A group of students, faculty, and staff at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service recently assisted in a virtual dialogue for Massachusetts healthcare workers regarding their experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Corrine McClure, who recently completed her first year of academic work at the Clinton School, assisted in facilitating the dialogue for the group of Massachusetts nursing home workers. Hilary Trudell, the Clinton School’s Director of Local Programs and Regional Outreach, provided technical assistance. Faculty members Robert C. Richards, Jr., and Chul Hyun Park helped to plan the dialogue.
The dialogue was organized by Essential Partners, an organization that helps communities and institutions have healthier, more complex, more inclusive conversations about polarizing differences of values, beliefs, and identities. Essential Partners’ trademark dialogue is a form called Reflective Structured Dialogue, which helps communities and organizations disrupt patterns to hold open, honest, constructive conversations about potentially divisive topics.
Robert Stains, a Senior Associate with Essential Partners who regularly teaches dialogue facilitation to Clinton School students enrolled in the Master of Public Service degree program, served as the lead facilitator on the virtual dialogue.
“Essential Partners has been doing these COVID-related virtual dialogues for different populations, and healthcare workers was the next population we wanted to do,” Stains said.” “I reached out to Robert Richards to ask if the Clinton School would like to team up with us.”
The dialogue with nursing home workers served two purposes: to allow for the people who care for the health of others to process and connect about this time of profound disruption and the challenges to their work and the people they serve, and to allow them to reflect on how their past experiences provide strengths that they can lean into as they work to support their patients.
Using nursing home workers as a pilot project, Essential Partners modified an existing virtual dialogue format to account for the particularly traumatic experiences that front-line workers have had during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nursing homes, of course, have been hit very hard with fatalities,” Stains said. “I was glad we were able to find an organization that was willing to work us that had really grappled with the depth of the crisis.”
The participants were asked to talk about a challenge that they have overcome in their lives and the strength that they are bringing from that situation into their current situation. Participants were then asked to think about the challenges and disruptions caused by COVID-19, and in that context to consider what their needs were and what strengths they have that could be a resource for others.
McClure, a native of Memphis, Tenn., entered the Clinton School with a background in facilitation. As an AmeriCorps member at Bridges USA, a youth development organization in Memphis, McClure worked with students in grades 6 through 12 as an experiential education facilitator. However, a workshop led by Stains during her first semester grew her interest in Reflective Structured Dialogue, specifically.
“I had never seen it done in this way,” McClure said of her initial experience with Reflective Structure Dialogue. “I had the chance to get to know my classmates better and see where I fit into the larger scheme of things at the Clinton School, which really solidified that I had made the right choice and was in the right place.”
McClure received training in this type of facilitation earlier in the summer on a project that helped bring different communities together in the face of COVID. Next year, she will work with Essential Partners on her final Capstone project.
McClure and Stains said that early feedback from the dialogue with nursing home workers has been very positive.
“There seemed to be a lot of gratitude for the space,” McClure said. “Especially being given the chance to share the strengths that they are using to overcome the challenge.”
The Clinton School is working with Essential Partners to organize more of these types of dialogues in July and August.
“One thing that came up in the feedback,” Stains said, “and this type of thing often comes up in these dialogues is, ‘You know, I’ve worked with you for 20 years, but I never knew that about you. I understand you so much better now.’”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.