The Power of the Creator Economy in Education: How Educators can Thrive Digitally

By: Harish, WIT teen entrepreneur

Highlights:

  • The creator economy is a rapidly growing system that democratizes education whilst also making learning more efficient.
  • Due to online learning in the pandemic, educators are more adept at teaching in the digital age; the next stage for educators is to consider reinventing themselves and their identities to include being a creator as a vital part of their role.
  • This blog explores how educators should build their brands and leverage platforms that enable them to maximize the impact of their knowledge.
Source: Youth-Nex

The creator economy is a $100 billion economy involving independent creators that grow and monetize their work through software tools, such as YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Spotify, Substack, Patreon, and more. Since the barrier of entry to create and distribute content is extremely low, the distribution and accessibility of ideas and skills have grown exponentially. In terms of monetization, creators use a variety of revenue models from ad revenue, brand deals, and affiliate links to courses, paid newsletters, and creator-led brands. This economic system, built by 50 million content creators, community builders, bloggers, influencers, artists, and writers, is one of the fastest-growing segments in business with no signs of slowing down. 

The Creator Economy & Education

One of the industries most affected by the rise of the creator economy is the education sector. With tuition rates rising constantly and quality education becoming more accessible through MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other free sources online. Due to this availability of information and resources, higher education enrollment, both online and in-person universities, has been on a decline since 2012. Alongside the declining trend of higher education, the creator economy continues to grow and establish itself as a powerful source of widespread education. This is due to the many benefits that digital content provides, such as lower costs, greater accessibility, greater flexibility, up-to-date content, and more efficient upskilling (continuous learning, used to gain and improve specific skills). As a result, content creators are emerging as the teachers and instructors of the next generation, educating people in fields from fitness to business to culinary skills.

The Rise of Live & Cohort-Based Learning

Although the creator economy has allowed for education to become more democratized and accessible, it does come with a few downsides that are important to understand. The increase in the quantity of content makes execution and implementation more important than ever. This is evident due to traditional online courses, such as MOOCs, having a completion rate of only 3-5%. Additionally, digital learning can also result in a lack of the ability to learn together alongside peers, which creates a need for community. As a result, we’ve seen the edtech space double down on the creator economy through cohort-based learning, which has dramatically risen in popularity over the last few years. Companies such as Maven, Mighty Networks, and Disco allow creators and experts to turn their knowledge into engaging cohort-based courses that allow students to experience hands-on learning with accountability through the presence of community. Beyond this, leaders in the edtech space are also exploring use cases of virtual reality and augmented reality in online STEM classes to further increase engagement and learning outcomes. 

How Educators can Leverage the Creator Economy

With the rise of digital education, through the likes of the creator economy and cohort-based learning, we can potentially see certain portions of traditional education become obsolete. As a result, it’s important for educators to evolve and reinvent their practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed certain holes in traditional education, which has resulted in the online and hybrid education models existing and rising in popularity even after the peak of the pandemic. With teachers across the world being forced to evolve their curriculum and their skills as a part of this trend, educators are now more adept at teaching in the digital age.

In addition to meeting the demands of virtual learning, teachers should also consider reinventing themselves and their identities to include being a creator as a vital part of their role as an educator. For example:

  • Graham Weaver, an entrepreneur and six-year lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, created a TikTok account to share his knowledge of economics, personal finance, and life lessons. Through leveraging the power of the creator economy through short-form content, Graham increased his reach exponentially to distribute his knowledge and expertise at rates much faster than he could solely through the classroom. 
  • Brittany Sinitch, a middle school teacher who documents her life as a teacher through vlogs, Q&As, and lesson plans she uses in the classroom. However, Brittany is not alone as many K-12 educators are using the power of social media to create a classroom that goes beyond physical walls.

It is important to understand that education is a dynamic and ever-changing field that requires constant experimentation and iteration. With education only becoming more accessible and democratized, the identity of educators will change as they won’t be limited to their classroom. In the new age, educators will be building their brands and leveraging platforms that allow them to maximize the impact of their knowledge and play the game of distribution. 

Sources


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is WITtag_blue.png
Youth-Nex is excited to feature teen entrepreneurs from the non-profit WIT – Whatever It Takes. The posts in the Youth Nex + WIT series are submitted by teen entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring and discussing topics ranging from education inequity, mental health, political issues, and more. The teens choose the topic and the views expressed in their posts are theirs and not connected to WIT or Youth-Nex. 

