What to Know to Get Started

This section provides an introduction of everything you need to know to get started, including an overview of the process, roles and responsibilities, and a breakdown of each Circle along with its objective.

Overview of the Process

First Circle

Seeing from the Inside Out

Participants: SEA

Meeting: 4-hour gathering

Agenda: SEA describes state efforts

Second Circle

Widening the Circle

Participants: SEA, LEA, TED

Meeting: Full-day gathering

Agenda: Expand and clarify the SEA's descriptions and determine priorities

Third Circle

Mapping a Path Forward

Participants: SEA, LEA, TED

Meeting: 4-hour gathering

Agenda: Map a 90-day path and future aspirations

The Circles

Engagement between Tribes and state education agencies (SEAs) is normally achieved through formal government-to-government consultation but can be enhanced through informal processes that provide opportunities for rich, reflective discussions that build relationships and add insight for decisionmaking.

First Circle

During the First Circle, the facilitator guides the SEA participants through a series of Reflection Questions to describe the SEA’s activities when it comes to Native students. For each Reflection Question, participants will determine where the SEA falls along the Continuum of Support. The results of the First Circle are then compiled and shared with the Second Circle participants.

Who Should be Included?

  • Director of the SEA’s Office of Native Education
  • Individuals involved in the SEA’s implementation of the SEA’s consolidated plan
  • State agency staff who collaborate regularly on Native education
  • SEA leaders and decisionmakers with knowledge and authority related to the six categories of support that Circles of Reflection is organized around, including:
    • Native Culture and Language
    • Tribal Consultation and Sovereignty
    • Effective Teachers and Leaders
    • College and Career Readiness and Access
    • Physical and Behavioral Health
    • Identification and Support of Promising Programs and Practices

The First Circle participants also join the Second and Third Circles.

Second Circle

In the Second Circle, the facilitator leads the group through a review of the First Circle results. The Tribal education department (TED) and local education agency (LEA) representatives are asked to first validate, add to, or clarify the SEA’s descriptions for each item to ensure a full view of Native education within the state. Next, the facilitator guides the group through a discussion of the First Circle’s perceptions of effectiveness and impact for each item. Then, the participants determine the priority level of each item as high, medium, or low. The results of the First and Second Circle are then combined into a document that will inform the Third Circle’s work to create action plans.

Who Should be Included?

  • 4 to 10 representatives from TEDs
  • 4 to 10 representatives from LEAs with significant populations of Native students
  • Participants from the First Circle

Numbers in this group may vary, depending on the number of Tribes located in a state or jurisdiction and the number of LEAs with large populations of Native students.

Third Circle

In the Third Circle, the participants identify areas to address and develop 90-day action plans that includes the priorities, strategies, and concrete outcomes. They also identify longer term goals for the state to pursue to improve policies, programs, and practices that afford equitable access and education excellence for Native students.

Who Should be Included?

  • Participants from the First Circle
  • Select members of the Second Circle (LEAs and TEDs) whose knowledge will be critical to the planning process

Roles and Responsibilities

Each Circle of Reflection is coordinated by a designated state lead within the SEA and facilitated by an external facilitator to help guide participants through the process.

Below are the state lead and facilitator responsibilities.

State Lead

The state lead (the Office of Indian Education director, if one exists, or the person with the greatest responsibility for Native education in the SEA) serves as the facilitator’s primary SEA contact for the Circle of Reflection process. The state lead’s responsibilities include:

  • Scheduling the gatherings
  • Inviting participants and securing their commitment to attend
  • Distributing materials to the participants
  • Providing a notetaker to record the work of each Circle in the templates provided


The Circles are guided by a skilled facilitator with deep knowledge about Tribes and the work of SEAs. The facilitator supports the state lead and helps the SEA meet the objectives for each Circle. The facilitator’s responsibilities include:

  • Orienting the state lead and each Circle to the self-reflection process
  • Creating an open environment for effective discussions
  • Guiding each Circle through its agenda and discussion
  • Leading participants toward conclusions that the notetaker can record

The facilitator will initiate the preplanning process with the state lead up to six weeks prior to the First Circle. In addition to personalizing the content for Circles of Reflection, the facilitator and state lead will need to set the meeting logistics, invite the participants, and assign a notetaker. For a full and detailed to-do list with the timeline, see the Facilitation Guide for each Circle.

Timing for Each Circle

The Circle of Reflection gatherings require a minimum of 14 hours. This does not include the preparation, prework, and follow-up performed by the state lead and facilitator.

  • The First Circle requires 3–4 hours.
  • The The Second Circle requires 6–8 hours.
  • The Third Circle requires 3–4 hours.

