Youth Worker Mindset

The second of the themes drawn up at the Glasgow meeting was that of Mindset. The partners have been engaging in innovative missions and practices with the underpinning aim of exploring new ways to support young people who have become disengaged or excluded from educational opportunities that would otherwise be available.  Disengagement can arise from the young people themselves and likewise educators who give up in their support efforts can prompt exclusion.  These two can each precipitate the other so that the two directions of action can be interrelated and entwined and the overall effect can be complete disaffection.  The starting point for this disjunction can be obscured so that it can be difficult to pinpoint the precipitating factors. The partners have been looking at missions and practices to try to address both the responses and actions of the young people as well as the educators’ own dispositions and beliefs about learning.  Considerations of Mindset entered into the discussions in Glasgow.  This has been brought into focus by Carol S Dweck (2007) who observed that success in any form of human endeavor could be influenced by the ways in which individuals perceive of themselves and by their beliefs about their ability to achieve anything.  Thus, the participants were attempting to motivate the young people in their missions to find ways of achieving success as well as motivating themselves to be open to more creative and flexible ways of engaging with them as partners. This notion of mindset can potentially be powerful for participants in the missions.


Lessons Learned

Changing Mindset

Organisations need to be aware of the challenge of changing the mindset of youth workers from educator to facilitator and of their role in this process. Depending on the national or local structures of education, the different cultures of countries and the situation of the school within the structure, the teaching methodology of the educator varies from directive teacher-led learning (as illustrated in Hungary, The Czech Republic and Romania) to more informal approaches of collaborative or student-led learning as seen in Spain and Portugal.  Capacity building of teachers is important to build capacity in young people. This will evolve over time, as youth workers embrace the new methodology of student-led learning through missions. For educators this is a “learning by doing process” alongside which, specific training in new methodologies should be provided- to enable young people become entrepreneurial the educators must be entrepreneurial themselves.


Building Effective Relationships

Capacity building of both youth workers and young people needs the foundation of an equitable relationship, which is based on mutual trust created through practical collaboration, in order to be effective. In other words, trust and respect will be built along and through the joint ventures, the work relationship and the actions that have been undertaken in the missions.

Improved relationships between youth workers and youth at Cancuni made the young people feel more valued because they were listened to while at Kontiki the “we can do it together” approach rather than “you do it” demonstrated the changed mindset of educators normally used to the directive tone of mainstream schools. At Matosinhos their ethos is “First connect, then correct”, having always recognised that a different approach is needed to that of mainstream schools. Relationships are built through a practical activity approach, which advocates a flexible team-based collaboration. Teachers and parents have quite different relationships with young people, teachers need to distinguish the difference between a good connection to a too close one. At Kontiki the educators learned the need to put up some sort of a border and to keep a healthy space between students and teachers, giving the students the necessary support which they can lean against when they need to.  (Kontiki; Youth Worker Mindset)

Being Flexible

Flexibility is a key component of a changed mindset in educators as demonstrated in stories from Cancuni (where youth workers sometimes work in pairs), Matosinhos (where the youth worker acts as a facilitator or sometimes takes the lead) and Kontiki (where the youth worker recognises that every situation can be a tool for learning). Dealing with the unexpected is an everyday experience for educators working with disadvantaged young people, whose multiple barriers to social and economic inclusion impacts on their capacity to engage consistently in learning. Personal, social, and other issues should be addressed along the way if they present obstacles to the progression of the missions.


Multiple Roles

Traditionally in mainstream education the teacher had one role, that of imparting knowledge through a teacher- led approach to learning. Youth workers in this project recognised that he/she has multiple roles, not just as facilitator but also as a mentor, broker and mediator among others (Educa: Youth Worker Mindset; Matosinhos: Youth Worker Mindset). The mentor role involves being emphatic, understanding, and listening, paying attention to the young people’s interests, while at the same time introducing the “reality principle” of the broker role and not avoiding constructive and (sometimes) necessary confrontations. The mediator acts as the bridge between learning and working, supporting the student in juggling, ordering and prioritising personal life experiences against work life expectations.