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Hey, I’m Harish 👋. I’m the co-founder & CEO of Guardial and teen entrepreneur at WIT. I’m based in Austin, Texas, and love exploring social entrepreneurship, the creator economy, and marketing/branding. Feel free to reach out @harishkolli_, would love to chat!

Vlog: Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture

By: Daniel Fairley II

This vlog is the second in a series. View the first blog entitled “Youth at the Intersection of the Movement for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Highlights:

  • I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
  • In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
  • In this video blog and for Mental Health Awareness month, I share more about mental health changes I’ve seen in the pandemic and how we can support youth going forward.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

We have to come to terms with the idea that our mental health needs have changed and will continue to be a large part of the conversation going forward. We as humans were not built to live in isolation, without community and fellowship, or going outside with sunshine. We aren’t built for how we’ve been living the last two years during the pandemic.

The renewed focus on mental health is something that is going to fundamentally change who we are, how we navigate throughout the world, the things we take for granted, what we are looking forward to and more. All these things are changing because we have to come to terms with the idea that what we were doing before was not sustainable. For many, not addressing our mental health and the issues we were facing with our families and in the workforce was really toxic.

There are so many opportunities right now to reshape our culture and that has to start with mental health.

What are we doing to take care of ourselves and our families? How will that permeate throughout the rest of our society?

Youth & Mental Health

For the youth I work with, they are no longer afraid to ask for help. More so in last two years I’ve noticed youth have the ability to:

  1. Understand what is going on with themselves or doing a self-analysis,
  2. Naming what that self-analysis comes up with, and
  3. Being able to act upon it or ask for help.

Youth are not afraid to say “this is an issue I’d like adults to work with me on.” It’s become a part of their culture, in a really healthy way. Oftentimes youth know when something needs to happen for them – they know if they need to ask for medication, talk with someone, work with their friends, or ask someone for help – and that is a really good thing for mental health.

What Adults Can Do

Adults should not dismiss feelings or actions from youth about their mental health. Avoid saying things like “back in my day, this wasn’t an issue or we didn’t have depression or anxiety.” That is just not true. There were these similar issues but there may not have been words to describe or label them. Hopefully now we are starting to share these experiences and in ways that minimize how it affects others in the future.

Be vulnerable youth and share whatever is appropriate with your own experiences around mental health too. Allow them to see you. Once youth see the genuine and authentic you, then they will connect more. Breakdown “I am the teacher, mentor, adult in charge” and “you are the small person that only has the ability to learn from me.” Shift those roles and blend the idea that I, as an adult, can learn from you and you, as a youth, can learn from me. With this shift adults will see a greater impact.


If you need help or are in a mental health crisis, please ask for assistance and use resources available:


Daniel is also a local steering committee member for the University of Virginia Equity Center with which Youth-Nex is affiliated.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Vlog: Youth at the Intersection of the Movement for Racial Justice and the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Daniel Fairley II

This vlog is the first in a series. View the second post entitled “Youth Mental Health & Reshaping Our Culture.”

Highlights:

  • I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
  • In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
  • In this video blog, I share more about my experience working with youth, and talk about what adults can do to better support youth who are focused on both the movement for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

There is a pandemic that has been going on for centuries and a pandemic that we just started about 2 years ago. It is easy for adults to just focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say we’ll figure out the other things later about racial injustice. But for many youth that is not their focus or lived experience. So what can adults do to support youth at this intersection of the movement for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic?

The best thing adults can do is ask questions and listen.

Say “teach me more about that,” or “I don’t know I understand.”

Put youth in the driver’s seat and make them teachers. Have them show you their experiences, and how they are navigating through it to make meaning of their experiences. Especially teenagers who are muted in their own responses, ask them questions about how they are processing and dealing. Create a space that is non-judgmental where a youth can be their genuine self.

If you are working with youth, there are 3 rules to follow:

  1. Show Up: When you are there with youth, be there completely. Limit distractions and be fully present.
  2. Keep Showing Up: Be there for youth and build a deep connection. Keep showing up time after time working with the same youth. Don’t be a one-and-done, but instead be there for the long haul!
  3. Be Authentic: Don’t make assumptions, and be true to yourself. Say “tell me what that is like” instead of pretending you know or understand their experiences. Say “what can I do to better understand your experience.”

Daniel is also a local steering committee member for the University of Virginia Equity Center with which Youth-Nex is affiliated.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.

