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Sometimes youth workers got to go walkabout!


Joyce Walker, Youth Development Insight blogIn the 2008 film Australia, the love story between handsome Hugh Jackman and petrified Nicole Kidman is front and center. But youth workers who saw this film probably most remember Nullah, the half-Aboriginal boy caught between the white cattle-farming culture and the pull of his ancestral roots and way of life. Nullah survives in the "new" Australia but sets out on a walkabout -- a ritual Aboriginal journey -- to discover for himself what he needs to know from his land and his people.

Next month, 15 Minnesota youth workers will begin a year of Walkabout. It is a new fellowship program in which youth workers will rediscover the essence of the work they do and find innovative, practical ways to demonstrate for others their expertise, talents, accountability and commitment to high-quality youth work. Like Nullah, they'll trace old paths, learning of heroic deeds, sharing stories and connecting with other wise people. In walkabout tradition, they will leave something behind - not a stone or totem but writings of what they have learned.

We will learn from their journey. At year's end, our Walkabout fellows will lead groups of people who care about the future of youth work and try to figure out answers to three questions:

  • Is it worthwhile to adopt a broadly shared set of youth work values, principles and ethics?
  • Does it matter if we consider youth work as a field, a discipline, a profession or a practice?
  • What would a creative system of expectations and accountability for youth work look like?

This isn't your normal Youth Work Institute class or process. It's an experiment. If this all sounds crazy to you, let me put it in perspective. For four or five years now, different groups have been meeting to discuss the importance of quality in our work and to figure out ways to address the calls for credentialing and certification, as well as calls to adopt various standards and competencies for youth workers. It's raised a lot of questions. What is this work and what is required to do it? How can we prove quality and expertise to young people, families, organizations and funders? What kind of system would allow youth work to blossom and grow, not feel constricted and inflexible?

The Walkabout will tap into practitioner wisdom about these questions. So if you're a youth worker, one of our Walkabout fellows may contact you to ask your story and your views. Please respond if they do! We want to hear your creative ideas and heartfelt recommendations for addressing these sticky issues.

Our Walkabout fellows will be using a brand new book, Advancing Youth Work, as one guide or "songline" for their journey. Check it out! The author Dana Fusco, will be in Minnesota to share her ideas with us all at a symposium here in early November.

I hope this blog entry sparks your interest in the Walkabout. We'll be talking about it more as things start to happen. What do you hope to learn from our fellows?

As the Tourism Australia ad campaign of 2008 noted:
"Sometimes we need to get lost to find ourselves.
Sometimes, we got to go walkabout."

-- Joyce Walker, professor and youth development educator


Cheryl Meld said:

I'm looking forward to sharing perspectives on youth work within the cohort of Walkabout fellows. I anticipate a year of interesting work and great discussions addressing the current state of youth work and the possibilities for refining systems and strengthening the corps of dedicated workers.

Carol Thomas said:

Welcome Fellows to what I hope will be a year of amazing conversations, bold position-testing, and lots of laughs. Your pracitioner voice and wisdom is a key piece of the "Minnesota puzzle" we're trying to assemble to grow and support quality youth work. I am so eager to hear from you - I wish it was a year from now and your pieces were all ready done.....Start thinking about people resources you would like us to have available for you related to "wise old owls" that you can count on to help you along this process....someone to point you to some resources, someone to critique a position you're taking, someone to help you make a stronger argument or someone to encourage you to go in a different direction. We are committed to putting together a tree-full of wise old owls to help you along you way - so we'll be asking you to suggest individuals, either here in the area or available through electronic methods from around the world....More later....Welcome, Welcome, Welcome...

Dana Fusco said:

I love the idea of getting lost to be found. I often "lose" myself in various ideas before coming around to understand what it is that I am actually learning/gleaning only to get lost again. Unfortunately for practitioners they often don't have the leisure of 'getting lost' because they are too busy needing to stay grounded in their practice for the benefit of the young people with whom they are working. The Walkabout offers a great opportunity for folks to carve out some time to explore, discover and re-discover. I am looking forward to getting lost with you in the coming Fall.



