The Circle of Courage

Circle of Courage

The Circle of Courage, is a model of youth empowerment supported by contemporary research, the heritage of early youth work pioneers and the wisdom of Indigenous culture in caring for our children. The model is encompassed in Four Core values: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. The central theme of this model is that a set of shared values must exist in any community to create environments that ultimately benefit children and adults alike.

The Circle of Courage philosophy was developed by Dr. Larry Brendtro, Dr. Martin Brokenleg, and Dr. Steve Van Bockern, of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they published Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future. The authors suggested that children who are often referred to as “alienated”, “troubled” or “difficult” are at risk because they live in an environment that is hazardous - one that breeds discouragement. By contrast, an environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle, even courage, by providing the four core values is one that fosters change to meet the needs of the young person and society; and can 'reclaim our youth' who are at risk.

The model is represented by a Circle - the medicine wheel - that is divided into quadrants. The Circle is sacred and suggests the interconnectedness of life. Likewise, it expresses the sacredness of the number four - the four directions, the four elements of the universe, and the four races of humankind. Each quadrant of the CIRCLE OF COURAGE stands for a central value - belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. It represents the “cultural birthright for all the world’s children.”

The Circle of Courage is a philosophy that integrates the best of Western educational thought with the wisdom of Indigenous cultures, and emerging research on positive youth development. Research is demonstrating that the Circle of Courage philosophy is not just some wishful thinking, or a throw-back to a simpler time. It is demonstrating that to have a fulfilled and meaningful life, children, adults and staff as well!...need to have a sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity in their lives. While the four dimensions of the Circle of Courage can be described individually, they must also be viewed as one in an organization that serves children who are at risk.

For more information please refer to the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future.  It offers insight into the four values of: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.