Suicide is Preventable: What You Can Do to Support our Youth in Crisis

By: Laura Handler

Highlights:

  • As Director of Prevention Services at Region Ten Community Services Board, I know suicide is preventable and there are steps adults can take to help youth in crisis.
  • It is important to recognize the warning signs that a young person may be experiencing thoughts of suicide.
  • Next understand how to ask questions and listen nonjudgmentally to the response in order to seek further help and support that is available 24/7.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week 2021 and is dedicated as a time to promote suicide prevention awareness and share resources. While it is not a topic most people prefer to discuss, suicide remains the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control.[i] We do not yet fully know the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates, but there are indicators that emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents ages 12-17, particularly girls, have significantly increased.[ii]

Know the Warning Signs

Suicide is preventable and everyone can play a part in helping a young person. One of the most important ways teachers, parents, mentors, and other caring adults can support our youth is to recognize the warning signs that a young person may be having thoughts of suicide. Some of these warning signs include:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Feeling no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Changes in appearance
  • Giving away possessions
  • Reporting thoughts of suicide that are active (i.e. “I want to die”) or passive (i.e. “I wish I could just fall asleep and not wake up”
  • Seeking access to pills, weapons, and other means to kill themselves
  • Increased substance use

What To Do Next

If you do notice warning signs, start by telling them that you are concerned and what you have noticed. Next, listen nonjudgmentally and ask open-ended questions to hear more about what the youth is experiencing. Hear them at their own pace and manage your own feelings of worry or concern. The next critical step is to ask the question

“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you thinking about suicide?” It is best to avoid using a vague question such as “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” because they may not know what you mean, or respond with a vague answer.

Be calm, specific, and direct because you want a direct answer.

Youth who are having thoughts of suicide often report a feeling of relief that someone noticed their pain and was willing to ask and hear more about it. If they are not thinking about suicide, your question will not “plant the idea in their mind.” For more tips on having the conversation, check out this resource from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): “If Someone Tells You They’re Thinking About Suicide: A #RealConvo Guide from AFSP

If a young person does report thoughts of suicide, it is important to connect them to professional help. There are many resources available locally and nationwide.

Specifically, I encourage everyone to put the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line (741741) into your phone’s contact list right now so you have the contact if you ever need it.

Both of these national resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have trained crisis counselors available to talk with you or the young person to help address these thoughts and develop a safety plan.

Ongoing additional support will also be important for a young person with current or recent thoughts of suicide. Reach out to their primary care doctor, a counselor, or other treatment professional who can more thoroughly assess what treatment or other supports might be most helpful.

While it can feel scary and anxiety-provoking to notice warning signs of suicide, it is important to ask the question, and get help. These steps can save a life. Showing the young person you care and are available for them when things are difficult is vital not only in moments of crisis, but every day.


References

[i] Deaths: Leading Causes for 2019. National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 70, No. 9. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/nvsr70-09-tables-508.pdf

[ii] Yard, E., Radhakrishnan, L., Ballesteros, M.F., Sheppard, M., Gates, A., Stein, Z.,…Stone, D.M. (2021). Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Persons Aged 12-25 Years Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic-United States, January 2019-May 2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 70, 888-894. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7024e1.htm


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Laura Handler, LPC is the Director of Prevention Services at Region Ten Community Services Board. She has worked at the CSB for more than 12 years serving adults, youth, and families in the Charlottesville area. The Prevention Team offers trainings and presentations to support suicide prevention, substance use prevention, and promotion of mental health and wellness. If you are interested in learning more, please email prevention@regionten.org

How Will We Address the Social-Emotional Learning Loss from COVID-19? Lessons from Camp Common Ground

By Zach Bell

This blog post is the second in a two-part series from Zach Bell reflecting on the Youth-Nex 2019 conference and SEL loss from COVID-19. If you want to learn more about the other researchers and practitioners who inspired this post, read the first post here.

Highlights:

  • Zach Bell is the Co-Founder of Camp Common Ground and a Physical Education and Social-Emotional Learning Teacher in the Oakland Unified School District in California.
  • With COVID-19 and distance learning, students are experiencing more social-emotional learning loss than ever before. 
  • In the second and final post of this series, I further explore the “Four Factors for Youth Moral Development”: (1) safe-environment, (2) well-trained facilitators, (3) experiential pedagogy/youth power, and (4) accessible to most students. I use this framework to evaluate different interventions for doing social-emotional learning work in our current education environment.
Source: Color War Simulation from Zach Bell & Camp Common Ground

“I don’t know if my school is really a safe place to do this work,” I admitted to the 2019 Youth-Nex conference chamber, referring to the Color War simulation we run at Camp Common Ground.

