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Gerald M. Parmenter Elementary School

Open Circle

The Open Circle Program

Below is a description of Open Circle, a social competency program being used at Gerald M. Parmenter and all the other elementary schools in Franklin. More information can be found at the Wellesley College Open Circle Website.

In some elementary classrooms, each student stands out as a unique, valued individual. At the same time, a sense of community permeates the classroom. By personal example, the teacher in these classrooms models respect, caring, and high expectations for all students. But in talking to these teachers, one finds that more than modeling is taking place. Time is set aside on a regular basis for the class to come together as a community.

In recent years we have learned that the social competency of children is strongly tied to both social and academic success and the development of higher-level thinking skills. In 1986, the National Institute of Mental Health recommended that school curricula include social competency building programs as a way of preventing social, behavioral, and health problems in children. Our current understanding of the importance of social competency makes it imperative that teachers are supported in teaching social competency skills and in creating environments that are conducive to the building of positive interpersonal relationships in the classroom. In his books “Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman draws on scientific studies and neuroscience to make a compelling case for the importance of emotional intelligence skills to success in life. The business community also reinforces the importance of social competency development. Changes in the national and global economy have led business leaders to pursue practices that emphasize ongoing skills development, shared responsibility and teamwork.

The Reach Out to Schools: Social Competency Program is based at The Stone Center at Wellesley College. This program combines a theoretical basis emphasizing the central role that relationships play in development, a commitment to year-long instruction with the classroom setting, and an experiential training model that encourages changes in teacher behavior by increasing facilitation skills.

The program was first piloted in 1987 in six classrooms of the Framingham, MA, Public Schools, using the Quality of School Life (QSL) curriculum written by Ruth F. Schelkun (1989). Since 1988, the Social competency Program has evolved, building on the QSL curriculum and inspired by other well-researched methods of instruction in social competency skills (Spivak, Platt & Shure, 1976; Weissberg et al, 1980; Elias & Clabby, 1989). The Stone Center relational theory has given a clear focus to the curriculum’s overall goals and objectives. Teachers working with the curriculum have helped shape the present format, developed many of the current classroom activities, and informed the training and consultation process.

The entire format of this program recognizes the critical role that relationships play in the social development and academic success of children. By learning the social competencies necessary to make and maintain new and diverse relationships with classmates, children and adults create new avenues for their own and other’s growth.

In writing about the significance of relationships to growth and development, Jean Baker Miller has suggested that positive relationships create energy, action, a more accurate self-image, a greater sense of self-worth, and an increased motivation to connect with other people (1986). The explicit instruction and practice in various social competency skills provided in this curriculum help students and teachers to build more positive relationships and raises their expectations of themselves and others. Together, they can create a supportive and nurturing classroom environment, one that appreciates diversity of all types and encourages and supports the academic achievement of all.

The Reach Out to Schools: Social Competency Program curriculum is organized around three clusters:

  • Creating a cooperative classroom environment
  • Solving people problems
  • Building positive relationships

The Open Circle Curriculum is to be implemented two times a week for 15 to 30 minutes during the school year with teachers and students meeting together in an Open Circle. The curriculum provides a structured format to facilitate the teaching of social competency skills in elementary school classrooms. It also provides a context for discussion of other issues important to the class. After each cluster of lessons, students are asked to reflect on what they have learned and evaluate their use of the skills presented.

The Open Circle Social Competency Program has identified goals for all participants — teachers, students, school administrators, and parents. The Program will: Strengthen the social competency and facilitation skills of teachers and enable them to effectively implement the Open Circle Curriculum in their classroom. Provide students with structured, safe, and consistent environment in which they can develop their communication, self-control, and interpersonal problem-solving skills and enhance relationships with their peers and adults. Strengthen the social competency skills of school administrators and enable them to support the implementation of the core components of the Program, to model its basic principles in their relationships with students, faculty, staff, and parents and to work collaboratively with the entire school community to develop school-wide initiatives. Familiarize parents of participating children with the approaches, objectives and vocabulary of the Open Circle Curriculum and enable parents to effectively apply its principles to improve their parenting skills.

(taken from the Open Circle Curriculum Workbook Introduction)

Updated: August 30, 2005  

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