Julie on 07983324437, Madge on 07429619657 info@got2b.org.uk

SEND Coffee and Chat

If your a parent with a child who has special educational needs join us for a coffee and a chat, every Monday at Witney Methodist church from 12:30.

Any questions email parent@got2b.org.uk

🙂

 

A New Service With Ancient Roots

So Madge asked me to write a blog about walking and talking with young people.

Walking and talking isn’t new but it’s new to us, it’s been around for many many, years and dates back to Ancient Greece, who coined the term pedagogy – when servants were paid to walk with children and to review their day and help cement their learning. We have kind of been forced into walking and talking as an organisation due to Covid, we haven’t got many other options. We can’t meet young people in their space, in their schools, in youth clubs, or in their homes so we have taken to walking in their environment near their homes and in their towns.

So when you’re out walking and talking with young people it’s very different to centre based work, there is no eye contact, there is no physical closeness, however there is a level of intimacy that is difficult to describe because it’s just you two (maybe sometimes three) and nature. When you’re walking, the monotonous pace and the rhythm of your walk can create quite a meditative state your heartbeat increases slightly because of the physical activity and your breath can shorten. This means words and conversation are chosen carefully and often thought about.

I believe being in nature, having a rhythmic meditative walking state and that slightly out of breath feeling has encouraged lots of young people that we have worked with, to really open up about how they’re feeling; young people that have been quite stressed before meeting with us have left appearing lighter, like they’ve just left something horrible behind.

The topics that you cover whilst walking and talking can be anything and everything because there are lots of distractions. If nature wanders into your path when you’re out walking that is almost definitely going to come up in a conversation if a giant lorry travels alongside of a motor enthusiastic young person the conversation will probably be steered in the direction of careers and hobbies and ‘I’d love to drive one of those trucks one day, they’re great!’  Also, when you find yourself in a quiet area where you are not being disturbed by cars and lorries or nature, the quiet time in this secluded space opens up an environment that feels safe and intimate, and this often helps young people talk about some of the difficulties they are experiencing, The lack of eye contact, the closeness but separation, helps young people feel connected to their youth worker.  We’ve had conversations about what is anxiety?  Parental health, mental health, what am I going to do with my life? I actually think I wanna stop smoking? How do I cut back on smoking this drug? Do you think that if I engage more in school and I try little bit harder I might just get the grades I need to get into college? Is there any way you might be able to help me find someone who I can talk to about my self-harm? Sometimes I look at my body and I hate it. I hate feeling like that because I never used to feel like that!  I’m really scared about my family and the coronavirus.

When you’re walking and talking it can feel like, as a youth worker, that the boundaries are lifted; the restrictions of communication are gone and you are just a tool there to help young people explore and question their own capabilities and abilities. Obviously, we use traditional methods like asking the right questions, we might steer some conversations into talking about things that we know that young person is struggling with, but actually when you’re out walking that’s not necessary.  It feels like you become a channel you become an ear, a friendly listener to the untamed internal dialogue from the young person, to hear their musings, worries, anxiety, the “what if’s, should I?, Could !?”  The “What would happen if I dids?”   The thoughts that wizz about in the young person’s mind.

This is a very special sacred place to be, a very trusted and privileged place, that you don’t often experience in the confines of a building.

Julie Edwards

Feeling Your Age

When you’ve worked with young people for a number of years there isn’t much that shocks you.  You get to hear about the best and worst of humanity.   Sometimes young people share things with you that are incredibly hard to listen to and at other times they amuse you with their childlike antics.

Just the other day a group of 14 year olds said they had played knock-a-door-run, an activity that generations of children and teenagers have played.  There is something reassuring to know that those young people still have enough innocence and naivety in their characters to engage in such games when so often they are portrayed as being weed smoking hooligans with no regard for societal expectation.

Then out of the blue comes something truly shocking. During a getting to know you activity with a new group of 13 year olds last week, I asked the question “If you could time travel either backwards or forwards, where/when would you go to?”  Imagine my horror when one young person replied “The 1980’s because I have heard that video games were really good back then”.  I was mortified to have to explain the shocked expressions now clearly visible on my face was due to the fact that I left school and passed my driving test in the mid 80’s!

