Making room for restorative practice and restoring ourselves during the pandemic
Wherever your organisation is on its restorative journey, it has never been more important to mind our colleagues and ourselves than at this time. I would like to share three ways that the Limerick Restorative Practices Project (LRPP) has used restorative practices with three different organisations locally. LRPP straddles both restorative practices and restorative justice, working with schools, youth clubs, the Probation Service, Gardaí and any other organisation that helps the lives of young people (in particular) or the wider community. It does this through training, mentoring, and special interest and promotional events. During COVID-19, however, we have had to get a little bit creative, as you will soon see.
Has it ever been more important to restore ourselves, physically, mentally and emotionally? Organisations and their staff are being pushed beyond their limits, while at the same time our traditional coping strategies are taken away from us. No face-to-face team meetings, no casual encounters in the corridor or at the proverbial water cooler, no team days, no socialising, and so on. Everyone is affected. Probation officers and Gardaí are doing roles they do not normally do, in ways they are not used to. Juvenile Liaison Officers are redeployed. Probation Officers are making phone calls to clients in between school runs. Managers are running meetings from home, with a child on both knees. And things are changing every day as we respond to the unpredictable nature of this pandemic.
Is it a luxury to think about reconnecting and restoring each other and ourselves in the middle of the crisis? Can we wait until this is all over to get back to team building and team “minding”? Will everyone be as productive as they can be in the meantime? No, no and no, I say. This renewal and restoring work is crucial, and it is inadvisable and damaging to ignore it. This is not to criticise anybody doing their best, but most people who work with restorative justice and practices, or in any human service, would benefit from greater connection with each other than we have access to right now. That goes for middle and senior managers, as much as it does for frontline workers. What can we do about this, however, when we are required to be physically distant?
“What about Zoom?” you suggest. You have probably experienced its benefits yourself already and, for that reason, I can leave it to others to promote its use (if needed). Zoom has become so normalised, it will be strange when that all-important return to face-to-face meetings occurs. I am not one for making “Zoom vs face-to-face” comparisons. I think it is more helpful to look at the “Zoom vs nothing” comparison, in which case I will take Zoom every time, thank you very much. I would like instead to highlight three recent, and slightly unusual, restorative activities, beyond simple Zoom meetings, in the hope that these may inspire others to look more broadly at how they can support each other.
WhatsApp circle groups
How do a dozen colleagues working in separate locations share a circle experience without seeing each other? Enter WhatsApp and a clever website that allows you to generate a check-in question each day at the swipe of a finger: the Daresay Check-in Generator. Ask a different question each day and allow people to post when they get a chance. What is your favourite piece of advice, food, or coping strategy for COVID fatigue? Can you post a picture of your favourite place? One of my personal favourites was the Twelve Questions of Christmas circle, in which everyone took a turn to post a Christmas-related question in the lead-up to Christmas. It is simple, accessible and has brought connection and fun to colleagues who otherwise might not have had them (at least, not to the same extent). Our need for a sense of community and belonging and to be seen is as strong as ever, so any way to foster these is welcome. Many in this group of colleagues regularly express their enjoyment of, and appreciation for, this circle and the connection it brings. As on participant noted: “I didn’t realise how much the circle was helping my mental health”.
Working with “technophobes”
You have all heard of Zoom, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Webex. Well, meet the team that took it upon themselves to avoid all that “fancy” tech stuff and, instead, organised monthly conference calls. And, by conference calls, I mean the actual telephone: eight people from a team phoning in remotely from eight different locations and having a circle. We did what you would normally do in a circle: check-in, say how we are feeling, share what is and is not working for us in our work, and, importantly, have some fun too, sharing our favourite jokes and hosting mini-quizzes. Again, this group keeps stressing the importance of the fun and the connection this brings. Fun is often the first need that we can neglect. As this group are soon moving from teleconferences to Microsoft Teams, some (including me) worry that connections will not be as strong. One participant said: “(the phone) sometimes allows folks more freedom to engage and be open and honest when eye contact and body language are not involved. We are all so much more self-conscious when staring at each other at a screen that we can be inhibited”. Who would have thought that, eh?
This is a Narrative4 technique, but it turns out that Narrative4 story exchange and restorative practice are twins separated at birth. They share the same values and the same DNA: empathy, relationships, stories and circles. The idea is to share with a partner a small story from your life, and vice-versa. After you come back to the whole-group circle, you tell each other’s stories using the words “I am…” and “I did…”, and vice-versa. It is a powerful experience to hear your story from someone else. Again, people enjoyed the connection this brought, the fun (there’s that word again) and learning something new about colleagues. Do not forget that your team will be smarter, more productive and less stressed when they are in a positive mood.
Yes, it is a difficult time for us all. Yes, we are all still showing up, continuing work and making the best of things. But, are we recharging and restoring ourselves enough as we go? Are our energy reserves depleted? Will the pressures we are under defeat us? Restorative work, or any work for that matter, has never been more challenging than it is now. If you are in a position of leadership, are you providing options for your team to do this restoration collectively? We need to be restorative with each other and ourselves first, before we can be so with our clients. That means coupling our high expectations of each other with high support. We need this support – in the true sense of the word ‘need’ – now more than ever. I invite you to try one of these options or to develop and share your own alternatives. You will know what works best for you and your team.
If you would like to learn more about the work of the Limerick Restorative Project, you can check out our website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or see our profile on the Restorative Justice: Strategies for Change service map.