Joyce Walker said:

Cheryl, thanks for your thoughts. I think the "sharing" is key -- with each other, with the wise old owls Carol mentions, and with others who want to learn from what you have learned. We are a field where people think and care a lot, but we have far too few chances to compile our thinking. I'm full of wonder and excitement at the possibilities we could come up with -- new ways to think about youth work and as you said, ways to strengthen it. As for wise old owls, I want to nominate Tony Jeffs, a teacher and writer about youth work from England. He asks the best questions! Stops me in my tracks every time. Perhaps we can get him on skype with us.

Carol, your image of a tree-full of wise old owls is great -- a good goal indeed.

Joyce Walker said:

Dana, we must have been blogging at the same time - and you posted first. Thanks for the affirmation of your interest in this Walkabout way of learning and processing. You're so right about the "losing self" to find the way -- it takes a bold person to do it, I think. Being a fairly orderly person who leans toward control, this purposeful wandering for discovery is a little scary, but I'm willing to do it along with others who have brave hearts and authentic commitment. If we wander into a dead end, guess we just hold hands and back our way out again. It will be wonderful to have you here, working with us. Anxious to see your book!

Lindsay Petterson said:

I’m so eager to be part of this wonderful opportunity! I look forward to expanding my network and having the chance to reflect and grow in new ways. I believe this will truly be an experience of getting “lost” in ideas. They have already started to encroach on my mind, much like the vines of my morning glories, which begin from different patches of earth but intertwine so that it’s impossible to distinguish where each seed sprouted. Excited, nervous, hopeful, tossed with a little bit of self-doubt—all things I feel as I think about the year ahead. I’m grateful to know there will be a tree of wise owls there to help on the journey. I heart owls!

Kate Walker said:

As a member of the Walkabout planning team, it’s exciting to see our own meanderings now join up with those setting out on this collective journey! I too love the notion of taking time to get lost together, ask questions, and seek wise counsel in order to find our way. I’m particularly interested the notion of expertise and how it relates to these big questions of ethical choices and value judgments made in daily practice.

Joyce Walker said:

Lindsay -- Good to hear from you. Keep those morning glory-like ideas growing. Write them down so you'll have them to share with everyone else. Don't lose them! I'm always amazed how some of my best ideas fly into my head -- and then fly right back out -- lost in space. Post-it notes work too, but journals last longer.

Lumarie Orozco said:

I'm excited for the opportunity to explore the unknowns with a cohort of like minded youth work professionals. Coming from the fields of community psychology and domestic violence, I've come to youth work through an unconventional path. Having the opportunity to learn from those truly grounded in the youth development field is something that I am truly looking forward to.

Josey Landrieu said:

What a great opportunity and experience for the Walkabout Fellows!! We will all benefit by them shedding light on the three questions you pose Joyce. I just finished teaching a 2 day course/workshop to youth workers who work and serve Latino youth in our community and this notion of youth being "caught between the lines" (as a youth talked about it) came up again and again. In addition, several of the youth workers in the class were early in their careers but looking for more professional development opportunities (Accredited courses, etc) in order to further their professional experience and opportunities. Great post and discussion.

Kari Denissen Cunnien said:

I am eagerly looking forward to building new relationships and addressing these very critical questions. How we answer these questions as a youth work community will have a direct impact on my day to day work life and practice. I am thankful for the opportunity to take real time to be thoughtful and reflective- these opportunities are few and far between. I'm also thankful for what I believe will be a strong group of practitioners who will allow others to change their mind, test out new ideas and be creative. I am also interested is asking what problem creating a professionalized field, having set values and accountability systems is an attempt to solve and then ensuring we are not finding answers to the wrong questions.

Kristen Mastel said:

I just purchased a copy of Advancing Youth Work Current Trends, Critical Questions for the university of Minnesota Libraries. You will soon be able to borrow it.