This got me to wondering when are you too old to be a youth worker?  One of my workers, back in the day, is now in her 90’s so she would have been in her 50’s at the time. Although  I was aware of her being older than her fellow youth workers, she did not present herself as old or fuddy-duddy in any way. In fact she exuded more energy and enthusiasm than many of the workers.
I remember my mother had a wooden plaque above the kitchen door.  In true British 70’s seaside style it stated “You’re only as old as the person you feel, and when you stop feeling you’re old!”  Double entendre aside,  I really believe that youth work keeps you feeling young and that in itself is a good enough reason to carry on.  So putting aside my bruised pride I have picked myself and reminded myself how fotunate I am to be working with so many brilliant young people.  Together we can grow wiser not older.

More than Hot Chocolate and Pizza!


Hi Marion Here,

So here we are 4 weeks into the Youth Café Project.  Julie and I are thrilled with what we have
achieved so far. 

54 Contacts with Young People – 40 male, 14 females.  Age range from 12-19 with the majority being
aged 12-14. Last week we saw the beginnings of a possible new regular group
forming.  Eight Young People who have attended
previous sessions were outside waiting for us to open. They stayed throughout
the entire session and joined with the discussions and activities.

Using simple tools such as flipchart, ice-breaker questions, uno,
and colouring to engage Young People we have had meaningful discussions on a
vast range subjects, including: Home life; school; peer relationships; free
time and curfews. As well as addressing current issues such as alcohol use and
units, personal safety and social media risks including sexually explicit photos
and account security. 

So not just hot chocolate and pizza then – although it’s safe to say
teenagers are always hungry and have put away their fair share!

We have also run a couple of mini-consultations, one about the
skatepark and one about the future needs for Youth Work in the area.  The information from the second helped inform
our bid to the Youth Opportunity Fund at Oxfordshire County Council.  If successful we will be able to provide a
full and varied Youth Service for the next two years.

As the Youth Café Project has proved to be needed, successful and
enjoyable we have also applied for separate funding to extend the project into
the new year and hopefully open a similar project in Carterton……Watch this space!

Best wishes

Marion & Julie

Got2B Youth Cafe

Got2B Youth Cafe

Over recent Months there has been local concern about the behaviour of Young People at the Leys in Witney. With local newspapers headlining the following:

10th July ‘Witney supports petition for CCTV in The Leys’

13th December ‘A Spate of anti-social behaviour and vandalism in Witney has prompted calls for increased youth services in the town.’

2nd July ‘Boy attacked in The Leys park in Witney after LibFest’

The Coffee Shed on the The Leys became a target of vandalism and sadly relationships between staff and young people became strained. Working with the backing of Councillor Laura Price who is a Town Concilllor and also represents Witney at County Council Level, Got2B approached the Coffee Shed Team with the idea of a Youth Cafe.

The main aim of the 8 week project is to reduce anti-social behaviour and build relationships between young people and the coffee shed staff. We hope that funding can be secured to continue the Youth Cafe and wish to develop future work in the Witney area. The Youth Cafe creates a safe space and gives the young people a sense of ownership of the Leys area including the Coffee Shed. We are providing young people with an opportunity to experience the benefits of engaging with Youth Workers. envisage the wider impact to be positive within the community.

The Youth Cafe is on Wednesdays until Christmas 4.30-6.30pm and is open for 13-17 yr olds. We are offering free/subsidised refreshments, issue based conversations and activities, games, pizza, miniature golf, as well as friendly, qualified and experience workers.

Building the Website

Wow! what a learning curve this has turned out to be!

As we are starting with a zero budget, money for website building was non-existent. For once I praise Facebook’s targeted adverts because it gave me the opportunity to be a beta tester for a 21 day online wordpress course.

That was a week ago, and hopefully you’ll agree that the fact you are reading this having found it on the Got2B website, is testimony the to course. Having said that things are still not perfect, so bear with us while pages and content change. When the testing has finished I very much hope to be able to recommend the company to you.

Also in the diary this week are meetings with a councillor and a new head teacher, to look at ways of working together in the near future.

Exciting times ahead.

See you soon

Marion

Is there still a role for conversation in Youth Work?

Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning. (Freire, 2006)

It seems impossible to imagine a world without conversation how can you possibly know what someone is thinking unless you ask or they tell you.  The ancient Greeks understood the importance of conversation, by employing a pedagogue, whose task it was to walk and talk with children. Whilst travelling to school the pedagogue would talk about the expectations of the day ahead and on the return journey would help the children reflect on the day.  In this essay I will look at theories of a number of key thinkers and current social policy to establish whether Conversation still has a role to play in modern youth work.  I will look at the possibility of non verbal conversation and share an example of a silent conversation.  I will also look at how changing technology is effecting how we converse.

Working recently in a drop in session mostly made up of 12-13 year old males, I found my role became one of re-enforcing boundaries and rules.  Constantly asking YP to stop throwing equipment, not to use the fire exit, to leave the fire extinguisher where it was, it is difficult to see how this sort of interaction can be viewed as meaningful conversation.  When I was sat with a small group of young males they were talking about ‘manhandling something’ and one of group said ‘boy handling more like’ I did try to lead the conversation about the difference between men and boys, the response I got was that ‘men have big dicks’. While this was not the response I had hoped for, it should be recognised that this was still the rudimentary beginnings of dialogue, from which I learnt something about the maturity of those young men and their readiness to engage in conversation.  Had we have been in a formal learning setting then the chances are this small interaction wouldn’t even have occurred and I wouldn’t have gleaned that bit of knowledge.  By looking at the theories of key thinkers it is possible to explain the young men’s response. In his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire writes of the necessity for certain conditions to be present for dialogue to be successful.  These conditions are

Love; Humility; Trust; Hope and Critical thinking. (Freire, 2006)

 Having recognised that these young men were not ready to engage, I can appreciate the importance of the conditions for conversation.  Informal Education through conversation, therefore, needs to be at a time when all parties are ready to engage and when these conditions are present. Given the fact that I had only worked with the boys on two previous occasions, it is understandable that the conditions were lacking.

Thinking of the Every Child Matters (DfSE, 2003) agenda, our current practice requires targeted work to achieve recordable outcomes and accreditation. One wonders how Freire’s conditions fit in to such policy when targeted work is somewhat enforced on both the worker and the young people.  When work happens in a short time frame, little chance is given to creating an atmosphere to promote love and trust. I wonder if conversation will still be a key skill employed by youth workers or whether we will find ourselves resorting to giving out instruction as a manner of education.  This method of ‘pouring information into an empty vessel’ is described as the ‘banking system’ (Freire, 2006).  Freire also recognises the inadequacies of this method of education.  The giving of knowledge in this way embraces the notion that the teacher/youth worker is all knowledgeable and the young people know nothing.   This method of education continues to feed oppression.  Unless young people are given the opportunity to question they will not be able to form their own opinions.  Freire favours the adoption of ‘problem posing education’ through dialogue the roles of student and teacher interchange and teachers are taught by students as well.  Each becomes responsible for the learning process.

Problem posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor.  No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why? (Freire, 2006)

I would also like to look at the concept of legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991). This model clearly demonstrates different levels of participation within any group.

Members of the group move freely between these levels of participation, often coming closer to the centre as things of interest to them are at the fore.  From this model there is a plausible conclusion that the young men discussed in my example formed part of the peripheral group and the interaction I initiated from the core was not able to draw them further in to the group at this stage.

The silent conversation

Of course conversation doesn’t have to be a verbal experience, I once spent an entire evening having a ‘silent’ conversation with a young women.  She wrote “Hello, how are you” on a piece of paper and passed it to me over the coffee bar, I replied on the paper and we continued conversing in this way.  By the end of the evening we had explored an issue concerning her mental wellbeing to a satisfactory conclusion.  The reason this method worked really well on this occasion was, I think, due to her lack of confidence and withdrawn state at that time.  She was clearly instigating the interaction but was not able to verbalise that at the time.  This example, however, still follows the notion that conversation is spontaneous and takes place between two people in the same location.  Visual reassurance in the form of facial expression and body language are there to support the written message where tone of voice is lacking.

