Thursday, March 8, 2012

Owning the process (and the program) - PC Coaches

One of the biggest strengths - and often challenges - of any youth development program is finding opportunities for teens to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process. Far too often, and usually as the result of hectic schedules and short timeframes, it can be all too easy for that process to rest squarely in the laps of directors, adult supervisors, and graduate students. In doing so, the most critical population - youth in the program - are often left out in the cold from influencing some of the most important aspects of the organization; perverse, when once considers that the program itself is designed around the needs of these core constituents.

In his seminal article*, Reed Larson determines that involving youth in the decision-making process within programs is critical to the success of such organizations. Moreover, he states that - despite usually being originally conceived of by adults - much of the ongoing decision-making within a successful program is driven by youth participants themselves; grant writing, curriculum development, scheduling, to name but a few. Without this 'youth voice', organizations fail to stir the intrinsic motivation among teens required for success, and - quite literally - go under. A strong sense of goal setting from youth themselves underpins quality programs, rather than such goals being dictated by adults.

With this in mind, the current recruitment search for next year's "redshirt" graduate students provided a perfect opportunity for Project Coach to put this belief into practice. Having already conducted a forum after the last recruitment process to learn more about what qualities our youth coaches were looking for in a mentor and coach, shortlisted candidates spent 2 hours this past Monday meeting with PC youth. Our coaches worked in panels to ask potential recruits several questions - which they had prepared during a prior session - to help glean which candidates would prove to be the best fit with our organization. "Blueshirts" generated questions ranged from those which inquired about the skills and qualities people could bring to our organization ("what past experience do you have working with teens", "what do you consider to be the greatest strength that you could bring to a team"), to those which asked applicants to put themselves into a particular scenario or predicament, ("if a blueshirt wasn't working effectively with their coaching partner what would you do to assist", "if you noticed that a coach was displaying low energy or appeared distracted what would you do to help").

Following the more formal interview stage, candidates then worked with groups of coaches to teach them about a particular skill that they enjoyed, in order that PC youth could get a better feel for their delivery style, ability to engage others, and their teaching methods. Examples included writing poetry, juggling, playing field hockey, learning 6 languages in six minutes, and surfing!

At the conclusion of the process, coaches regrouped to consolidate their feedback, share their findings, and give their insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. In keeping with the integrity of the process, their input will help shape what direction Project Coach takes in the coming weeks as we begin to make fellowship offers to the 2012-13 cohort of graduate students.

*Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, Vol. 55, No.1, 170-183.