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What Is the Circle of Courage?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2016
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The Circle of Courage is a model for behavior, education, and childcare based on four core principles of belonging, generosity, independence, and mastery. It is believed that if these four core ideals are present, children will be better able to learn and develop skills for treating other people with kindness and respect. This theory of education was developed by Dr. Steve Van Bockern, Dr. Martin Brokenleg, and Dr. Larry Brendtro, and is largely based on Native American philosophies for raising happy, well adjusted children. Today, the Circle of Courage model is used in many classroom settings as well, particularly to work with and empower troubled or at-risk youth.

In the graphical imagining of the Circle of Courage, it is drawn as a simple circle divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant represents one of the core qualities mentioned above; belonging, generosity, independence, and mastery. The circle represents the fact that all people are interconnected, and that it is necessary for individual people as well as communities to possess all of these four qualities, not just one or the other. When groups of people are able to foster these qualities in individuals, they are much more likely to be successful and to continue attempting to master additional positive life skills.

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There are various theories given for why these four aspects of the Circle of Courage are the most important for success. People who feel a sense of belonging are said to be more likely to feel safe and secure, and to gain the ability to cultivate positive relationships with other people. They are less likely to be angry or aggressive. The next quality, generosity, helps children to feel good about themselves, and recognize the importance of helping others; it also helps to develop positive, supportive relationships.

Mastery of skills and tasks helps to create a feeling of competence and higher self-esteem, and also encourages children to continue learning and mastering new skills. The spirit of competition is not fostered, but rather helping others and mastering skills for an individual's personal benefit. Independence, then, encourages individuals to take responsibility for their actions and show respect for other people. They are also secure in themselves and their beliefs, and less likely to strike out at other people if they feel challenged or threatened in any way. For these reasons, and others, working to cultivate these qualities found in the Circle of Courage in students of any age is an excellent way to improve their entire lives, not just their lives as students.

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