Tell me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re working remotely and have been for the past several months and you are busier than ever. Not only that, you rarely ever get to engage in personal and meaningful conversations with your colleagues—the days of watercooler and teacher lounge chats are on hold for the foreseeable future. You appreciate being kept safe and having the ability to work remotely but you miss the bonding that takes place when you are able to really connect with your colleagues.
One of the things that has been particularly challenging for so many of us this year is missing the social interaction of being in the same physical space with members of our community, whether it’s family, friends or colleagues.
→ Check out how Kickboard supports schools in virtual and hybrid learning
Since Kickboard began in 2010, its team has always included a few remote employees. However, our team is now entirely remote as a result of the pandemic. Some of us have thrived in this change of environment and some of us have missed going into the office each day to see colleagues, chat with them about what’s going on in their lives and collaborate on work projects in person.
Restorative Circles for School Teams During Remote Learning
One tool we have successfully utilized in the virtual setting to build stronger connections within our team is Restorative Circles. We learned these circles from schools we work with who have done similar practices to cultivate a strong classroom culture.
Restorative Justice Practices focus on creating a community and can be instrumental in fostering connection and creating opportunities for team bonding. Circles create the space for people to open up, be heard, be vulnerable and listen to one another in a safe and structured format. One Kickboard team member stated that she enjoys the circles because “it gives everyone a chance to speak, allows us to share personal/fun stories and we get to learn more about each other (especially those who I don’t speak with frequently).”
School leaders can easily incorporate circles into their virtual team meetings, since these practices don’t have to take very long and can be adjusted to fit the amount of time you have. You can set a time limit for each person sharing or do lightning rounds where each share out is just a few words, like sharing what your favorite book was as a child. Topics can also be planned and adjusted to align with the topic of the staff meeting that will follow the restorative circle introduction.
7 Steps to Create Virtual Restorative Circles in Schools
Begin with a welcome and introduction, such as “Circles create the space for people to open up, be heard, be vulnerable and listen to one another in a safe and structured format. Only within a strong community are we strong enough to respond in healthy ways to adversity, challenges, or conflict.”
Set the intention for the circle each time. For example: connecting with each other, a specific topic, healing after a challenging event, etc.
Review the norms. Be sure to add norms that align to your school culture, but also include the logistics below.
You may choose to begin the meeting with a mindful moment or energizer activity before starting the circle share outs. In the example below we used Birthday Cake Breathing. Some other examples include:
- Progressive muscle release/relaxation
- Play a mindfulness video
- Ask everyone to take a few moments to draw what their idea of a safe space looks like
- Color breathing
Start your community circle with a simple prompt for a quick icebreaker or lightning round. Be sure to allot a specific amount of time for each person to answer (15 – 20 seconds to make it quick) and designate a timekeeper. Here are some examples:
- What is your favorite food?
- What is your favorite season?
- If you could be an animal which would you be and why?
- What is your favorite word?
For the next round, select a prompt that goes deeper and may ask participants to muster more vulnerability. Some examples:
- If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
- What are you most proud of?
- What is your biggest fear?
- What is something important about you that people can’t tell by looking at you?
Repeat for as many rounds as you would like.
Here are the circle topics that we used at Kickboard to start our virtual team retreat and build our team community:
Another member of the Kickboard team said that they enjoy restorative circles because it helps them understand how another person may solve an issue and the process they used. It also helps them think about how they could approach and solve a problem differently than how they would originally approach a situation. As long as the groundwork is laid, the norms are established and meaningful prompts are used, the sky’s the limit for the ways in which you can use Restorative Circles to bring your team closer together no matter the meeting forum (virtual or in person).