Conversation involves an immediate response.  There is not much time lag between the action of one person and the response of the other.  ..  … It means, for example, that what we say may be less thought out. (Jeffs & Smith, 2005)

Changing technology

As the technological age has taken hold, over the last decade young people are turning to texting and social networking as a means of conversation.  With 1 billion text messages being sent every month (BBC, 2007) one can see just how big an attraction this is becoming for young people.  As this form of conversation is not face to face, facial expressions are replaced by smilies like J or :p and voice tone replaced by CAPITALS to show, anger and hearts <3 and kisses x to imply good intent. We have also adopted abbreviations such as LOL (laugh out loud) or ROFL (roll on floor laughing). As Youth Workers if we want to maintain our contact, and continue to engage with young people then we must embrace these concepts and learn to converse with young people through these methods.  This will however, bring to the fore, problems and concerns around a number of issues.

  • Regulations – particularly concerning boundaries.
  • Concerns about protecting the safety or young people and workers.
  • Language barriers

Let us look at these issues in more detail. 

Regulations and concerns

Every organisation should have policies and regulations to inform and guide workers practice and Oxfordshire County Council, for whom I work, are no exception.  There are already policies around boundaries and the importance of maintaining a professional relationship.  However, there are no specific guidelines in relation to social networking sites or texting.  Without these clear guidelines, some workers are reluctant to engage in work with young people on the internet. One of the biggest concerns involves the social networking site facebook.  Many youth centres have their own pages, and young people and workers are invited to become friends of that centre.  The potential boundary issues are that young people are able to read ‘status’ information about the worker.  Imagine a workers ‘status’ reading ‘got a huge hangover, how much did I drink, can’t remember much about last night, but must have been a good one’ or ‘had a really crap night at youth club tonight’.  Photos that are uploaded by members can also be seen by the friends group.  This again crosses the personal/professional boundary line allowing young people to view images of workers and vice versa.  Despite these concerns social networking is a powerful working tool. Allowing workers to publicise the youth centre and planned activities, give instant reminders about returning permission forms or informing of unexpected closures.  It provides a platform to give young people links to other sites, providing information about drugs, sexual health and other issues.  I feel that organisations need to give serious consideration to the use of social networking sites, and policies drawn up as a matter of urgency.  Some of the guidelines around street based and detached youth work could also apply to on-line working.

Language

On-line chat and texting has given us a new ‘language’ to learn, initially born from the requirement to limit the length of SMS text messages and speed for the ‘2 fingered typist’, most people are comfortable using abbreviated ‘text’ words like ‘C U L8r’ for ‘see you later’, and some are able to translate ‘BTW’ as ‘by the way’ or ‘TMI’ into ‘too much information’. However, internet language has now evolved to such a degree that the written word is almost totally unrecognisable as English.  Using the subversive language called ‘leet speak’ phrases such as ‘Hi, how are you’ become ‘H1, h0w 4r3 %05’ and ‘informal education’ becomes completely transformed into ‘1/\/|=ø|^/\/\4|_ 3|)|_|<4710/\/’.  Even ‘leet speak’ has its own variations unique to different on-line communities, dependant on which game or website the user is a part of.   Freire wrote of the need for ‘generative words’ the requirement to learn the words used by people with whom you engage, leads to an understanding of the world as they see it.  Without this understanding how can there be opportunity for youth workers to converse with young people on equal terms and without equality we perpetuate oppression.

In conclusion then, having looked at examples of conversation both verbal and silent, and exploring how conversation is changing in the world of technology it appears to me that conversation does still have a role to play in youth work and will do for the foreseeable future.  There appears to be a paradox between the time constraints and imposed nature of targeted work and the Every Child Matters outcomes of ‘making a positive contribution’, ‘Achieve economic wellbeing’ and ‘Equal Opportunity’.  In order to achieve these outcomes the ‘problem posing’ education model would be the best method to use, allowing young people to question and challenge the world around them.  The constraining element of targeted work however, lends itself to the ‘banking’ model. As informal educators, we strive to work with young people in many settings and on equal terms, if we are to work congruently then we must adopt the ‘problem posing’ model of education.  As youth workers we must jump into the ‘virtual’ world and be prepared to break down language barriers, to understand the generative words that our young people are using and to continue to converse with them.  Informal education continues to be a substantial part of youth work and conversation is the key element to informal education.

Bibliography

BBC. (2007, November 5th). Retrieved November 25, 2009, from BBC news Website: http://www.new.bbc.uk/1/hi/technology/7075005.stm

DfSE. (2003). Every Child Matters. London: Stationery Office.

Freire, P. (2006). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Jeffs, T., & Smith, M. (2005). Informal Education: conversation, democracy and learning. Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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