I want to begin this piece by acknowledging the privilege I have to be able to stay at home without needing to worry about food and money. We live frugally and grow much of our own food anyway and, although my own earnings have dried up, there are two of us and two can live as cheaply as one. In addition, we have a light, airy house with lots of space, and a large, beautiful garden. We live in the countryside in England — a country which is permitting daily exercise — and so we can walk, cycle, run and enjoy sports like kayaking and paddleboarding in the nearby river.
Furthermore, in this house live just my husband and I. We are not trying to balance work with child care and home education like so many people. Our daughters are both adults and have their own independent lives. One is a hospital doctor, but fortunately, as she is a paediatrician, she is not facing the frontline of Covid-19 care. The other works in an outdoor centre doing amazing work in nature with troubled young people who do not respond well to the strictures of conventional schooling. She was off work for a while, furloughed like so many others (furloughed staff in the
UK have 80% of their income paid for by the government), but is now back at work, as these very vulnerable children need what the centre can offer for their own mental health and well-being.
I think this personal context and acknowledgement of privilege is very important as millions of people all over the world are living in much, much more challenging circumstance.
I appreciate that so many people are facing financial hardship, lack of food, loss of jobs, fear of what the virus could mean for them, and heightened stress often leading to conflict and violence. And this awareness has been the motivation for some of the projects I have been involved in since our lockdown began.
I initiated a scheme in our village to forge links between willing healthy villagers and those who had to stay indoors because of their age or health concerns. These people are unable to do their own shopping, collect medication, drive to hospital for routine appointments etc. Inspired by projects I had heard of in other places I had hundreds of postcards printed that gave volunteers the chance to identify themselves with their contact details.
Using our village Facebook pages and Messenger I created a network of support whereby every single street in the village had at least one volunteer taking responsibility for the needs of any vulnerable people on that street.
In fact this scheme has now been taken over by a group of people with more technical skills than me. We have a central telephone number and e-mail and all requests for help are routed through this, logged and dealt with by those staffing the system. Similar schemes are running all over the country. I am proud to have got it started.
However finding myself now virtually redundant as far as this project was concerned, I then thought about what skills I have that could be of use. And so now I am developing on-line Listening Circles for isolated villagers, using Zoom, so that people can meet up once a week and simply feel heard and listen to others, and know they are not alone in what they are going through. The scheme is in its early stages. There is a small group of us — all professional listeners in one field or another — and we are feeling our way with the level of demand. We may offer circles for specific groups such as parents of children about the return to school, or health care workers and so on.
And that brings me to Zoom! This on-line platform was something I knew very little about on March 23rd when the lockdown began. I now spend several hours a day on this platform — either taking part in meetings hosted by someone else or hosting them myself. I love it!
I have learned how to use break-out rooms, share my screen, record footage to make into a film to share later and I am gradually developing the confidence to be able to run training courses on-line. So far I have only run two webinars but I can see that even skills-based training can be possible using breakout rooms.
One way I have been learning is by signing up to other people’s courses. I can see that there are various ways to offer on-line training — either ‘live’ using something like Zoom or in a more pre-packaged way using film and downloads like PDF materials. This is my next learning challenge — to make and edit my own films and design a training package to share.
Another way I have used Zoom is to facilitate an on-line restorative meeting. I was asked to do this by a colleague working in the field. I made it clear I had never done anything like this before and that I would be feeling my way. However both parties were very keen to ‘meet’ and move on from the issues that had occurred and so I agreed. In fact the first preparatory meeting with one party was done using Skype, but my confidence and experience with Zoom was developing by the day and so the second preparatory meeting and the face-to-face meeting were both done using Zoom. The feedback I received was very positive from both parties and I certainly learned a lot from the experience. I know there have been some concerns over security and confidentiality with Zoom but we had no problems. And I believe Zoom has now added other features which make this a much safer platform.
I have also participated in one of the on-line forums hosted by Ian Marder on behalf of Estonian colleagues which have been proving very useful. The reports of these are available to read here. On the first meeting I was the only person there who had had any experience of this (at that stage only two preparatory meetings — with the face-to-face meeting happening a few hours after the on-line forum!). Since then I believe there have been many more experiences .— we are all learning together and being very experimental. It is inspiring and exciting. More recently the UK charity Why Me?, on whose Board I sit as a trustee, has been running some on-line forums for restorative practitioners and there is a similar growth in creativity using on-line ways to support victims, offenders and their respective families.
