Support circles: An invitation template

Invitation

I am writing to invite you into an infrastructure-building experiment: forming and participating in small “support circles.”  The specifics of what I would ask of people in my support circle are included at the end.  First, because part of joining a person’s support circle is to commit to forming your own, I present the rationale and mechanics, which you could transmit to those you would invite if you get involved in the experiment.

Rationale

The overall ethic is that people in support circles find ways to support others to do the best work they can given the circumstances (which are often constrained).  The more people who live that ethic the better for us all.  If you are collaborating on a range of projects with a range of people you might choose to form a support circle from these immediate collaborators.  Yet a support circle need not be linked to any given project(s).  You could create a circle to provide space in which supporters appreciatively help you reflect and clarify your own path ahead—where that path includes how and when to collaborate in various projects.  Interactions in such a space would be freed of any expectation that supporters had to chip in on or otherwise share the weight of your problems.  It would be enough—indeed, a rare and longed-for gift—for a supporter to give you attention and think well with you when you consult them.  In fact, you might be more ready to ask for support if you see the support circle as a “container” outside of which there is no reference to what is said and no implied expectations of further support.

Support circles could have a special role in this age of internet-mediated interactions, namely, providing closer, more personal relations that keep us grounded in the face of the possibility of a very wide or distributed reach.  Support circles could influence peer-to-peer networks and crowd-source processes by

  • modeling appreciative feedback and evolving standards or guidelines for these networks and processes;
  • helping you get clear about where you want to put concerted effort into engaging others with your ideas (as against passively expecting your ideas to get published and picked up that way) ;
  • contributing to concatenating support circles that make transparency in feedback safer for you.

Mechanics

  • Support circles arise when you take the initiative to recruit over the course of a year 5-6 people for a one-year, renewable relationship of mutual support, in which these people also agree to establish their own support circles over the course of a year (and so on). (If you have 5 people in your circle there is space for you to be invited into the circle of someone else.)
  • Ideally, you bring into your circle some people who will be more like mentors and others who will be more like advisees—at least at the start of the relationship.
  • The format and frequency of interactions with members of a support circle is proposed by you as you recruit others to your circle, fine-tuned with the invitees before they join, and adjusted by mutual agreement as needs evolve.  You might draw on your supporters in different ways, sometimes collectively or sometimes one-on-one.
  • You can call on your support circle at any time, whether for regular check-ins or when in crisis.  To make such on-call support sustainable, no person has more than 6 support circle relationships and each person in your circle has 4-5 other support circle relationships of their own to help if any one relationship becomes especially challenging or draining.
  • A support circle relationship can be discontinued by either party at any time on a “no-fault” basis.  Preferably, however, the transition occurs at the close of a year and is accompanied by a “plus-delta” evaluation of the experience.
  • In addition to plus-delta evaluations, which can take place after any interaction, support circle relationships use tools and processes such as clearness committee, dialogue hours, supportive listening, and believing and doubting feedback.  Picking up on this last process, one guideline is that criticism and doubting never precedes or overshadows appreciation and amplification of what has been achieved.  (Recall that overall ethic is that people in support circles find ways to support others to do the best work they can given the circumstances.)
  • Google plus might be well suited to sending messages to your support circle and relaying messages, when appropriate, received from members of your circle.
  • When establishing a support circle for the first time, arrange for the first relationship to be up for renewal in 12 months, the second 2 months earlier, and so on unless you get to a point where the renewal date would be less than 2 months away. For that last relationship and from then on any new or renewed relationship is for 12 months. This staggered scheduling should ensure that no more than 2 months goes by without your taking stock of at least one relationship and perhaps your circle as a whole.

Date that circle is initiated =                         [call this X]

Date for 1st renewal or replacement X + 1 year X + 10 months X + 8 months X + 6 months X + 4 months
Date for 2nd renewal or replacement One year after above One year after above One year after above One year after above One year after above One year after above
Supporter’s name            

 

Specifics

TBA

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

2 Responses to Support circles: An invitation template

  1. In a revised version I begin with the Preamble below. I also downplay the idea that everyone who joins in must set of circles of 5-6 others—1 other would be OK if everyone tackled the dual challenges of “practicing the support ethic and getting comfortable with asking for support.”

    Preamble
    Imagine a world where the primary ethic is that people find ways to support others to do the best work they can given the circumstances (which are often constrained). The more people who lived that ethic, the better for us all—not the least because we could ask others for support without inner voices putting that down: “You should be strong enough to proceed without shifting your burden onto others” or “Do you want to risk being rebuffed or let down again?” Both challenges—practicing the support ethic and getting comfortable with asking for support—are addressed by establishing support circles of up to 5 other people. What follows takes the form of an invitation that you might adopt or adapt to invite others in your circle—or even simply to get others to pay more attention to the dual challenges of arranging support for others and for yourself.

  2. Pingback: A Slow MOOC Movement | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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