online callImage by Phil Wolff at Flickr Creative CommonsAs many of us gather virtually during this time of COVID-19, we feel a need to talk about what is happening and how we’re being affected.

The impact has to do with those who become sick, obviously. The rest of us who are settling in place in our homes and maintaining physical distance are also dramatically affected.

Early in the crisis, a teacher asked, “I’m out of school; all my students are at home. What’s a good circle prompt to do at this time?”

The second side of the restorative questions card can really be helpful for a teacher or anyone else who wants to organize a responsive talking circle – assuredly a virtual circle – using a tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts. These questions are typically used to help those who have been harmed by others’ actions.

Kaethe Weingarten, in her book Common Shock, points out how natural disasters and diseases often act like perpetrators. In the case of COVID-19, it’s not a person causing harm. It’s a virus, and we’ve all been affected in some way.

The original restorative questions on side two are:

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

What a lot of us are feeling now is some form of loss, whether it’s a loss of social connection, things we had planned to be doing, loss of a job, or loss of a loved one. Some of these questions can be used without modification; others can be modified. While not definitive, here are some variations tailored to the current moment that we’ve found useful:

  • What have you been thinking or feeling as this crisis unfolds?
  • How are you being impacted by physical distancing, loss of income, loss of social connections, etc.?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • Share one thing you are doing to move forward.
  • Who is one person you can reach out to connect with?
  • What is something in your control you can do in the coming days and weeks?

The initial questions let us talk first about the events outside our control and their impact on us. Remember: Self-care is critical at this time. The questions are organized to keep us thinking about the future, to instill a sense of hope and agency.

The more we can practice having these conversations in a structured, constructive way, we will be ready to continue having similar structured conversations when the crisis comes to an end and we re-enter our new normal. In times of change, we can always trust the circle to help us through.

Elizabeth Smull is a Lecturer at the IIRP Graduate School. Joshua Wachtel is the IIRP's Communications Specialist.

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