If you’d like to see your community connect more deeply, but have found that Appreciation Circles are not met with openness and authenticity, consider the following tips to nurture this SEL fundamental.
6 Things to Check that Might be getting in the Way of the Inclusive Power of an Appreciation Circle Practice in your School Community.
1. Did we skip the buy-in or the “why-are-we-going to-do-these-gatherings” step?
Invite genuine reactions to the idea of a ritual for appreciating each other. Hear thoughts and fears about how to best nurture the success of giving and receiving appreciations to each other. Be bold, though. Try out this new form of coming together as a community. Ask for some reflections afterwards - maybe in writing - to keep the dialogue and positive “stage setting” going. Share that outwardly valuing the unique ways in which diverse talents, viewpoints, and personality traits enriches each other's lives and lights up in this experience. If groups are unfamiliar with being appreciated or giving affirming comments to peers of any age, step slowly, steadily and thoughtfully into this practice.
Ask a colleague to take this on with you and stand together as you lead and shepherd these building blocks, or before your students step into their first larger group appreciation circle. Include classroom teachers sitting among the students as members of the circle, instead of as watching over things.
2. Did we devote time for the foundational building blocks of Appreciation Circle Rituals?
First, help students and peers know the possibilities of what to appreciate in others - thoughtful actions; shared effort; kindnesses. Start small first, maybe in more contained groups that already are setting an inclusive tone such as classrooms; Advisories, division meetings. (See IFSEL’s Appreciation stickies lesson and other ideas for building block steps to do with students, faculty, and parents.) Then move the practice of offering gratitude to a full classroom and onto an entire grade level ritual. Place the grade level rituals every 6 weeks or so.
Use specific prompts/starters based on human qualities, empathy, generosity, patience, joy, etc. instead of superficiality. Have journal writing for gratitude, regularly. Ask your students to send notes of gratitude before saying them aloud. Model giving acknowledgments and appreciations at the end of Science or Math -teacher valuing and keeping track of public expressions of appreciation for the way students are treating each other; the effort you see; the collaboration. Slowly and intentionally open up these appreciative practices to the larger group setting.
The space is a teacher and helps ensure success. Employ the power of sitting in a close circle and of a setting where people gather, see each other’s faces, and can hear each other. Does the space itself feel good? Do people feel comfortable and “held” in it? Try sitting on the floor with a bit of space between students; or take the extra 5 minutes to set up chairs in a circle together
Talk about the idea that everyone can be a reflective mirror for the goodness of others, even when and especially when they might not see it or feel it within themselves. Words have the power to bind us to the best in ourselves through a ritual like an Appreciation Circle.
3. Did we explore that there can be many ways to receive the power of an Appreciation Circle Ritual?
Appreciation can be experienced actively as well as passively by:
a) thinking of an Appreciation for someone
b) speaking an Appreciation aloud to someone
c) receiving kindness and grace from an Appreciation directed at you
d) experiencing the loving group energy of gratitude
The spirit of witnessing/being a mirror for, and being part of Appreciation Circle Rituals - experiencing the collective kindness and grace as someone else in the group is appreciated is powerful. Mid-way through an Appreciation Circle, children as young as 8 years old have written or said, “It feels peaceful and happy in here.” They seem to be referring to a palpable sense of connection. Video-taping a group circled up and giving appreciation will often show softened faces, on-task behaviors, and smiles of gladness and pride in experiencing community.
4. If everyone is not appreciated is the practice socially harmful or personally targeting?
Over time within a healthy community, it is definitely the goal that every community member will experience both the receiving and giving of appreciation, many times. If this natural “cycle” is not happening within the first few circle times, reposit the value of and hope for full inclusivity up to the group. Maybe reframe the value of that in this way:
“As we begin today, please sharpen your social awareness. Listen, notice and make a note to yourself about who may have not yet received an Appreciation. Think of that community member. Watch their actions this week and find a way to raise your appreciation for them to the front of your heart and mind at our next gathering, and speak it aloud.”
Conversely, if you have not spoken an appreciation because you are more reserved in a group, ask a friend if they will speak the appreciation for you. Or, send your appreciation in writing, slipped into the person’s mailbox or locker. Or share your need for support with someone who can sit next to you and chime in with you. Finally, bring up the idea of appreciating oneself, even when others don’t see the effort or care you bestow upon others.
5. Did we value the spoken gratitude by writing the words down as they are being shared - sender and receiver?
This practice underlines valuing thoughtful words, and holding a simple record to ensure that appreciations are spread across all members and growing to be fully inclusive. From time to time as you close the circle, try a simple statement of Appreciation just for being a community. Add a concrete example of why this time together contributes to the creation of wellbeing and a healthy culture. A closing might sound like:” Along the path of learning how to empathize with each other, an appreciative heart opens the road for stepping lightly when we solve conflicts with classmates, disagree with them or show emotional courage.”
6. Did we remember to open Appreciation to people we interact with here in our community as well as people, events, and things outside of our community and in our world?
Remembering that the content for giving in an Appreciation Circle Ritual can be drawn from shared experiences - such as classroom interactions; parent meetings; faculty interactions, etc. as well as things from our daily lives - outside of the place where the Appreciations Circles are held.
In other words, from the unshared experiences of one’s life joys there is merit and celebration in those aspects of life being brought into the circle. Through this we can hear and share the awe and inspiration in our lives of all appreciation-giving: “My grandparents took us on a hike”; “the sunshine”; “a space station discovery”; a “new poet I’m reading”.