Hello All
I came across this wonderful reflection by Ray Thompson which was introduced by our dear friend, John McKnight, I think in Antigonish. I have included the intro and the reflection


As some of you know, we have been working on learning what a person designated to be a "school community connector" can contribute to a new era of school-community relationships. In a month or two we should have a report on this initiative on our website - abcdinstitute.org.

Ray Thompson was the school-community connector who led this exploration in a new school on the Southside of Chicago. As a result of this
experience, he wrote a reflection regarding the nature of a connector. I thought you would be interested in his ideas (note: this is the posting called "Anatomy of a Connector").

It seems to me that people concerned about local communities have emphasized the "need" for leadership development. Ray's work suggests to
us that of equal, if not greater importance, is an emphasis on connectorship - a talent that doesn't require training but can use
illumination, encouragement and support.

John McKnight

The Anatomy of a Connector
R. Thompson

Connectors come in all shapes and sizes. They are found in the mahogany covered walls of academia and on our urban streets, where liquor stores sit perpendicular to churches. In a connectors field of interest contradictions abound. A single mother with three children has found a friend in an older woman who lives alone in the apartment below. Taxpaying residents decide to shovel the alley they share because “we can’t wait for the city”. From an apartment building to an inner city alley, many connections are waiting to be made. A connector exists to initiate the link.

Connectors have a natural curiosity about people. Questions are asked and a conversation spontaneously takes off. Gifts are shared and a new friend is made. Gifts and capacities are aligned to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods. Community partners are created and mutual interests are met that directly involve and benefit residents. Sometimes bridge building is needed and a connector is the contractor initiating its construction, relationship by relationship.

A connector values relationship above and beyond what a relationship can produce. Social and financial outcomes are beneficial, but a senior’s love of reading shared with children who are frequently at home alone after school until their mother returns from work can’t be tangibly measured. Though it can be shown that these interactions are investments of time and self that result in hard benefits seen in safe communities, productive and caring school environments, and responsive local government. A connector understands results, but is not results driven. The challenges in communities are complex, but are overcome by getting down to grassroots levels where human interaction takes place and all systems emerge.

Connectors rely on residents for information and learn how residents use information to benefit themselves. Through these observations a connector sees natural synergies in neighborhoods based on the gifts of its residents and the capacities of its institutions. Through relationship the connector helps residents see the potential in the neighborhoods collective assets. Shifts in perception occur and the once half empty glass is now half full or running over, depending on our ability to be inclusion minded. Community changes blossom from empowered residents interacting and sharing their gifts and information. A connector’s primary role is to ignite that action and then let residents and community organizations imagine, create, and build based on their gifts and capacities.

A connector is never satisfied with traditional employment, though one may find them hiding out in social service agencies, community organizations, or doing neighborhood based organizing work. They can be found influencing others to become more interdependent and sharing helpful information. Some connectors may work from an Emersonian-like base of self reliance, motivating residents to rely upon their gifts and local capacities to create economic opportunity. And other connectors seek to weave our invisible and often excluded neighbors back into the fabric of our daily community life. Despite the many variations of connecting and connectors, all connectors understand that community life suffers when neighbors are not in relation. Our communities are the foundation of our civic, social, and economic lives. Community is also the source of creative change and innovation. As globalization and digital technology spreads information (and our attention) far and wide, a connector gathers people to reflect on their local lives. In this reflection community is strengthened, local opportunity emerges, and sustainable change ensues powered by active human relations and capacity.

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Comment by Mike Green on February 8, 2010 at 10:15pm
I want to say this is a wonderful conversation. I think there is a constant and constructive tension between "teaching" from others experienceand "learning" out of our experience. As the Sufi story John McKnight often tells says,"You will only learn what you already know." And I would also quote a wonderful Buddhist teacher Suzuki Roshi who used to say,"We are all perfect as we are. And we could each use a little improvement!"

I think the challenge is a balance of both openness to learning and openness to teaching. We need both training and learning.

I also want to raise another dimension of this question. How do we offer training or teaching that is not bureaucratic, machine world but is living? How can teaching be upon principles, practices, guiding questions rather than models and prescriptions deeply interests me? Power requires intentionality. How do we be intentional yet not prescriptive? Be open to uncertainty and yet be focused on realizing goals?

I think the times call for a new kind of teaching, beyond training, but intentional, coherent, and focused yet living. Apprentice to an artist has this quality of a living teaching. A spiritual practice teacher and student. Traditionally community organizing is taught by a very experienced teacher to an apprentice.
Comment by Barb McKenzie on February 3, 2010 at 9:52am
Over my life, I have been on a variety of task forces and committees. Usually the people selected to come together and make decisions are the those considered to be "leaders". Look at the language of high schools - students are described as "leaders" based on certain criteria and they are the ones always invited to participate. I can't say that I have often felt like the task forces I was involved with had successful conclusions. Usually we just created another task force to look at (or admire) the problem. When I first heard John McKnight talk about the importance of finding connectors who are not the perceived "leaders" and the work that they can accomplish because of their gifts, I was profoundly affected. But how do we discover and nurture connectors when everyone seems to be looking for leaders?
Comment by Jack R Pealer Jr on February 1, 2010 at 9:07pm
We might want to be slow about equating "development" with "training." I'd likely agree that training courses are less significant to the "development" of connectors than is practice, experience, wisdom. But, creating contexts or situations where connectors can practice, gain experience, deepen their wisdom--that seems like an essential condition for growing good connectors.
Comment by joe erpenbeck on February 1, 2010 at 1:13pm
Susan, i agree with you, as you commented about Ray's refelcections, there is not so much a need for leadership training as there is for ability to build relationships, see the gifts of everyone and realize that we have all we need in our neighborhoods if we all connect and give our gifts. The leadership may come from a connector's ability to step back, look, listen, and believe in and connect with others.

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