationships. The theoretical and conceptual framework adopted has empowerment of children as its central focus, and is supported by theories of self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and voice and participation theory. Learning and counselling theories also inform the research. The rise of circle time historically is documented against a backdrop of curricular and social changes in Ireland. These include a psychological turn in educational and societal discourse, a move towards inclusive and rights-based education, and an orientation towards personal development evident in recent reviews of the SPHE Curriculum (1999). The current research is prompted and informed by a review of research on circle time which suggests that there are multiple pathways for its exploration in the Irish school context. Awareness of challenges to circle time on privacy and psychological grounds also added impetus to the research presented here. A qualitative (interpretive) study was chosen in order to get as close to the practice of teachers as possible, and investigate their beliefs and strategies. Observations were undertaken in five primary school classrooms. Interviews were conducted with teachers, principals, and a leading author on circle time. Research findings indicate that teachers aim to build children’s confidence and self-esteem, develop personal and social skills, and to give children an equal voice. Children’s voice generally does not extend beyond the confines of the classroom, thereby limiting their potential to influence and exercise agency. Classroom atmosphere and relationships are identified as benefitting from the method. Challenges include the difficulty of assessment, inappropriate or controversial contributions from children, and the potential exposure of both children and teachers. The role adopted by teachers in the circle is facilitative, and is designated as ‘counselling-lite’. In responding to the challenges, the issues of confidentiality and participation are explored. A vision of circle time is presented which foregrounds children’s voice and participation for agency and action competence. Supports and strategies are identified to facilitate the introduction of this new empowering model of circle time which enables children to take their place as citizens in the evolving Ireland and world we inhabit in the twenty-first century.
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