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Youth workers are generally young themselves. Since we are professionally committed to youth development, we need to see our staff as part of our developmental approach. A young person, new to the job, does not become fully formed simply because we hire him/her. Staff training needs to be an ongoing process that supports staff through the challenges of this transition toward a responsible, productive career. It is not simply telling them what to do, or even demonstrating it, though that is certainly part of it.

It is useful to structure your training in a way that treats staff holistically, providing opportunities for them to feel challenged and successful, secure and motivated. One way of framing these concerns is to imagine the staff ending the training feeling the following:

Competence
Continuity
Connectedness
Confidence

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Competence:

What practical, concrete skills do they need for a particular activity? E.g.: Familiarity with the material, ability to lead a group, willingness to look silly, group facilitation skills, clear descriptions of expectations.

Continuity:

How does this fit into what we already do?
How familiar is the type of activity? Is it a logical next step for the program?
Can we come back to this type of activity, making it part of the routine?
Do we have the supplies/space/time to prepare?

Connectedness:

Can they see themselves doing this?
Have their fears been heard and addressed? (Many staff think, "This trainer doesn't get how challenging my kids are; they can't do this." Before telling them how difficult kids you've worked with were, make sure they have their concerns out in the open. This does take time. It's a good example of valuing the talk that goes on around a process.)

Confidence:

What will success with their group be and how is this activity a step on the path towards success? The first time they do an activity will not go as well as the fifth time. There is no way to start with the fifth time; you have to start with the first.

What goals are you working towards:
  • Groups that value talk: listening to each other, staying on the topic.
  • Youth who confidently and joyfully express themselves.
  • Youth who see art, reading and writing as other ways of expressing themselves and pursuing their interests.
What are the trainer's goals for staff? After the training, staff should be able to recognize that they -- like the youth they will lead -- have grown more skilled, sophisticated and expressive.

These tips were created by Jonathan Shevin, M.S.Ed., the founder and director of Standing By Water, Inc., a community gallery in the Bronx on the Harlem River. He has worked as an educator, curriculum designer and staff developer in community based organizations in NYC for 20 years.


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