Background to Circle of Adults Approach

Welcome to our training on the Circle of Adults Process.

Circles of Adults is an excellent approach to problem solving to use with your team when problems are complex. We use it for real around the inclusion of challenging young people or other real issues of inclusion. This way of working really comes to life around challenging emotional and behaviour

The process is co facilitated by a process facilitator and a graphic recorder.

Teacher quote:

 ‘wonderful process – every meeting should involve this instead of the meaningless targets and endless discussion’

This is what a well graphic Circle of Adults process looks like.


The process can be used for social work practitioners or school middle managers and leaders as well as other agencies including educational psychologists, advisory teachers and so on. Some use the process to problem solve to avoid exclusion or segregation and others as a form of group supervision.


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Circle of Adults is a robust facilitation tool that has been thoroughly road tested by the authors in a range of educational settings and with a wide range of different professionals. We can confidently say that, properly facilitated, the process works.

Another way of thinking about the Circle of Adults process is that it provides a forum for group supervision. This is a source of support for front line workers that is notably absent in most of our educational settings. Few school managers in the UK have been able to put together a reliable, organised and effective means of support for their staff. This is despite the (well publicised) demands on staff trying to meet the emotional and behavioural demands of their students. Over the last 15 years there have been a number of successful attempts by LEA support service staff to address these unmet supervision needs - see Stringer et al (1992), Newton (1995), Farouk (2004) and very recently - Spohrer and Cooke (2005), Evans (2005). A common thread running through all of these initiatives is the debt they owe to the work of Gerda Hanko - this book is no exception and we examine this debt in detail below.

The Circle of Adults process generates multiple perspectives on the issue that is brought to the group and is therefore ideal for use with a multi-disciplinary team. However the entire process is carefully boundaried by the facilitators in a way that leaves no scope for taking sides or indulging in arguments and 'turf wars' over who is 'right' - the final word lies with the problem presenter and what he or she decides to take forward from the session.

The process takes up to 90 minutes to complete and is therefore a tool that you are only likely to use when things are serious; where people don't know what to do next, are feeling they have 'tried everything' and there is talk of permanent exclusion and/or segregated placements.

Circle of Adults is not the answer for people trying to live with others' challenging behaviour; it is a process, a means, an approach to finding solutions or a better way. But there are no guarantees, only the hope that a thoughtful process, carefully facilitated, may lead to deeper understandings, a strengthening of the person who has brought the issue to the circle and some new ways forward.

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