An educational philosophy
based on Native American
Circle of Courage Benefits
• Creates a shared purpose
• Is a philosophical framework
that can guide decisions and the
development of policies
• Provides a common language
• Developmental assets are
focused on
• Creates a positive learning
community where students can
develop successfully
Generosity- the need
to know our own virtue
Independence –
the need to be
Universal Needs
Mastery – the need to
feel competent
Belonging –
the need to
be significant
The Feeling/ Learning Connection
Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence
Our feelings determine our capacity to learn.
Feelings-> Focus -> Memory -> Learning
Students won’t remember or internalize curriculum if they are
emotional. Without access to our memory, we cannot learn.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) : 70% of our well being
An emotional intelligent person:
- is aware of their own emotions and manages them
- is aware of others emotions and manages them
- loves, works and plays well
In Reclaiming Youth at Risk, Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern (1990) use the
symbolism of the medicine wheel to describe "The Circle of Courage". This circle
entwines central tenets of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity; all
components being equally important.
“Anthropologists have long known that Native Americans
reared courageous, respectful children without using
aversive control.”
Independence- Native teaching was
designed to build respect and teach
inner discipline. Children were
encouraged to make decisions, solve
problems, and show personal
responsibility. Adults modeled,
nurtured, taught values, and gave
Generosity- The central goal in
Native American child-rearing is to
the teach the importance of being
generous and unselfish. In helping
others, youth create their own proof
of worthiness: they have the power
to make a positive contribution to
another human life.
Mastery- The first lesson in traditional
Native American culture was that one
should always observe those with
more experience to learn from them.
The child was taught to see someone
with more skill as a model for learning,
not as a rival. Humans have an innate
drive to master their environments.
When success is met, the desire to
achieve is strengthened.
Belonging- Native American
anthropologist Deloria described the
core value of belonging in her culture
in these simple words: "Be related,
somehow, to everyone you know."
Treating others as kin forged powerful
social bonds of community that drew
all into relationships of respect.
Education philosophy is incorporating a
Native American belief system as an
approach to fostering a positive
environment to promote self-esteem,
motivation, and good citizenship.
Spirit of Belonging
Abraham Maslow's theory of human needs
says that a sense of belonging must be
attained before self-esteem and self-actualization
can be realized. As a student is drawn into the circle
in the Spirit of Belonging, a relationship is
established which is based upon mutual trust and
respect. The ultimate display of belonging
is behaviour. A student really belongs when they act
like they belong!
“Bird Family” Norval Morrisseau
-know student’s name
-greet each student daily
-treat each student in a respectful manner
-celebrate differences
-pair up new students with supportive peers
-students help create classroom environment
Spirit of Mastery
With the Native American approach to mastery,
adults recognize that all students
can learn and each student must be given the
opportunity to demonstrate competence in some
area. Without opportunities for success, students
will tend to express their frustration and lack of
self-worth through inappropriate behaviours.
Learning that is somehow connected to the
everyday life of the student and the opportunity for
student collaboration provide very powerful intrinsic
motivators. In the Spirit of Mastery, when success
is met, the desire to achieve is strengthened.
“Dancing” Leland Bell
-goal setting and reflecting
-sharing talents
-focusing on strengths
-learning contracts, providing choice
Spirit of Independence
In contrast to obedience models of discipline,
Native teaching is designed to build respect and
teach inner discipline. Learning then becomes the
responsibility of the student. Student empowerment
is required to foster the belief that a student is in
control of the learning process. This sense of
autonomy is a powerful intrinsic motivator. Students
first need to be dependent, learning to respect and
value the wisdom of "elders". Modeling provides a
basic framework which can be adjusted by each
student to adapt to his/her particular learning style
and multiple intelligences.
“My People’s Freedom” Johnny Marceland
-classroom jobs
-encourage students to make positive choices
-provide leadership opportunities
-self responsibility, learning contracts
-problem solving model
Spirit of Generosity
“Caring for One Another” Leland Bell
The highest virtues in Native culture are generosity
and unselfishness. Self-esteem and self-worth are
greatly increased by learning to help others. There is
a responsibility to consider the welfare of everyone
in the community. In a classroom, peer tutoring and
cooperative learning groups allow students to share
their talents with others. There is a feeling of pride
and joy that is experienced by helping others.
Without opportunities to share their talents,
students cannot become caring, responsible adults.
The help given must be genuine and not equated
with personal gain. Students should be encouraged
to get involved in the school community through a
variety of service projects.
-provide opportunities of service
-random acts of kindness
-peer mentoring and tutoring
-circle meetings, positive reinforcement
• A happy and well-adjusted student has a healthy balance in
the four values of the Circle of Courage.
• The unhappy student has an imbalance in one or more of
the four values which is observed as inappropriate
• Proactively, the teacher, students, parents and staff can
foster the Circle of Courage within the parameters of the
classroom and school.
• Helping a student to identify and balance his/her values is
attainable with positive support from the teacher, students,
staff, and parents.
Imbalance in the Spirit of Belonging
•Rejected youth struggle to find distorted
belongings; others are reluctant to form human
•The antidote—unmet needs can be addressed
by corrective relationships of trust and caring.
“Bird Family” Norval Morrisseau
Imbalance in Independence
•Fighting against feelings of powerlessness,
some youth assert themselves in rebellious
and aggressive ways or become the pawns of
“My People’s Freedom” Johnny Marceland
•The solution—provide opportunities to
develop confidence, self-discipline and
positive leadership skills.
Imbalance in Mastery
•Children may seek to prove their competence in
distorted ways or retreat from difficult challenges
by giving up. They may become overachievers
and cheat to gain what they want.
•The remedy—involvement in a non-competitive
environment with abundant opportunities for
meaningful achievement and modeling.
“Dancing” Leland Bell
Imbalance in Generosity
•Without opportunities to give to others,
some become involved in pseudo-altruistic
helping or are locked in servitude to
•The antidote—experience the joy of
helping others.
“Caring for One Another” Leland Bell
Grade 3 Students
Grade 6
Kindling the Spirit
• is a moment of crisis and/or chaos
• is a journey, not a destination
• is needing to know yourself
• does not mean you are wrong to feel
uncomfortable with it
• might make you feel defensive
• requires that you use the power of language to
help, not harm
• requires you to honor where the individual is at
• can be a celebration of a new beginning
• needs support to overcome obstacles
• requires leaders to encourage continued
To Motivate Staff
1. Prepare the soil
-establish meaningful relationships
-show trust
-treat students with dignity and respect, not power and superiority
-be a problem-solver, not a disciplinarian
-have an open-door policy
-have a purpose
-have fun
2. Plant the seed
-know your staff, identify the leaders to carry the message and pull the team
-have access to resources
-form a team to present information to staff
-have the most outspoken critic on the team
3. Support the Growth
-have uncomfortable or new staff members meet and plan with a confident staff member
-know where support is within your school system or community
-allow time for staff to meet and plan
-be an inclusion facilitator by “glancing at problems and gazing at strengths” J.C.
4. Remember belonging is a shared responsibility
“The circle is a sacred symbol of life… individual parts within the circle
connect to each other part and what happens to one, or what one part
does, affects all within the circle.” Virgina Driving Hawk Sneve
“Calling of Spirits” Tom Greene

Circle of Courage - Calgary Arts Academy