While legitimately overthinking what I wanted to share with you in this blog, I kept coming back to the idea of community—building it, growing it and the power that community holds. Bringing people together and connecting around a shared vision is something I totally dig! If it happens to involve dressing in neon and busting a move even better—but more on that later.
First, let’s talk about the importance of social connection. As human beings, we have a fundamental need to belong. We are wired to connect and designed to be social creatures. As neuroscientist Mathew D. Lieberman states, “This is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others.” Do you think it’s an accident that the single most successful destination on the Internet is a place entirely dedicated to our social lives? I think that it’s probably no coincidence at all. We’ve all felt that intrinsic desire to connect, share and relate to others. In fact, it is our inherent social nature that compels us to seek out various forms of community.
Community is a resource, a refuge and a place that answers our needs and supports our growth. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to stumble upon a magical oasis that welcomes us with hammocks and siestas (it’s also important to have dreams). Other times we may need to be instrumental in creating or fostering the growth of a collective vision. Luckily, we can draw from our desire to connect and come together to gain momentum.
So, just how does one go about this you may ask? Great question. And the answer is fairly simple. It’s the same approach you’d take if you wanted a large group of people to dance in unison to an over-played pop song while wearing neon—for example.
Choose your Target Audience
What do people in your school community care about? What fires them up? What is a collective purpose or cause that they would come together to act on? Asking questions is a powerful way to engage people. One-on-one or small group conversations, surveys or simply listening to what people are already talking about can all be useful tools in your search. Everyone cares about something, and chances are there will be common themes. The key is to discover what will make your group willing to get up and dance!
Survey Your Assets
Communities are diverse webs of gifts and assets. What unique skills and capacities already exist within your community? Who are the inherent ‘choreographers’? Those people that are trusted, connected and have a circle of relationships to draw from. This is the core group that can use their connections and relationships to engage a wide circle within the community. Are there any associations or clubs working with common interests that could help build up your troop? Consider what physical assets your school community holds—green space, gymnasiums or perhaps even a stage!
Put Out the Casting Call
Time to light the spark! This is a good time to call upon your community ‘cheerleaders’. Those individuals who are eager to engage in supporting the common good and happy to spread excitement and enthusiasm to the masses. When you begin to align people based on their capabilities, skills and passions it will create momentum and opportunities to build on your community’s capacity. It also fosters relationships, networks and strengths that may otherwise go unnoticed. The practice of identifying and mobilizing assets towards a collective goal drives the development of community from within.
Dim the Lights, it’s Show Time!
The time has come and people are engaged and ready for action. So pull on your favourite hot pink tights (okay maybe only I keep a stash of those), pop on a backwards hat and get jiggy wit it!
Most importantly, have some fun and celebrate your successes. Active participation in a shared experience brings people together. It fulfills the need for social connection and supports engagement in a common vision. This, is turn, fosters an empowered community that fuels the development process on a continual basis.
So I realize that a flash mob and/or hot pink tights may not be your thing (I’ll let it slide, just this once), but I’d love to hear from you about the things that fire up your community! Share how your school community has come together in support of a common goal and the impact that has had on the community overall.
As a wise woman, Jeanne C. Stein, once said:
“Life may not be the party we hoped for… but while we’re here we may as well dance!”