Look on the Bright Side: A Perfect Circle

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The early 1970s found me entering Junior High and a new pilot program whereby all the classroom’s desks had been removed and replaced by a large circular table and chairs. Even the teacher’s desk was non-existent. He, too, was required to sit at the table with us.

I was a social person but also a poor and withdrawn student, so I preferred to inconspicuously slump down in a back-row desk. Now unable to hide, I was expected to interact with my teacher and fellow students face to face. Although at first this felt strange and uncomfortable, I quickly adapted to this new way of learning and soon looked forward to each school day.

This circular setup conveyed to me a strong sense of belonging. It evened the academic playing field by placing equal value upon each person in the circle. While sitting at desks in rows had left me feeling disconnected and insignificant, the new method encouraged me to engage in meaningful and constructive conversation with others, thus allowing me to thrive.

When seated around a circle, the teacher spoke with us from a less threatening place. We sensitive students actually learned more when taught from this perspective.

Rows can, at times, represent a one-way communication style whereby the person at the head of the class, or at the podium or pulpit, is perceived to be talking at us, but not with us. This linear approach is known to lose its effectiveness the further back a person sits. 

It is the eye contact within a circle that encourages participation and holds one’s attention. This connection leaves little room for a person’s ego to take over and dominate, thus making it a safe and desirable place for everyone to interact.

The circular setup has served me well over the years. When I keep my proverbial chairs in a circle, encouraging others to share differing perspectives and opinions with me free of the threat of criticism and judgment, they feel accepted and validated.

It’s a fascinating way to learn while garnering a deeper understanding of the people in our lives. And our circles cannot help but grow as we lovingly invite others to pull up a chair.

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