In this simulation, campers experience inequality in an embodied way through a day-long competition where students hold positional privilege or disadvantage based on their assigned color team. Youth must navigate their emotional reactions towards their peers, and towards the authority figures (me and the other staff members) who are enforcing this inequitable system – and make hard choices whether to “rebel” and face consequences. For the full talk about Color War, watch the video here.

What I didn’t realize at the time of the conference was that school might be the only place in 2020 to do “this work” of developing our youth’s social-emotional skills, moral development, and dialogical abilities because in-person programming for Camp Common Ground (and so many other related programs) were cancelled this year due to COVID-19.

Camp Common Ground, is a two-week overnight summer camp for a diverse cohort of Bay Area middle schoolers, was co-founded by myself and current Executive Director Ron Towns, both Oakland educators. The camp includes carefully scaffolded skill-building workshops that lead up to integrative simulations, like Color War. Our program has led to statistically significant boosts in empathy, perspective-taking, self-esteem, and cross-cultural friendships. To learn more about the organization and our impact, click here.

As a middle school math teacher at an experimental bilingual public school in Oakland Unified School District during distance learning, I found that even the “normal” social-emotional learning this year was largely disrupted. I tried to engage students with “virtual restorative justice circles” and daily check-ins, but it simply was not the same. I found that the students who were most active over Zoom and Google Classroom were more likely to be affluent and with a quiet space in their home, and not necessarily the students who were in the greatest need of social-emotional support (though, all students need social and emotional support and development).

So how can we address this social-emotional learning loss from “distance learning” and cancelled summer and after school programs?

Can we use the disruption of COVID-19 as an opportunity to think more broadly about how to reorient our “education system” (or perhaps “holistic child development system”) to prioritize non-academic skills?

If so, where, when, and how do we implement this “re-prioritization”?

What I learned from the 2019 Youth-Nex conference is that for moral development, dialogue, and social justice education to be effective we need the following in place. I’ll refer to these as the Four Factors going forward.

  1. Safe environment with bonds of community, belonging, and trust, so that youth can be vulnerable.
  2. Well-trained adult facilitators who can responsively adapt their work to the developmental and identity intersections of their youth. 
  3. Experiential pedagogy and power structures that share authority with youth so that there is authentic co-construction of rule-based systems with meaningful stakes (e.g. hiring staff) and space for critical reflection and praxis.
  4. Accessibility to most students. In hopes of being realistic given the often under-resourced state of public schools and structural inequity that exist in our systems, I want to add one “realism-check” category so that we’re not just finding solutions for affluent youth.

Below are avenues I see to explore options for doing social-emotional learning work, and admittedly cursory evaluations of each option’s potential:

To read more about the pros and cons of each of these venues please see this downloadable PDF.

At the end of the day, a diversity of tactics is likely the approach we’ll need to take to address this overwhelming need – now more than ever – to teach our youth to be moral actors with a strong foundation of social-emotional and dialogical skills.

The gaps can be daunting; when I recently searched for “gender education nonprofits” there was not a single hit on the first page of Google that mentioned boys or men, so we have a long way to go on providing truly holistic identity development for all of our kids.

But as many of us take a step back during the COVID-19 pandemic to evaluate our current systems, it may be time to think imaginatively and critically of concrete ways that we can support all students in becoming moral actors, in whatever context they are in.

Let’s look at our educational practices with that lens. Rather than just asking “can they score a point?”, let’s ask, “are they grappling with what’s a fair rule?” and “are they deciding how to score the points, and if they even want to?” May we approach these challenging tasks with playfulness and a love of learning (see the Calvin & Hobbes comic in the downloadable PDF).


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Zach Bell is a public middle school P.E. and social-emotional learning teacher in Oakland, California. In 2015, he co-founded Camp Common Ground, an inter-cultural overnight summer camp, where he co-designed and facilitated a curriculum about empathy-building, conflict resolution, and gender norms. Earlier in his career, he was a freelance writer and co-founder of an online magazine for youth activists, before working in business development at an ed-tech start up. More recently, he has deepened his work as a gender educator, including as a middle school basketball coach, running a boy’s group, and founding Real Men Share, an online magazine for men to share vulnerably. He is also writing a film about masculinity, listening to a lot of Ram Dass, and going to the beach.

