Solution circles – what are they?

In a previous blog post, we discussed the use of restorative practice in schools. Today’s blog post is going to discuss a quick and powerful tool used in a restorative practice context: solution circles. The Solution Circle is a joint problem-solving process developed by Forrest, Pearpoint and colleagues in 1996 and can be used in response to a variety of problems to begin the process of becoming UNSTUCK. Solution Circles are a great way for school staff to work collaboratively to share ideas, good practice, experience and – you guessed it – solutions! The good news? It only takes around half an hour.

Collaborative problem-solving approaches are considered to be more effective than individual problem-solving. It enables staff to pool resources and experience, increase their skills and understanding and find ways forward for working with students in their classes. As we know, schools are time-pressured places and potentially important conversations are often rushed, two-minute chats as paths cross in the corridor. By investing time into approaches like Solution Circles, staff can feel nurtured and supported in their role and opportunities for peer support can help to promote teacher well-being. The safe space to collaborate, support each other and share good practice to become unstuck is likely to have a positive impact on the children and staff.

Solution Circles involve around 5 to 9 people. Each person in the circle takes on a role:

  • Problem presenter (usually one person, however is you a share a problem, e.g. if you have a joint role, then you can present together)
  • Facilitator and time keeper
  • Recorder (notes or graphics)
  • Group member
  • Coach (selected at the end)

The process begins with the presenter outlining the problem for 6 uninterrupted minutes. After that, the young person’s views are presented by a member of the group. Once the problem has been outlined and the young person’s views have been listened to, the rest of the group can chime in with creative solutions and ideas about what they have heard whilst the presenter listens. Once the brainstorm of ideas has come to an end, the presenter and the group can begin a dialogue: this is the time to clarify and explain the problem. After this dialogue, the problem presenter and the group must decide on the first steps within the next three days, one of which should be initiated within 24 hours. Here, the coach is selected to check-in on the presenter to ensure the first steps have been implemented.

Solution circles are time-bound, so the role of the facilitator is important. For example, even if the presenter stops talking before the six minutes is up, it is vital that the group remains silent for the remaining time. In other contexts, we may feel we have to rush what we are saying, or maybe feel like we are not being listened to. In a solution circle, the time boundary ensures that the presenter has the time and space to add information without feeling pressured to ‘wrap it up’.

We have summarised this process in our free handout, and you can find out more about solution circles and other restorative circle practices in our training delivered by Dr Eleanor Thomlinson: Restorative Practice – Training for Schools (


Dr E. Tomlinson: Restorative Practice – The School Psychology Service (

Milton Keynes City Council: Solution Circles.


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