Follow-up After the Circles of Reflection Process

The facilitator conducts a follow-up meeting with the state lead to discuss next steps for the implementation of the 90-day action plans and future engagement of Tribal and LEA representatives for consultation and support. The facilitator and state lead should develop a plan and schedule for convening additional follow-up meetings with those from the SEA, LEAs, and TEDs involved in implementing the 90-day action plans to provide updates, problem-solve, and adjust steps as needed.

The Work Continues!

The SEA’s work to implement the action plan and advocate for the longer term goals continues well beyond the Third Circle. The Circles process will include further consultations with Tribes and convenings with TED and LEA representatives to ensure the 90-day action plan is being implemented. The Regional Comprehensive Centers (RCC) will also be available for support throughout the process and beyond.

The Foundation

The core components of the Circles are the categories, the Reflection Questions, and the Continuum of Support. Each Circle is shaped by these three components, which shine a light on what currently exists and what needs to exist, so participants can fill the gaps with the 90-day plans and longer term goals.

The Continuum of Support

The Continuum of Support is an important measurement tool that SEA participants use during the First Circle to evaluate the SEA’s level of effort and impact related to the items in each of the six categories. The SEA's selections along the Continuum will inform discussions in the Second Circle and be used for decisionmaking and planning for the 90-day action plans developed during the Third Circle.

Continuum of Support Definitions
Continuum of Support Definition
Strong The description of SEA activities in this area, including examples provided, shows the SEA’s effort is strategic, significant, sustained, and consistently effective and impactful.
Present The description of SEA activities in this area, including examples provided, shows the SEA’s effort is regular, meaningful, and at least modestly effective and impactful.
Emerging The description of SEA activities in this area, including examples provided, shows the SEA’s effort and impact are small, inconsistent, or misaligned, but may contain elements of promise.
Not Present The SEA has not taken action in this area through policy, program, or practice in any way that can be meaningfully described.

Keep in Mind

When we use the terms effective and impactful, we mean...

The SEA’s effort (e.g., policy, program, practice, initiative) can achieve its intended results.
The SEA’s effort results in significant benefit to Native students.

The Six Categories

The Reflection Questions are organized into the following categories and will be used throughout the Circles process. Although the six categories were chosen by Indigenous education leaders and represent some of the most important topics influencing Native education today, they are flexible and can be modified to represent the unique needs of the state.

  • Native students’ connectedness to their schools can be fueled by:

    • Integrating Native culture and language
    • Receiving rigorous, standards-aligned instructional resources linked to culture-based curricula
    • Learning from teachers who’ve had professional learning opportunities geared toward Native students’ needs and well-being
  • Tribes, as sovereign nations, exercise autonomy over education. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that SEAs and LEAs consult with Tribes about the education of Native students in matters related to:

    • Fiscal planning
    • Budgeting
    • Education resources
    • Culturally relevant program evaluations to measure effectiveness
  • SEAs and LEAs should ensure Native students have qualified teachers by:

    • Addressing gaps in the pipeline through recruitment and retention strategies
    • Providing professional learning opportunities
    • Expanding the number of Native teachers in schools
    • Creating opportunities for Native students who are interested in the teacher track
  • Native students are given access and opportunities for developing their knowledge and understanding of education and career choice possibilities after high school. SEAs can contribute to this by:

    • Showing pathways to different fields and careers
    • Providing programs to develop students’ academic and personal competencies
    • Shepherding the transition from K–12 to college
  • SEAs can assist and encourage LEAs to implement appropriate policies, practices, and programs that attend to students’ physical and social-emotional well-being, such as:

    • Instruction and support for all students
    • Targeted interventions to help students suffering from the effects of trauma
    • School-based services that promote mental wellness
    • Culturally appropriate strategies for improving physical and behavioral health
  • SEAs can speed the expansion of successful programs and practices for Native students. SEAs can:

    • Access student achievement data, identify top-performing schools, and determine reasons for their success
    • Engage in cross-agency work to influence the design and evaluation of programs
    • Identify innovative local programs that show promise and support their development
    • Disseminate information about different programs

The 90-Day Action Plans and Longer Term Goals

The culmination of the Circles are the 90-day action plans and the longer term goals. Influenced by the priority levels set in the Second Circle, the short- and long-term goals are the result of commitment and collaboration between the SEA, TED, and LEA representatives and should be measurable, achievable, and have a positive impact on Native students. With sustained partnerships, these goals can pave the way for establishing policies at all levels.

Up Next:
First Circle of Reflection

Continue to the next section to explore the First Circle of Reflection.