WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

Simple and Radical Ways to Create Safe, Supportive, and Engaging OST Settings

simple and radical

For nearly two decades, Weiss and Akiva have been connected to the Neutral Zone, a creative arts and leadership center for teens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Here, they talk about the importance of creating safe, supportive, and engaging OST settings by intentionally centering youths’ intrinsic motivation, supporting their developmental needs, and building youth–adult partnerships.


David, 15, came to the Neutral Zone almost daily, either doing homework in the drop-in space or drawing in the art room. He dressed very punk, complete with leather jacket, mohawk, and chain hanging from his wallet. David kept mostly to himself, head down, barely speaking with others and rarely making eye contact. Besides being an introvert, David is on the autism spectrum.

On Fridays, David started attending the weekly meeting of Riot Youth, the Neutral Zone’s LGBTQIA peer support and social justice program. Although he was quiet, David actively participated in everything from theater games to discussions and dialogues. When he spoke, he did so with a deep sense of understanding, compassion, and wisdom. What is interesting is that David doesn’t identify as LGBTQIA. He came just because he felt safe and supported in the group. He was so accepted and well-liked that the group nominated him to be a teen program facilitator, cementing his place as a highly engaged and invested contributor.

This is a story about acceptance, interactions, and, most of all, relationships. Li and Julian posit that developmental relationships are likely the “active ingredient” for youth program success. We root our chapter in three practical goals for developmental relationships: enabling youth to feel safe, supported, and engaged.

So how do out-of-school time (OST) programs set up relational settings that are safe, supportive, and engaging and that involve youth as partners? Creating such settings starts with practitioners’ existing strengths. It then requires their deliberate intention to support all youth, especially those who have been marginalized or minoritized. We present a short set of strategies to support and engage youth: centering youths’ intrinsic motivation, supporting youths’ developmental needs, and building youth–adult partnerships. 

Many of the ideas and examples in our chapter may come across as obvious or intuitive. Indeed, research supports the value of many of the strategies that seem natural to seasoned youth workers. The paradigm shift we’re calling for is to conduct these strategies with intentionality. Many practitioners already do this work, including the authors of the essays in this book. However, through intentionality, programs can instill more equitable practice. For example, in any given youth program, some young people will find ways to pursue activities they find intrinsically motivating. But this doesn’t mean the program supports intrinsic motivation for all youth. Only by intentionally designing experiences to support intrinsic motivation—by offering meaningful choices, opportunities for leadership, and so on—can programs provide this spark for all youth participants, including those who may be marginalized or simply less vocal. 

Intentionality is what marks youth work as a professional practice, built on and building from science. We call this a paradigm shift not because it is radically complex or difficult—human relationships are the stuff life is made of—but because it is uncommon. Building true youth–adult partnerships, in which young people have voice, choice, and power, is indeed a radical endeavor.

The paradigm shift we propose is simple, but revolutionary. And though it is revolutionary, it has broad global recognition. Consider Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, drafted by the United Nations in 1989 and signed by every country on the planet except the United States. This legally binding international agreement establishes the right of every young person to freely express their views “in all matters affecting” their lives, with the subsequent right for those views to be “given due weight in accordance with [their] age and maturity.” 

In essence, this means that young people have an internationally recognized right to have a voice in the spaces and systems that affect them. Article 12 can be a guiding star to spread our Youth-Driven Spaces movement in programs and agencies across the country. Through intentionally co-creating and shaping settings that are safe, supportive, and engaging, OST programs can be authentic partners with youth in working together toward more powerful and humane settings and systems that recognize young people as agents of their own destiny.



John Weiss served as the executive director of the Neutral Zone from 2005 to 2014; in 2015, he began leading its training and coaching work with other organizations as the director of strategic initiatives. Tom Akiva worked with Weiss in the development of the Youth-Driven Spaces approach and has conducted research projects with teens at the Neutral Zone. The above excerpt appears in the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation.
  2480 Hits

How Relational Cultural Theory Helps Us Understand the Transformative Power of OST


Below is an excerpt by Betsy Nordell, Ed.D., a NIOST master observer, from the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation. The book was co-edited by NIOST Director Georgia Hall, Ph.D., Jan Gallagher, Ph.D., of Clear, Effective Communications, and NIOST Research Associate Elizabeth Starr, M.Ed. Here, Nordell talks about Relational Cultural Theory and how it can help us understand the transformative power of OST professionals.