Jenny Wright Collins said:

As a youthworker I believe that as few and far between as they may be, it is the moments spent in deep discussion with other youthworkers that truly feed us in this work. We often catch these moments after a meeting outside standing next to our cars, keys in hand, or on the phone while driving or cooking or caring for our own children. But most of us who have stuck with this work have done so because of a handful of colleagues who keep us focused on what matters and perhaps a handful of truly meaningful conversations about these issues each month, even each year.

It feels like a bit of a luxury to embark on this journey with other practicioners in which we will set aside the time to do those things we mean to do--think, talk, challenge our assumptions, and then write it all down. As a new mom and a busy practictioner I think I might be crazy to take this on but then again it would be crazy not to at such a critical time in our field.

I shared the focus of this project with someone at my job and he said, "I have so many opinions about that." So it is for him and for myself and for all of the many youthworkers I know who have lots of opinions and little opportunity to share them that I hope this project will be a meaningful opportunity for all of us to learn and contribute.

Joyce Walker said:

Wow! You all are getting me so excited. Your are giving words to the sort of fuzzy ideas and hopes the planning group had for this Walkabout. You're making it real for me -- and for yourselves, I think. The group of us from the Dept. of Education and the Center echo Jenny's comment about being crazy to do this but crazy not to!

Kari's point is central. We can't forget to keep circling back to "What is the problem we have to solve here?" Because teaching and early childhood have done it one way doesn't mean that's what's best for youth work. And Lumarie, you will indeed learn from some of the best in youth development practice as you join this group. And I know from reading your After School Matters article that you have a big heart and great practical wisdom when it comes to working with young Latinas.

Josey, I want to invite you to be one of the Wise Old Owls who are available to share views, critique, support, consult and bounce around ideas with fellows when they want that. You're not so old, but you sure are wise!

Juanita Reed-Boniface said:

This sounds like an exciting way to learn, reflect, explore and share!! Here's hoping your dreams come true and this becomes another way to learn!!

Carol Thomas said:

One of my hopes for the Walkabout Fellows is that they don't set out to "solve some problems" but rather are encouraged and bold enough to be "illuminators" as they make their way through this walkabout shine a light into some corners we haven't yet had the time to bother with, to lighten the way along a pathway, to uncover hidden dangers before harm can be do we build a field where Jenny doesn't get her support just in a parking lot, should we organize opportunities for continuing learning, is it important that youthwork gets recognized and if so, how do we do that and respect all the diversity and richness of youthworkers and their work? Like Joyce, I can't wait for the Fellows to get at it....we are all going to benefit here...

Deena McKinney said:

When I think about doing youth work I believe it to be one of the most genuine experiences of my life. It requires us to challenge ourselves first in order to bring anything to the table for a young person. I am looking forward to the Walkabout Fellowship to see and hear why others are passionate about their work. I am looking forward to discovering the common threads but maybe more importantly to discover the unique and special ways youth work is being done. This seems like a great opportunity to give youth workers a chance to think about their work in a different context and impact their career field.

Joyce Walker said:

Deena, thanks for contributing. Both you and Carol remind me that this Walkabout is not so much about how youth workers plan and do programs. It's about who they are as respected leaders and educators. It's about what principles and ideas should guide youth workers, what they are accountable for, and how we know when we have as a group succeeded in our work. At least that's some of it! Enjoy these precious late summer days and look forward to the Walkabout activity beginning Septemer 7.

Nicole Pokorney said:

In preparation for my own blog, I found this interesting article that discussed the same movie as you did - - and the term walkabout. I just wanted to share it with you!

Joyce Walker said:

Nicole -- Wow! Thanks for that wonderful article on the Walkabout concept. It's very appropriate as it connects the ancient Walkabout concept to our contemporary challenges in learning and discovery today. I'm happy to have this piece and will encourage others to read it. Good luck on your blog.

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