Rows and Circles

“In times like these, circles are way better than rows.”  -Andy Stanley

Rows convey a feeling of forward momentum.  They create a sense of structure, of neatness, and of efficiency.  Rows conjure up thoughts of desks in a classroom or conveyor belts in a factory.  Rows create a sense of efficiency and order for society.  We line up in rows to purchase goods, to attend events, even to drive our cars.  Rows are neat and efficient.  They keep us moving forward.  They keep everything in order.  Rows provide control.

Whereas, circles serve as the antithesis of rows.  They lack both a beginning and an end.  They are not about moving us to the next point.  If we chose to continuously move in circles we would never gain any ground.  Circles do not convey a sense of control or efficiency.  Very much the opposite.  We often have to circle or spiral back around if we don’t get something the first time around.  And yet, circles serve as the wheels and hubs that drive us forward.

It is this visual of rows and circles that my imagination conjures up as I consider our current educational system…one serving as a representation of the past and the other as our future.

For so long we have identified education with rows.  We sit in rows.  We line up in rows.  We dismiss by rows.  We turn in our assignments by rows.  Rows are synonymous with education.  Row allow us to be neat, orderly and efficient.  They provide the system and those who work within it a sense of control and order.  Rows identify our past.

Circles provide us with a vision of the future.  Of our next steps.  The circle represents a shift…a shift towards interaction, communication, and collaboration.  A circle turns us towards each other, towards communication and collaboration, in a way rows can’t.  The circle is less about efficiency and forward movement, than it is about patience, depth, and reinforcement.  It represents the journey of the lifelong learner.  The circle is inclusive.  It represents the future.

To move from rows to circles is not a natural progression.  It requires a bridge…a bridge of support and understanding to cross the divide between the two.  It will require deep changes and the process will be difficult…especially since any change effort is identified with loss.  A process that will require loss of control and efficiency in exchange for interaction, communication and collaboration.  A necessary shift if we are to move from the past, as of conveyors of knowledge…to the future, as facilitators of learning.


4 thoughts on “Rows and Circles

  1. Pingback: Rows and Circles | … Not the Principal's Office!!!

  2. David,
    What a simply powerful metaphor of educational philosophy! The circle is an amazing shape in so many ways. Another point I might add focusing in on students is that rows represent a ranked order, and front/back, first/last, closer/farther, seeing everyone else/in everyone else’s view, whereas the circle provides, by its organizational nature, equality, all seen equally, all with opportunity to be heard equally, etc. Focusing on collaboration between parents, tax payers, administrators, teachers, the circle represents the same possibilities.

    I love the power of metaphor to envision the possible while helping to explain the actual.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

  3. This is reminiscent of Hulley and Dier’s assertion (in the book Getting Better or Getting By) that change is messy and nonlinear. Transformation in schools involves a recognition that at times it will be uncomfortable and will involve recongition of our successes, as well as learning from missteps. A thoughtful post David – thanks for sharing!

  4. David,

    I love the way you dissect the true meaning of rows in your post – “Rows provide control!” This made me think back to a series of posts I wrote last year which followed a grade 2 class as they rejected their teacher-imposed groups in favour of rows, and eventually nothing at all (, and then some rows again.

    Reflecting back on this I wonder why students would choose rows over other structures when they were granted permission to design their space as they wished? Did they find comfort in this organizaiton? Did they feel this was how they were supposed to arrange themselves? or, Was this a classroom organization that had been modelled for them on television?

    Either way, it was a fun time in one classroom and I thank you for your thoughtful insights above causing me futher reflection.

    The circle is endless, and when in the circle all are equal. I like circles!


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