We are all learning together and being very experimental. It is inspiring and exciting
I have also discovered a new platform called circl.es to which a colleague from Mallorca, Vicenç Rulan, introduced me. I recommend it to restorative practitioners and trainers. Once you log in you find yourself sitting in a circle with everyone else. You can sign up for a free demonstration and then you can get started. It does not have the Breakout Room feature that makes Zoom so useful but I believe the company, a young enthusiastic start-up, is working on this feature.
One very exciting venture I have been involved in for the last few weeks has involved a group of us meeting on-line using the circl.es platform.
We have come together and created an amazing resource for schools that are re-opening after lockdown.
Of course we follow Circle Process — we begin with a check-in and we end with a check-out. We do not use a Talking Piece but we use a series of buttons to indicate who wants to talk and there is a facility on the platform that allows the host to assign a speaking order. Our group has comprised senior leaders, a local government Restorative Practice co-ordinator and several trainers and consultants, all passionate about restorative practice.
We shared a concern that there was pressure on schools to return to ‘business as usual’ far too quickly and not take time to give everyone, staff, parents and students, the time to process what they had all been through and indeed are still going through.
We believed that in this time of crisis restorative practice is more important than ever before.
We believe that we can offer a way of thinking, and a set of skills, that are vital to help people talk and feel listened and supported, using Circles and Restorative Enquiry. We also know that at this time there will be some very challenging behaviours at times.
‘An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.’
Viktor Frankl (1962)
The restorative way of thinking about behaviour, and the awareness from nonviolent communication that all behaviour is motivated by our unmet needs, can really help adults respond positively to conflict and challenge. It is still possible to hold people to account, but with empathy, patience and compassion and with an eye to putting things right, rather than with harsh words and sanctions.
One of our group came up with the acronym RESTORE that stands for Recognition, Empathy, Safety, Trauma, Relationships and Engagement. We believe these are key elements to attend to on returning to school after such a long break. We divided up the task between us of writing a short piece about why each of these key topics was important right now and how a restorative approach could contribute to addressing the topic.
We were all so fired up with enthusiasm that we were often meeting on-line twice a week and e-mails have been, and still are, flying between us daily, if not hourly! Within a week or so of beginning one colleague had designed a website to host what we had created and within another week we had launched! We are adding new content every day it seems — methodology, blogs etc. — and we have had over twelve thousand hits from all over the world — and many thousands of downloads.
The feedback has been extremely positive. We have created something that schools realise they need.
We have the perfect opportunity to show how restorative practice, with its emphasis on relationships, connection, deep communication and healing, is exactly what schools need — now especially, but also for the future.
Here is our website. Please share this with anyone you know who either works in a school, has contacts with a school or who has school-aged children or grandchildren. If it is helpful, translate it and use it — all we ask is that you acknowledge the source.
My stories have mostly been about ways I have used the Internet to reach out to others, professionally and personally. However I want to end by sharing how I live my life off-line at this time because too much time on-line is not good for my own health and well-being. Too many Zoom conversations can ‘do my head in’ and there is evidence to suggest that the experience of on-line meetings creates cognitive dissonance in the brain and can indeed be very tiring.
I cannot claim to have created the perfect rhythm for each day — indeed no one day is the same. However there are certain constants through each week. On-line yoga with our teacher at 7 am three times a week — the first time that my husband and I do our practice together as we usually go to classes at different times. Maybe we will keep this shared practice up in the future — I hope so.
Another shared joy has been picking fresh vegetables from the garden and cooking good simple vegan food. We have been eating very well — often outside on our terrace as the weather has been so amazing. I have mentioned all the outdoor activities we are permitted to do and these punctuate each week, as do marvellous on-line opportunities to watch film, theatre, music and dance.
I began this piece by saying that I knew I was very privileged and I want to come back to this. I hope I am making the most of this time to reach out and help others using my restorative skills. However one thing I am also doing is learning to be restorative here at home, with my husband. It is a huge privilege to be able to spend so much time together and learn from each other what it means to share one’s life with another person. After forty years together there is so much more to learn.