Planning Circle Projects
Planning the Projects Defines the Work of the Circle
Designing the projects is the most important phase of learning circles and for some people, the most difficult to understand. The reason is that we are used to having defined projects and clear project leaders. We join projects or create them, but rarely do both at the same time. One of the important dimensions of learning circles is distributed leadership. Participants are both leaders and participants. Creating or sponsoring projects is important as when we define a project, we take ownership of the project and responsibility to see it through to completion. When we participate in projects, the role is less intense but if a project doesn't mobilize participation, it will not be successful. While the circle shares a theme and the theme often influences what will be done in the projects, learning circles work best if each participant or participating group is able to "sponsor" one of the group projects.
Sponsoring Projects around a Shared Theme
Participants join a learning circle for a purpose. The theme is the overriding goal or intention for joining the learning circles.
Students who join a Places and Perspectives learning circle are exploring history and geography from global perspectives, those in the global
Graduate students in action research learning circles are involved in personal development through understanding their role in change.
Teachers who engage in learning circles for professional development are learning how to manage learning circles.
Researchers in evaluation learning circles are exploring their practices as researchers
However, each of the individuals or group of participants in a learning circle brings a unique way of examining the theme or project and invite the other participants to work with them to make their part of the circle work successful. By sponsoring a project, the group or individual takes on the role of leadership. In this way, the responsibility for leading the projects is distributed across the group. You can see how this works in an elementary-level learning circle with the theme of "Places and Perspectives." Each school has sponsored a project linked to history, geography, or social sciences, and then the schools reply to the projects of their partners. The goal is to receive a response from at least 3-4 other schools to make their project a success. The school from Washington responded to every project, with the schools from Ireland and New Jersey responding to most projects. The school in Iran only replied to their own project. This could have been because they did not understand the learning circle process or they might be working with very limited access to technology. Facilitation of the circle involves demonstrating the process by responding to all of the school early and checking to make sure that schools send some materials to the other projects.