Step into the Circle: Promoting Safety and Respect


How did a secondary school initiate a culture transformation that virtually eliminated calls to the office for disrespectful behaviour between students in the first 3 months? At John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver, this radical shift involved several factors:  fostered student leadership, informed staff and the following, simple activity that was the catalyst for actions leading to feelings of being respected, valued and safe.

Initially, John Oliver senior leadership students were the participants but soon, with some support and training, became the student-facilitators who then led classes through this activity grade by grade.

Learning Outcomes:

  • To increase the understanding of how behaviours and attitudes impact others.
  • To highlight the similarities between students.
  • To recognize some of the factors which may influence feeling safe at school.
  • To encourage student-led changes in school culture.

Teaching and Learning Activities:

Step one: Arrange students in a large circle, standing.

Step two: Read the series of statements below. Instruct the students that if this statement is true for them, silently step forward into the circle. If it is not true, remain standing still.

  1. Step into the circle if you like eating sushi

  2. Step into the circle if you like eating ice cream

  3. Step into the circle if you play a sport

  4. Step into the circle if you have 2 or more siblings

  5. Step into the circle if you like learning new things

  6. Step into the circle if you speak another language

  7. Step into the circle if you’ve ever heard homophobic or racial comments in the school

  8. Step into the circle if you’ve ever felt judged by someone at school

  9. Step into the circle if you’ve ever judged someone else

  10. Step into the circle if you’ve ever changed yourself to please another person

  11. Step into the circle if you’ve ever experienced or witnessed bullying

  12. Step into the circle if you wish to be part of a school where you feel safe, valued and respected by others

Step three: Group dialogue: What can we do to make changes in our classrooms and throughout the school so that we all can say that we feel safe, valued and respected?

Step four: Debrief the activity in pairs or triads asking how the activity felt and if anything surprised them. Ask if there was there a difference in the feeling of safety in the room before the activity and after the activity?


  • Follow-up with a journal reflection on their experience and ideas for contributing to a more positive school culture.
  • Provide opportunities for students to lead this activity as student-facilitators. Allow them to add to or revise the questions to reflect their feedback and insight. Co-creating this activity will encourage a feeling of ownership and emotional investment. Note: if student-facilitators lead the activity with classes in their ow grade - use the opportunity as a "pilot" and ask for feedback from same-age peers.
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  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.