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Circle of Courage

The Circle of Courage

 Based in four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity the Circle of Courage guides the design of all learning experiences at Renaissance because we know children learn best when they feel safe, cared for, capable and that they matter. 

In their book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, Augustana professors Brendtro, Brokenleg, and VanBockern proposed a model of youth empowerment called the Circle of Courage. The model is based on contemporary developmental research, the heritage of early youth pioneers, and Native American philosophies of child care. The model encompasses four core values; Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.  Drumming is one way the Circle of Courage takes root in the culture of Renaissance.


“Belonging is so important that unless children have a genuine sense of it, their ability to engage in learning activities and pro-social behavior will be impaired. Resilience ... is significantly enhanced when we feel cared for, protected from threat, encouraged to take responsible risks during the learning process and recognized as equals within our social circle.” 



Ruth Benedict once said, ‘Ours is a culture that systematically deprives children of opportunities for showing responsibility and then complains about their irresponsibility’. 

“... it is about ensuring that [students] have opportunities to take some responsibility for what they learn, how they learn it and how they can demonstrate their growing competence.”

“Virtually any animal can be trained to be obedient through the systematic application of rewards and punishments. Only humans can develop self-discipline and character, becoming autonomous beings who make responsible decisions.”



Striving to do better is an inbuilt human trait. In Native American culture, competing with others (not against others) built a spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect. Mastery was not about being the best and building your ego. Children were taught to listen to and honor elders and other adults and peers who had skills or knowledge in a particular area. Someone who was ‘better’ in some area was seen not as an adversary but as a model and even a mentor. 

Each person strives for mastery for personal growth ... Humans have an innate drive to become competent and solve problems. With success in surmounting challenges, the desire to achieve is strengthened. 



“Generosity is closely linked with respect. Understanding that other people have the right to the same freedom and social resources as you is fundamental to respectful behaviour. Moreover, to help another person and make a contribution to their wellbeing not only demonstrates high respect, but enriches our own sense of self-worth and positive identity. When generosity occurs, the recipient feels nurtured and their feelings of belonging are enhanced.”

“In helping others, youth create their own proof of worthiness: they make a positive contribution to another human life.” 


The Beat

The Beat



The Beat is an all school gathering scattered throughout the school year on Wednesday mornings. Every Renaissance crew member, student, staff,  family member or member of the wider community is welcome to join in these community building celebrations.

The Beat provides opportunities beyond the classroom for learning and achievement. Students learn to translate classroom behavior expectations into audience behaviors, practice leadership and public speaking, and grow a vision of themselves as contributing members of a larger community.

Each crew develops and leads The Beat one or more times a year. Planning takes persistence, and a willingness to experiment, regroup, reflect and try again giving students valuable life skills in collaboration, courage, leadership and risk taking in a safe environment using challenge by choice. 


Gathering in circles is a part of everything we do at Renaissance
from Morning Meetings, to The Beat,
to staff faculty meetings.


Circle up is an oft repeated phrase heard throughout the day at Renaissance for a variety of purposes.

 Circles provide many benefits in the structure of the school day.


How well students can work together is an important part of the success of a school. Through the structured process used in Circles, students learn how to collaborate and work through differences in a productive way.


In the Circle, every voice is heard and respected. Participants use active listening to carefully attend to what each person has to say.


Every participant in the Circle is an equal; there is no voice more important than another.


Students in Circles listen to the perspectives of others and grow their capacity to be empathetic. Students feel safe to be vulnerable, and share aspects of their lives in a judgment free setting. 


Students begin each school day with a Morning Meeting

Renaissance Morning Meetings are an engaging way to start each day, build a strong sense of community, and set children up for success socially and academically. Each morning, students and teachers gather together in a circle for twenty to thirty minutes and interact with one another during four purposeful components:

  • Greeting: Students and teachers greet one other by name.

  • Sharing: Students share information about important events in their lives. Listeners often offer empathetic comments or ask clarifying questions.

  • Group Activity: Everyone participates in a brief, lively activity that fosters group cohesion and helps students practice social and academic skills (for example, reciting a poem, dancing, singing, or playing a game).

  • Morning Message: Students read and interact with a short message written by their teacher. The message is crafted to help students focus on the work they’ll do in school that day.


Each school day ends with a Closing Circle

The closing circle routine peacefully wraps up the day and sends students off feeling a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Like Morning Meeting, closing circle brings a sense of calm, safety, and community to students and teachers. The routine helps students practice reflecting on what’s meaningful to them about their schoolwork, their classmates, and themselves. After a five- to ten-minute closing circle, students leave school feeling excited about their accomplishments and looking forward to the next day’s possibilities.



Why Drums, Drumming and Drum Circles? 
Group drumming is both an ancient practice and an enduring one.

We are drawn to drums. They are like a magnet and few can pass a drum without touching it. But, more than that, people with little or no musical background can participate in drumming. One of the greatest benefits of community drumming is the ability to break down barriers between people and to dissolve social hierarchies. As a team work exercise, you can’t beat the universal language of making music together. Nothing builds community like team work. Participation in drum circles promotes relaxation, communication, and a sense of belonging to the community. In her 1994 think DRUMS article, Barbara J. Crowe, MT-BC pointed out that drum circle activities are based on several basic principles: 

  • Response to rhythm is basic to human functioning making percussion activities and techniques highly motivating to people of all ages and backgrounds. 

  • Pure percussion activities are interesting and enjoyable to all people regardless of ethnic and cultural background, musical preferences, or age range making these activities useful in creating groups that are fun and positive for a wide variety of people. 


  • Participation in active group percussion experiences has physical benefits including sustained physical activity, relaxation, and use of fine motor skills.


  • A strong sense of group identity and a feeling of belonging is created because participants are actively making music together and because the sustained repetition of the steady beat acts to bring people together physically, emotionally, and mentally (rhythmic entrainment). 


  • Percussion activities can be done with little or no previous musical background or training making these experiences accessible to virtually all people. 

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