Ideas we as youth development professionals now take for granted, such as the human need for connection, the value of empathy and compassion, and the power of positive relationships to foster growth, can be traced back to Jean Baker Miller and her seminal book, Toward a New Psychology of Women (1976). The book’s content, once viewed as dangerous, radically challenged prevailing ideas about human growth and development. 

Miller offered an alternative to the entrenched psychological models that articulated healthy human development as a process of increasing separation, autonomy, and independence. These models did not align with what Miller heard from her mostly female patients in her clinical practice. She sought to add the voice of women’s experience to psychological theory, identifying connection, empathy, and mutuality not as weaknesses or lower stages of development, but as strengths. Over time, through close collaboration with others, Miller’s beginning ideas evolved into the Relational Cultural Theory (RCT).

RCT views the expansion and deepening of healthy relationships as the markers and causes of human growth and development. We are social beings, built to function optimally in supportive groups. Gains in neuroscience have demonstrated this hardwired human need for relationships

How people are met by the world, every day and over time, also matters. As RCT scholar Maureen Walker states in her most recent book, "Our sense of place and purpose in the world is shaped not only by formative relationships but by the omnipresent cultural messaging that establishes standards of beauty, goodness, worth, values, and reality." RCT reminds us to carefully consider the ways the cultural context, with its established power dynamics, shapes and constrains relationships affecting everyone's growth and development.

RCT is a natural fit for the OST field in many ways. For one, the OST program environment tends to allow more time for relationship building than traditional classroom settings do. Researchers have found this opportunity to cultivate positive relationships is a significant draw for OST professionals; it helps fuel their strong passion for and commitment to their work. 

Youth workers’ genuine interest in forging strong bonds and creating a connected community pays dividends. The positive quality of adult-youth and youth-youth relationships affects the degree to which youth can set aside distractions, feel safe enough to fully engage, admit they do not understand something, and ask for help. RCT uses the term power-with to describe environments that intentionally support connection, empowerment, and growth. This dynamic arises when adults and young people alike strive to respect and acknowledge each person’s value, knowledge, and authentic capacity to contribute, while honoring different people’s needs and roles. 

In power-with OST environments, adults tap into youth experience, expertise, and interests and provide age-appropriate leadership responsibilities. RCT specifically identifies five good things that happen within, and are outcomes of, such growth-fostering relationships: 

1. Each person feels a greater sense of zest (vitality, energy).

2. Each person feels more able to act and does act.

3. Each person has a more accurate picture of themselves and the other person(s).

4. Each person feels a greater sense of worth.

5. Each person feels more connected to other person(s) and feels a greater motivation to connect with other people beyond those in one’s primary relationships.

Youth development professionals powerfully affect young people’s beliefs about who they are, what they can do, and who they can become. The research supports what is evident in the personal stories of youth workers in this volume: that their passion for positive relationships is the mechanism by which OST programs effect transformation.


Betsy Nordell, Ed.D., is a NIOST master observer. The above excerpt appears in the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation.
  2837 Hits

The Lessons We Should Learn from Settlement Houses

Hull House in Chicago during the 1900sAs a country we seem to be moving far away from the nurturing and sustaining activity of the settlement houses of our past. The first settlement house, established in New York City’s Lower East Side – Neighborhood Guild – was founded by Stanton Coit, and just a few years later came Hull House in Chicago, materializing through the passionate vision of Jane Addams. Settlement houses were the cornerstone of communities as they over time took on the task of educating citizens, providing English language classes for immigrants, organizing employment connections, and offering enrichment and recreation opportunities to all in the neighborhood. A most significant beginning to the current child and youth development field, settlement houses provided childcare services for the children of working mothers. The Immigrants’ Protective League, The Juvenile Protective Association, The Institute for Juvenile Research, The Federal Children’s Bureau, along with Child Labor Laws can all trace back to the persistent national efforts of settlement house founders and advocates.

