Ongoing since 1987

Director: Kamilah Drummond-Forrester

Open Circle provides evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum and professional development for elementary schools. This innovative program proactively develops children’s skills for recognizing and managing emotions, empathy, positive relationships and problem solving. Open Circle helps schools build communities where students feel safe, cared for and engaged in learning.

In 1987 Pamela Seigle founded Open Circle at the Stone Center at Wellesley College with support from Grace and Robert Stone, supporters committed to the emotional wellbeing of children. Originally named the “Framingham Schools Project” and then “Reach Out to Schools”, Open Circle was one of the first programs to define the field of social and emotional learning (SEL) and it remains an innovative program dedicated to providing high-quality SEL curriculum and engaging SEL professional development.

More than 300 schools across the United States are currently using Open Circle. To date, it has reached over two million children and 15,000 educators.


Open Circle's mission is to advance children’s wellbeing and learning by partnering with school communities to foster social and emotional development and caring learning environments.


Open Circle’s SEL programming for Kindergarten through grade 5 has 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.


Classroom teachers implement the grade-differentiated Open Circle Curriculum during 15-minute Open Circle Meetings 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. These Open Circle Meetings are also a familiar and safe setting for children to discuss important issues in their classroom, school, local community and the broader world. Curriculum lessons explicitly teach social and emotional skills and are highly interactive, incorporating large and small group discussions, role playing, community building activities and children’s literature.

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. This highly interactive and experiential professional development combines theory, research and the practical experience of educators. Letters sent home by teachers introduce families to key Open Circle vocabulary and practices and schools further engage families with parent and caregiver workshops.

Schools sustain and improve Open Circle practice over time by developing in-district/in-school trainers and peer coaches, and establishing SEL leadership teams that provide mentorship, outcome measurement and action planning.

This SEL programming reinforces and enhances learning across all academic disciplines, is foundational to bullying prevention and intervention, and is integral to nationally recognized learning standards for success in a globally competitive workforce.

Nationally Recognized

Open Circle is included on several national lists for its proven effectiveness:

  • 2013 CASEL Guide to Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs
  • U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP)
  • Model Program for the National Dropout Prevention Center
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Model Programs Guide
  • U.S. Department of Education’s Guidebook for Exemplary and Promising Safe, Disciplined and Drug-Free Schools Programs
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize for Activating Empathy Competition

Learn more about Open Circle in this overview video or by visiting their website.