If you thought that Circle Time was just for children, think again! Jenny Mosley explains why the Whole School Quality Circle Time Model focuses first on enhancing the mental health of the adults

The Whole School Quality Circle Time Model has now been implemented in hundreds of schools, whose members know that the first focus must be on enhancing the mental health of the adults. This means all the adults, no matter what their involvement with the school, whether they are teachers, parents, administrators, assistants, school governors or any of the school’s support staff. Each of these groups of people has its own particular set of functions and its own stresses to bear, but whatever our connection with education we all share a remarkably similar ideal and vision of school as a vital community where children flourish in all possible ways, and we all share the desire for the reality of schools to move ever nearer to that vision. To become a school governor is to take up an opportunity to make a substantial and valuable contribution to a school and to a community. Given the range of areas and duties involved, nobody coming into the role will expect it to be always easy, but most will be anticipating a stimulating and rewarding challenge. However, one ex-governor, who left with a sigh of relief after four years in the post, described his experience as ‘extremely difficult, frustrating and dispiriting’. His view was that if every school governor were to write a list of the aspects of the job that cause stress and frustration, most of the lists would probably include at least some of the following:

  • meetings too often achieving too little;
  • people failing to communicate effectively and taking action without due consultation;
  • a lack of full understanding about who is responsible for what;
  • the feeling that one is unappreciated and unsupported;
  • an absence of adequate procedures for important matters such as budget setting and a general lack of necessary information.

If he is right, then school governors do indeed need help. Add to his list some mention of over-sized, unruly classes, constantly changing government directives and mountains of paperwork, and it might almost mirror the commonly expressed difficulties that irk teachers as they seek to fulfil their roles. One of the major strengths of the school governor system, theoretically, is that governors are likely to come from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of experience. On any governing board there will be some who began the job well used to the rituals of committees and meetings, some whose daily life involves them regularly in important decision making, some whose vision is initially quite narrow and focused and some who tend to take a broad, perhaps idealistic, view and resist mundane detailed work.

Trust and respect

For all of these people to contribute valuably, an atmosphere of trust and respect must be in place, with strategies that ensure effective communication. Without this, it is relatively easy for the more confident, readily articulate members to dominate the group, or for the more impatient members to try to save time by ‘sitting on’ important paperwork and going ahead with decisions without fully consulting with other members. This results in the resentment, frustration and diminishing of personal self esteem expressed by the ex-governor whose experience was described above. It also frequently results in a job less well done than it might have been. There is plenty of guidance available, in the form of DfES briefings and resource packs that can be downloaded, printed out and distributed among school governors, but if the individuals who form the governing body and its committees feel unheard and unsure, then this may be just so much wasted paper. If you stagger out of meetings feeling tired, glazed over, thwarted and depressed, you have probably not truly achieved your objectives. The irony is that, as you meet to discuss ways to enhance the wellbeing of your school pupils, you may be failing to recognise the importance of enhancing your own. As you consider how best to deploy the school’s resources, you may be wasting your own. As you ponder the causes of problems to do with discipline, truancy and staff absenteeism, you may be ignoring the need to nurture your own morale to ensure that you will remain fresh enough and enthusiastic enough to continue. Successful companies know that enthusiasm wanes as frustration rises and tend to explore a range of listening systems to motivate their staff – success coating, monitoring, ‘human resource’ meetings, team-building days, experimental framework sessions. Japanese industries, especially, have been foremost in seeking ways to sustain motivation and to overcome the potential gulf between management and shop floor workers, and their success can be largely attributed to their use of Quality Circles, a method that has spread since the 1960s. The fundamental benefit that each participant gains from this is a deep sense that he or she matters, and from this comes an increased sense of responsibility for the company, high motivation to be part of its success, a better quality of work and soaring productivity levels.

