Most practitioners in the DML field would agree that youth leadership is a critical piece of positive youth development in digital learning contexts. Unfortunately, we’re lacking a robust set of strategies to foster it genuinely and successfully. The annual Mozilla festival at Ravensbourne College in London, a gathering packed with unconventional workshops, inspiring talks and community huddles, was the ideal platform to tackle this challenge with members from the Hive Learning Networks and greater Mozilla community.
Under the Voices of Diverse Leaders Pathway, I had the opportunity to run a workshop on the various modes and models of authentic youth leadership. A wonderfully diverse group of practitioners, researchers, technologists and civic hackers participated. I was especially excited that folks from Hive Chicago and Zac Rudge from the NYC Parks Department joined and supported me during the session. After working through two case studies and a sticky-note exercise, it was easy for us to identify common pitfalls when attempting to foster authentic youth engagement. Reflecting back on many of the youth councils, peer education initiatives, hackathons and youth media campaigns we had all taken part in, these were the universal challenges that quickly bubbled to the surface:
- Engaging interested but overcommitted youth.
- Staying engaged as an adult, but stepping back to make youth feel empowered to make decisions.
- Managing constant participation from youth.
- Supporting youth to innovate rather than emulate.
- Guiding youth to stay on task.
Brainstorming solutions for these issues proved to be more of a challenge. The successful strategies we identified in our work varied across youth engagement models, but all in all we were able to establish the following:
- Set agendas so youth can come prepared.
- Rotate youth meeting facilitators.
- Give youth the opportunity to experience making and directing in collaborative settings.
- Provide materials and prompts so that youth have something to work with and a sense of direction.
Since returning from MozFest, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the Young Innovators Squad (fka Hive Youth Meet-Ups), a youth-led program supported by Global Kids, the NYC Parks Department and Hive NYC.
I can attribute our growing momentum to a few lessons I’ve learned over the last few months working with our youth planning committee:
- Allow youth to define how informal or formal the engagement will be. Sometimes structure works, but structure can also crush the organic and spontaneous environment youth crave in extracurricular activities. Structured activities can also prevent youth from developing the relationships they want to develop.
- Develop relationships with youth as soon as possible, and find ways to quickly leverage their skill sets.
- Youth have great, timely ideas, let them lead and take the backseat, but make sure to reiterate that you’re always available as a sounding board and jump in when appropriate.
These approaches and many others will be featured on an open-source wiki that will serve as a community for education practitioners, community leaders, researchers and community-based organizations to crowdsource resources to improve practices around creating authentic youth leadership. Community members are welcome and encouraged to contribute various resources including case studies, youth testimonials, blog posts, academic articles and personal experiences.
There’s more work to be done, but I hope it will provide struggling educators with tools to succeed and a place to share their stories. If you’d like to contribute to the wiki, sign-up here! I’m extremely grateful to Mozilla, Hive NYC and the New York Community Trust for providing me with the opportunity and space to tap into such a wonderful community to build upon our work at Global Kids.