Open Circle

Did you know that many elementary school students are learning to do something our Congress has yet to learn – reduce bullying by building relational trust? And, not surprisingly, the program was developed by women. It is a program with communication lessons that can greatly improve organizational and business success.

And I’m hooked.

Open Circle. The elementary school program is called Open Circle and it was developed in 1987 by the Wellesley Centers for Women. It is a curriculum that teaches children from Kindergarten through Grade 5 how to build “relational trust.” And in schools that have adopted the program, there is less bullying and learning is up.

I was introduced to a few of its concepts by a friend of mine, who is a fifth grade teacher. She has been teaching her students these concepts for a few years and introduced them to me while we were working together in a local non-profit organization.

Although there is a different level of curriculum for each grade, each level teaches the children life-long lessons. The fifth grade curriculum teaches children how to create a cooperative classroom community, build positive relationships, and solve people problems. Lessons all adults need to learn, now.

While the program is having a positive impact on children, it is also having an impact on the teachers who teach them and the parents who raise them. There have been over 13,000 educators trained. So, in schools where the administrators and teachers embrace the Open Circle concepts, their trusting relationships provide a good example for the students. Students also take home one-page hand-outs for parents that are easy to read – so some adults at home might be learning too.


Trust-Building is at the Core. At the core of Open Circle is trust building. If you are one of my loyal readers (thank you!) you will know that I have written about how trust or integrity is a recurring theme in leadership, team building, and employee development. Meredith Shaw, an Open Circle staff member, wrote an article called Trusting Adult Communities Improve Student Achievement in which she wrote, “Trust-building happens when people in the relationship meet or exceed the expectations of others and prove themselves.” Once again, personal responsibility and integrity mean everything.

Shaw went on to describe the four components of relational trust developed by Bryk and Schneider. This is how you can tell if your organization has relational trust:

  1. Respect – People remain respectful during all conversations including those where they disagree.
  2. Personal regard – People show a genuine level of caring for others and often go above and beyond their job description to help out.
  3. Competence in core responsibilities – People can be relied on to have the knowledge and practice the skills required of their positions. They have a desire to learn more.
  4. Personal integrity – People can be trusted to do what they say they will do and put the common interests of the group ahead of their own.

These are great lessons for all of us. Given over two million children have learned these lessons, do you think Congress is smarter than a 5th grader?