False economy

Can we, who are concerned with education, afford to consider ourselves far too busy for all this? Isn’t this a false economy if we thereby fail to apply psychology to our most precious resource – the adults who work for us? In the school setting, the Whole School Quality Circle Time Model involves everyone present sitting in a circle and taking an equal responsibility for the solving of problems and issues that they themselves have highlighted. It operates within an agreed framework of guidelines, with participants taking turns to speak, listen and bring their own concerns and ideas to the circle. Individuals are given time both to volunteer their own concerns for group help and to offer help and encouragement to others. On training days we invite the whole school community and teach a range of collective and self care strategies. We encourage team building and corporate policies to help staff look after each other and themselves, and we point out that adults need to ‘model’ happiness, pleasure and respect if we want these attitudes to develop in our children. High staff morale is seen as a prerequisite of success and Circle Time for adults is a strategy for increasing and sustaining self esteem, for identifying and combating sources of stress and for building a climate of support, honesty and trust. In order that the whole community can speak and listen to each other, we involve the schools in a commitment to set up an ongoing, timetabled process of circle meetings. Through these, which are governed by strict ground rules, all individuals tackle the key interpersonal and organisational issues affecting their school development. The circle meetings incorporate a range of strategies not only to ensure that everyone feels supported but also to enhance their relationship and communication skills continuously. The forum of Circle Time enables everyone present to participate in a democratic decision making process and to learn to represent and respectfully lobby for their views. There is no reason why all the various groups that make up a whole school – including school governors – should not learn, practise and benefit from Circle Time principles. As in all meetings, a circle meeting will need a leader. Initially this will probably be the person with most experience of circle time, such as a teacher governor or perhaps the headteacher but, as confidence and familiarity with the procedures grow, any member of the group can be enabled to take this role. The role of the leader is to facilitate a supportive climate and the status of leader does not conclude the right to control and dominate. The leader needs to be sensitive and perceptive in order to identify and elicit everyone’s needs and points of view. He or she must aim to encourage a feeling of positive cooperation and trust within the circle and it is essential that leaders take their turn and be honest in their own contributions.

Ground rules

So that this trust will develop, ground rules must be agreed during the first session. These are the Golden Rules which cannot be broken; for example: ‘Do respect other people’s rights to speak – don’t use put downs.’ Any group can, of course, create its own ‘golden rules’. The ones opposite are among the ground rules I drew up with school staff in 1989 (published 1993 in Turn Your School Round) and are relevant for any group of people meeting regularly for a purpose. The belief that underpins Quality Circle Time is that the capacity of any school – or, indeed, any organisation – to optimise its performance can be sustained only if all the people involved feel positive about themselves and each other. Individual self esteem, then, is essential if we are to work together as a mutually supportive team to ensure success. Experiences that reinforce our image of ourselves as useful contributors will strengthen our sense of self respect and self esteem and make possible the positive sense of community that is so needed in today’s schools.

Real partnership

There is no doubt that if a school decides to pursue a policy on self esteem and positive behaviour it has the best chance of being successful if it takes on this task in real partnership with all the groups that make up a school community, and if it appreciates the need for its policy to filter into every aspect of school life. Parents should not be left out of this; neither should school caretakers, secretaries, lunchtime supervisors, catering staff, ‘lollipop ladies’, or anyone else who is part of the school team. Certainly, school governors should not allow themselves to be left out!

Jenny Mosley has developed Quality Circle Time over the past 15 years. She is the author of the best selling books Turn Your School Round and Quality Circle Time in the Primary Classroom and leads a consultancy company that provides in-service training and team-building for teachers, health workers, support staff, lunchtime supervisors, parents and children Useful resources

Turn Your School Round, (Mosley, J, LDA 1993) Quality Circle Time, (Mosley, J, LDA 1996) Quality Circle Time in the Secondary School, (Mosley, J and Tew, M, David Fulton Publishers 1999) Positive Behaviour through Golden Time, (Mosley, J and Sonnet, H, LDA 2004) Ideas for energisers and games can be found in: 101 Games for Social Skills, (Mosley, J and Sonnet H, LDA 2003) 101 Games for Self Esteem, (Mosley, J and Sonnet, H, LDA 2002)

A full range of resources and training to support implementing Quality Circle Time can be ordered from Positive Press Ltd, 28a Gloucester Road, Trowbridge, Wilts BA14 0AA. Tel: 01225 719204 or browsed on the Circle Time website.