Tie a knot in a long piece of rope to form a rope circle and lay it on the ground/floor.
Ask your group to stand on the perimeter of the rope circle.
Invite your group to shut their eyes and imagine their safe place, ie a place they feel most at peace.
Guide their reflection by asking them to picture how this place looks, sounds and feels.
When ready, invite your group to open their eyes and bring their safe place with them as they enter the circle.
Continue and/or reflect as appropriate.
How To Play Narrative
Imagine a place where you most like to be.
It may be on a beach surrounded by friends watching the moonrise. It could be an early morning run, dogs barking behind still dark windows. It might be in your bed on a rain-swept night. It could very well be inside your own imagination.
Wherever it is, it should be a safe place. This activity will take your group to their safe spaces individually and collectively.
Make sure to stress when presenting the activity that the philosophical framework of Challenge of Choice applies, as always. Invite your group to go to and stay in their safe space(s) but not to feel any pressure to share what they imagine with others.
If possible, actively participate in the exercise, too. This sends the message that you are committed to being a partner in the work they are doing to establish and maintain behavioural norms. This also provides the opportunity to break the ice and share your safe space first which often encourages students to do the same.
Take a long piece of rope and knot it to form a continuous loop. Lay it on the ground or grass to form a circle, not so large as to allow for large distances between people, not so close that the claustrophobic refuse to enter.
Now, walk your group through a brief visual imagery exercise, something similar to that described in the Useful Framing Ideas tab.
After all individual group members have entered the circle, ask them to talk about their spaces. As your group shares, they are learning a great deal about each other, for along with the space often goes a personal story.
The rope circle becomes a metaphor for an island to which the group can always return to and recapture the spirit of their safe space together. It also holds out the possibility of harmony that the group will continually strive to achieve and to maintain.
Practical Leadership Tips
This exercise is just one element of a comprehensive framework and set of tools that can help you to build community skills in your setting, especially in schools. Refer to the book The Full Value School for more guidance.
At its core, the Full Value Agreement (or Full Value Contact) is a living process to support an optimal environment for growth while leaving behind negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that work against creating and maintaining this positive culture and climate. Using the Island of Healing Circle in this way vividly contrasts the difference between negative impediments and an ideal place for people to be together in. The Full Value Agreement consists of six behavioural norms:
In particular, this exercise is an ideal tool to explore the Be Safe norm by helping participants get in touch with their safe space to find strength, clarity, and comfort during difficult times.
This activity connects to our work with mindfulness. It provides participants with a technique to be in the moment and to then reflect on that moment and the positive emotions associated with it. It is an exercise in being present within oneself.
You could integrate Island of Healing Circle as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviour in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The framework of this exercise is essentially a mindful activity. It provides your group with a technique to be in the moment (being present within oneself) and sets the tone and helps them prepare for their next task, which is often sharing at some level. And when inviting people to be mindful, it is always useful to have rituals and certain objects to prompt them, in this case, the circle to step into. Check out the questions described in the Reflection Tips tab to pose to your group when ready.
Before beginning the visual imagery process, ask your group while they are still standing outside of the circle to think about something in their home or school life that gets in the way of their goals and aspirations. Where students are willing to share, invite them to describe these impediments to the rest of the group. Then ask them to deliberately turn their thoughts away from the distractor(s) and instead focus on finding their safe space using the visual imagery prompts.
Developing positive and supportive behavioural norms at its core is a living process to create an optimal environment for growth while leaving behind negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that work against this goal. Use can use the Island of Healing technique in this way to vividly contrast the difference between negative impediments and an ideal place for your group to be together.
Again, refer to the Reflection Tips tab for some useful questions to ask your group to help them reflect on their thoughts and how these contribute towards building positive and supportive relationships.
Full Value Contract: This exercise can be used to model the distractors and behavioural norms of the Full Value Agreement or Contract. Before beginning the visual imagery process, ask your group, while they are still outside of the circle, to think about something in their school or home life that gets in the way of their goals and aspirations. Invite one or more volunteers to describe these impediments to the group. Then ask them to deliberately turn their thoughts away from the distractor(s) and instead focus on finding their safe space using the visual imagery prompts provided above.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
To begin, ask each person to switch off their videos for a few moments as you guide their imaginations to their safe space. Ask people to close their eyes as you guide them verbally through this reflection, but without vision, you can know if people are doing this or not. When ready, ask everyone to re-open their eyes and then ask them to switch their videos back on. As the host, it may be possible for you to control the switching on and off of videos to make this process simpler.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I’d like you to get comfortable sitting around the outside of this rope circle. Anyone ever heard of visual imagery? Well, it is a way of going someplace else without physically leaving where you are. Sounds a bit weird, but it can be done if you are up for giving it a try. So, I’d like to ask you to close your eyes and imagine a special place, a place where you feel most at peace, a place where you go to get back your strength after a difficult day or a difficult experience. This space might be your bedroom, on a beach, a mountaintop, on your bike, wherever you wish it to be. Now once you’ve found that place, try to bring all of your senses into your picturing of it. See, hear, smell, taste, and touch it until the feeling that safe space brings starts to fill you up inside. When you have got it, it will be time to enter the circle and find a place to sit, bringing your safe space with you. OK? Let’s take a few minutes and give this a try…
You may know that the practice of mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us reflect on what is important. To prepare you for our next conversation, I want to first take you on a guided tour of what I’m calling your ‘safe’ place. Do you know what I mean by this term? [ allow opportunities for your group to respond ] Okay, I think we’re ready to start…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after introducing this trust-building exercise:
How does knowing something personal change how you feel about other people?
Were you able to go to and stay in your safe space? What process did you go through in your mind to get there?
How does this connect to being present? How can the thoughts, behaviours, and feelings that you used to go to your safe space contribute to developing behavioural norms and distractors?
How did it feel for you to be in your safe space, and why?
Why did you choose that particular place to go to?
How did thinking about distractors and your safe space feel different?
How does this connect to creating a Full Value Commitment for our group?
Does thinking about your distractors help you to think about how to move away from them? In what way?
How do the Full Value Behavioural Norms help to sort our distractors?
The inspiration for the Island of Healing Circle was sourced from The Full Value School by Richard Maizell, Jim Schoel & John Grund.