What is it? A study circle is a small group of people from a community who come together to discuss a local issue or community problem, over an extended period of time. Often, groups are led by a neutral facilitator. The facilitator guides the discussion sessions, which occur over the course of several months, and often explore a situation from different perspectives. Participants begin by sharing personal experiences, before expanding the conversation to consider what others think about the issue. Before the process ends, group members offer their ideas on actions to help address or teach others about the concern. A community with a more widespread or pressing problem will hold several study circles at the same time, to give more people the opportunity to consider the issue in depth, over time, in a nurturing, facilitated environment. The process helps more people feel comfortable discussing difficult or divisive topics, creates stronger personal connections, and helps identify new solutions.
How has it been used? Montgomery County Public Schools, in Maryland, organized multiple study circles to explore racial and ethnic barriers to student success. Many different study circles existed, in order to engage as many people as possible in the process. For example, the Spanish language study circle was designed to engage Hispanic parents in the schools and eliminate the barriers their children face. School leaders also have study circles that bring students and staff together to discuss how racial barriers affect their lives. Study circles engage participants in discussing highly sensitive topics in a safe, considered manner. The school system hopes to create a culture where such conversations are more commonplace in order to heal divisions and encourage the success of all its students. (Source: Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland)