Let the circle be unbroken: Online restorative circles show social distancing can't stop connection

These days, “How are you doing?” has become a loaded question.

Recognizing this, Joel Friesz and Kelli Adams of the Lutheran Social Services Restorative Practices program quickly organized a virtual meeting for educators who were facing the unprecedented shift to online schooling.

On a Wednesday afternoon, 15 people — many of them strangers — gathered virtually over Zoom to learn about the circle process and enjoy a space of community and connection.

The educators spent two hours sharing their struggles, concerns and victories while processing together the current events around COVID-19.

Each person in the circle honestly answered the loaded question, “how are you doing?” The vulnerability and openness shared in the circle created a much-needed feeling of community and connection.

LSSND Restorative Practices has hosted a total of three free sessions, and each session has filled to capacity and also had a wait list. If you are interested in joining one of these virtual circles, please reach out to Kelli Adams (kellia@lssnd.org) or Joel Friesz (joelf@lssnd.org)

As we adapt to this time of social distancing, know that we at LSS are continuing all of our services virtually and are working hard to create even more opportunities for connection in this time of uncertainty.

Forming online support circles in response to social distancing

It is possible for those who have experience with circle practice to facilitate a support circle online. (For those who are not trained in circle practice, these questions can still help you have meaningful conversations with those you are close to while processing the experiences surrounding COVID-19.)

Circles should include a welcome that clarifies how the process will work and the order of speaking.

The group then begins with an intentional opening – deep breathing, meditation, inspirational reading, or even leading some stretching or movement.

The next step is a check-in round, in which everyone can respond to: "How are you doing?"

This can be followed by a values round: What is a value in your life you are trying to lean into particularly at this time?

Remember to offer standard guidelines with any special additions necessary for the technology.

Choose questions below that feel right in your circumstances and decide the order of the questions.

Possible questions for support circles online:

In this new reality what are you grateful for?

How is anxiety manifesting for you – body, mind spirit, heart?

What is your greatest fear? Where does the fear lodge in your body?

What personal practices are feeding your fears?

What are you doing to support someone else at this time?

Who can you talk to about your anxieties and concerns?

What gives you hope?

Do you have intentional practices to interrupt thoughts of hopelessness or anxiety?

What is the gift of this moment?

What is bringing comfort at this time?

What is a source of strength for you at this time?

What forms of connection are you discovering or recovering?

How would you like to use this time? What is the growth opportunity of this time, personally and professionally?

Who is a role model for you in this situation?

What would you like to release into the center of our circle?

What helps you to remember that you are never alone?

What is your favorite music for lifting the spirit?

What tickles your funny bone – something you can laugh at even in tough times? (movie, TV show, etc)

How is this impacting your relationships in the family?

What is the hardest part of this situation for you?

What is one positive thing you can do for yourself in the next week?

How can we support each other through this difficult time?

What are you proud of in your response to this difficult time?

Always use one or more positive questions after you have allowed opportunity for participants to talk about fears, concerns or pain. It is very important to end with a sense of positive possibility and hope even in very difficult situations. Toward the end you want a strong sense of connection and support for one another.

Now do a closing round.

End with a closing ceremony of breathing, music, meditation, inspirational reading or another positive and calming ritual.

– Micayla Bitz

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