Open Circle

What if every child felt safe, cared for and engaged in learning at school?

Photo of Nova S Biro
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

In 1987 Open Circle founder Pamela Seigle was working as an elementary school psychologist when a colleague asked for help with a particularly challenging second grade class. Pamela began exploring ways to help young children develop critical communication, self-control, and problem solving skills and help educators develop caring classroom environments. Open Circle grew from the seeds of this exploration.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Massachusetts

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

More than 100 cities and towns across seven states: Massachusetts, Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Emotions drive attention and attention drives learning. Learning to understand and manage emotions, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and solve problems that arise with peers -- these skills are all essential to children’s success in school and in life.

Open Circle is a universal, evidence-based social and emotional learning program for Kindergarten through Grade 5 with two goals:

  1. to proactively develop children’s skills for recognizing and managing emotions, empathy, positive relationships and problem solving; and
  2. to help schools develop a community where students feel safe, cared for and engaged in learning.

Research demonstrates that Open Circle improves students’ social skills and reduces problem behaviors. Open Circle is foundational to bullying prevention, integral to the 21st century learning standards, and enhances learning across all academic disciplines.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Classroom teachers implement the grade-differentiated Open Circle Curriculum during 15-minute classroom twice per week. Students form a circle of chairs, including an empty seat to symbolize that there is always room for another person, voice or opinion. Open Circle's whole-school approach includes training for all adults in the school community – teachers, administrators, counselors, support staff and families – to learn how to model and reinforce prosocial skills throughout the school day and at home.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Open Circle delivered social and emotional learning training to over 900 educators last year at 150 schools in eight states. Through our strategic growth plan leveraging a train-the-trainer model and online training and coaching, we aim to increase our reach to 1,500 new educators annually in the next three years. Since 1987, Open Circle has reached two million children and 15,000 educators. Open Circle is currently used in over 300 schools across the United States. Demonstrated outcomes include: increasing students’ ability to listen, show empathy, calm down, cooperate, speak up & solve problems; reducing students’ peer exclusion, teasing, bullying & fighting; improving educators’ classroom management, dialogue facilitation & ability to address students’ social and emotional needs; and strengthening educators’ own social and emotional skills.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Open Circle is predominantly funded through income from professional services and materials sold to schools and districts. We supplement this with grant funding to invest in program research and development to advance our strategic growth plan.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Open Circle's approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) is unique because it enables schools to BOTH teach SEL skills and develop safe, caring and highly-engaging learning communities. Our whole-school approach to professional development, including training for all school staff as well as family and related community members, is also unique. Open Circle also integrates learning of diversity and equity, mindfulness, and literature connections to SEL.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

The field of social and emotional learning (SEL) is more than 30 years old, yet the vision of a world where every student feel safe, cared for and engaged in school with the opportunity to develop socially, emotionally and academically has remained elusive. However, recent advances in SEL research, programming, and advocacy are now accelerating the path towards making this vision a reality.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 25%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 50%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 25%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 25%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 25%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 25%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 25%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 50%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 25%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 25%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 50%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 25%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 100%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 50%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 50%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Maud Schaafsma

The strength of this SEL program for classrooms seems to be its school-wide reach. Teachers and principals' testimonials on the Open Circle web site are impressive.  So I do not doubt that Open Circle achieves significant impacts in schools - but this application does not clearly us what the impacts are or mechanisms for creating change in students' behavior. In your opening description of the problem - we don't learn what Pamela Seigle did to develop children's create critical communication, self-control, and problem solving skills and what educators did to develop caring classroom environments. Turnaround for Children is a similar full-school model (in NYC and Newark schools) - but TFC explicitly teachers and staff the impacts of poverty and trauma on brain development and the importance of caring and patient strategies for discipline. Here we don't know what the mechanisms of change are.  Other SEL interventions - MindUP, Roots of Empathy, PATHS, Good Behavior Game - achieve similar outcomes. The strength here seems to be in its school-wide reach and the practice of honest and open communication in every classroom.

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