Today, the health and wellbeing of thousands of children are in peril.It has long been established in the field of child and youth development that caring relationships are key factors in the positive and healthy development of children and youth. Separating children from their primary caring relationship--their parents--is critically detrimental and traumatizing. To grow up healthy and be productive citizens of whatever community and country they attach to, children need to acquire, practice, and effectively apply the skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Adolescents who were besieged by trauma as children cannot undertake successfully the daily tasks of growing-up. Nor can a hostile environment possibly support positive mental health and trust in adults, for even the youngest. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that “children torn from their parents experience serious short- and long-term health consequences.”

Decades of research in the child and youth development fields have made it clear that children need to be surrounded by appropriate structure, safety, supportive relationships, skill-building, high expectations, continuity, and predictability. It is imperative that we do not detach ourselves from these important tenets of caring for all children. We could use the more collective and holistic approach of the settlement house in our methods of organizing immigration. Former first lady, Laura Bush has asked, “In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis?” I believe we can and we must--immediately.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Hall specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs, settings, and learning experiences.

 

  8505 Hits

The Best of What We Bring through Sports

BStrong

Sometimes sports brings out the worst in us. Players taunt. Parents criticize. Coaches belittle. And at other times it is within the context of sports that a spotlight is shined on the best of the human spirit. There are many things that I love about sports participation and spectating. I am easily entranced by the last second shot, sudden death, or match point. There is an inexplicable infatuation with the striving for the perfect pass, play--the hat trick.

It is a passionate pact between player and spectator. As much as anything else that passion effusing from spectators is what was under attack on April 15th on Boston's Boylston Street. The very nature of the Boston Marathon–-so heavily focused on the rise of perseverance; the goodness of encouragement from family, friend, and stranger; and the sheer will to keep at something--made the violence even that much more sickening.

blogpullquoteBringthroughSportsIt was no surprise that our sports teams looked for a way to publicly display their solidarity with the people of Boston and the marathon victims – 617 Boston Strong hung on a t-shirt in the Red Sox dugout (617 is Boston's area code.) We wanted something from them. We expect our teams to be a reflection of ourselves. Cheering for our teams becomes cheering for ourselves. The patriotic and spiritual rituals that have become matter-of-fact elements of the generic sporting event (e.g. national anthem, heaven looking) suddenly become more meaningful gestures to express our humbleness, our unity. Never have I heard a stadium crowd sing the national anthem with such magnitude as the opening Bruins game following the bombing.

Each year I am a spectator in Hopkinton--the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I am in the crowd that sends off the 27,000 runners from the start line with waves and cheers. I am repulsed by what I sent them to. I am heartened, though, that the other human beings 26.2 miles ahead were there to hold them, to comfort and care for passionate spectating victims, to dismiss fear, and to let the best of what we bring through sports shine through.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for WomenWellesley College, is a sports enthusiast who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.

  7848 Hits

Mentoring, Sports, & Girl Athletes

Gymnasts

January was National Mentoring Month, as President Barack Obama recognized on January 3. Next week we celebrate National Girls and Women’s and Sports Day. The notion of “mentor,” and of one imparting wisdom to others, has its origins in Greek Mythology. It has long been a relationship dynamic that has been promoted, studied, arranged, and challenged over many years. Formal mentoring programs have been a regular and consistent strategy for engagement and relationship building in the youth development field and regularly a human resources approach used in non-profit and private business. And sports have been a perfect venue for mentoring relationships.

However, there is also great potential in the more informal ways we mentor. It is interesting that when surveyed about school, out-of-school time, and summer program experiences youth consistently express a desire for more opportunities for leadership and responsibility. We underutilize the natural dynamic and model of cross-age grouping. Across the spectrum both in academic content and enrichment activities, older and younger children working together can be an empowering and nurturing experience for both. We seem to embrace cross-age group more naturally in sports than many other settings. I was interested to observe the placement of high school students (with some training and supervision) as coaches at my younger daughter’s pick-up soccer tournament in the fall. The opportunity for the older girls to share relevant “on the field experience” and for the younger girlsblogpullquoteMentoring to have a more accessible image of where practice and commitment could get them was inspirational. It’s more than just the final score.

Encouraging these connections for young people in our daily work without having to be derailed by the tasks involved in more formal mentoring programs (and quality mentoring does require careful and plan full work), might allow us to exploit some of the natural interests of younger youth to learn from and older youth to lead each other.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.

  9317 Hits
 
Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy