Restoring Community

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 8.18.41 PM(left to right) IIRP Assistant Director for Communications Laura Mirsky, Director of Communications & Technology Ben Wachtel and Vice-President for Advancement Linda Kligman during a restorative circle team builder (photo by Assistant Director of Technology Steve Orrison)The IIRP teaches others to implement restorative practices, but we also, through a process of continual reflection, strive within our own organizational structure to operate restoratively on a number of levels.

I work in the Advancement, Communications and Technology department. Here we conduct our weekly check-in meetings using a series of circle questions, even as some of us, like me, phone in our participation in the circle by conference call. I also have regular monthly “supervision” meetings (again by phone) with my supervisor, Laura Mirsky, assistant director for communications. These meetings are an opportunity for me to reflect on my work, discuss challenges and get suggestions from Laura. In terms of the “social discipline window,” supervision is very much a “with” process, rather than a top-down “authoritarian” process.

We also have regularly planned team builders. I don’t know how this works in other places, but at the IIRP a different person agrees to plan and run the team builder each month. Sometimes the simplest activities prove the most fruitful.

This month, my brother, Ben Wachtel, director of communications and technology, ran the team builder as a series of circle questions among the six of us who participated. He chose to use this team builder as a way to discuss the upcoming World Conference. But rather than it being shaped as a planning or business meeting, the questions opened us up about our feelings, hopes and anxieties around the conference. So the circle gave us a glimpse into how each of us ticks, as well as giving us a chance to reflect on our own positions and points of view. The questions Ben posed were:

  • How would you describe your role at the upcoming IIRP World Conference?
  • What are you most looking forward to at the conference?
  • What are you afraid of or what challenges do you anticipate?
  • What opportunities to do you see to be taken advantage of?
  • What did you learn, realize or were surprised by during this circle (or any other comments)?

Speaking just for myself, I talked about my role to communicate various aspects of the conference through the eForum and social media. I said I looked forward to the variety of new perspectives I find at the conference and also connecting with people I’ve known for some time.

When it came to the question about “fears and challenges,” I talked about how I get a certain amount of anxiety before and during the conference (the flip side of the excitement I feel) about all the things that I fear I might miss out on or not learn about. There are usually six or seven breakout sessions at a time, and to do any of them justice, I find I have to pick just one and stick with it. I usually coordinate with Laura, so we can hit two of them. But inevitably there are things we’d love to go to that we can’t.

An interesting stream of discussion followed because others said they felt exactly the same way. We ended up talking about how we could help to look out for one another. We also said that after the conference, we ought to all debrief and share stuff about who we met, what talks we heard and other things we learned.

One of the things that’s nice about how our relationships have developed through working together, and through these team builders, is that we all have gotten comfortable enough with each other that we don't have to pretend to have everything worked out all the time. Instead, we’re able to appreciate and support one another. And that feels very restorative.