1-Year Later, Reflecting on Dialoging for Democracy and Teaching in a Pandemic

By Zach Bell

This blog post is the first in a two-part series from Zach Bell reflecting on the Youth-Nex 2019 conference and SEL loss from COVID-19. Read more about how to address the social-emotional learning loss from COVID-19 in the second blog post here.

Highlights:

  • Zach Bell is the Co-Founder of Camp Common Ground and a Physical Education and Social-Emotional Learning Teacher in the Oakland Unified School District in California.
  • In the first post of this series, I examine the content from the 2019 Youth-Nex Conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice” and consider what it means for the future of social-emotional learning in public schools.
  • Reflecting on the presentations and panels from youth performances, practitioners and researchers, I provide a foundation for Four Factors I will refer to later (safe-environment, well-trained facilitators, experiential pedagogy/youth power, and accessible to most students).
Zach Bell presents at the 2019 Youth-Nex Conference.

One year ago in November 2019, I attended and presented at the Youth-Nex 2019 conference on “Dialoging for Democracy: Youth Moral Reasoning and Social Justice.” Since then, the world for teachers and after-school programs has changed dramatically. In this short series, I reflect on what I learned at the conference on moral development, dialogue, and social justice education, and then apply this to my experience as a P.E. and Social-Emotional Learning Teacher.

What’s required of the setting for youth to develop as moral actors?

Social and emotional growth requires vulnerability, and the opening panelists at the conference discussed the need for creating an environment of safety and trust for youth to be open to vulnerability. Similarly, the power dynamics in the space need to actually trust youth with authority if we expect them to practice being moral actors, not just rule-followers.

Shawn Brown, at Teen Empowerment Rochester, said it “Takes real time, and effort, and trust…young people come to us because they’re needed, not because they’re needy.” At TE-Rochester, the ten young people in their program had a 50% vote on adult staff hiring decisions. Emma Yackso, Director of the Side-by-Side Youth Leadership Council, an LGBTQ “youth led, adult supported” center in Virginia gives the youth council a say in all decisions each week, from the design of the space to curricular choices, from the date for prom to the strategic priorities for the organization.

How can these models of “youth led, adult supported” learning be applied in a school setting? Is that even possible without totally reimagining school?

Further panelists discussed the need for not just safe environments, but well-trained educators who have done their own internal work and can provide developmentally appropriate curricula. For example, Larry Nucci, PhD, Professor of Education at UC Berkeley, discussed the “Moral Development Curve,” in which 8-year olds and 19-year olds are more likely to have similar responses than 11 to 16-year olds to a situation where they see someone drop a $20 bill.

Gutsavo Carlo, PhD, Professor of Human Development at University of Missouri, explained the necessity of layering in cultural identity when cultivating moral development. For example, he found that understanding the concept of familismo, the family unit, was important in predicting prosocial behavior in Latinx communities. Emma Yackso, from the youth-led Side-by-Side center mentioned above, noted that she needed to “prep the adults in the board meeting about what it’s like to have kids there.”

It’s hard enough to find qualified educators amidst a national teacher shortage. How can we find, or train, educators with these complex identity and moral-development skills?

My panel was tasked with speaking to the actual pedagogical practices to cultivate these skills. This included elevating youth voices, like the Mikva Challenge’s “Project Soapbox” that supports youth in engaging in civic participation on issues they’re passionate about. Similarly, it included resourcing youth artistic creation, like A King’s Story, a play by Joshua St. Hill, a high school student, about police violence. 

In my talk, I shared about simulation and game-based pedagogy for moral development, looking at the co-construction of rule-based systems like in John Hunter’s famous “World Peace Game”, and Jane Elliott’’s famous 1968 blue-eyes brown-eyes experiment to process Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination with her third graders.

That sounds “cool”, but seriously, how can any of these pedagogical practices find their way into 48-minute academic period-packed school days?

Well, the truth is I don’t know. But I want to explore that with educators and collaborators at a distance. Using these experiences, I created Four Factors to evaluate possible routes to democratizing these critical moral and social-emotional skills in the context of the U.S. education system. These Four Factors are:

  1. Safe-environment,
  2. Well-trained facilitators,
  3. Pedagogy/youth power, and
  4. Accessibility to most students.

To learn more about these factors and an evaluation of different routes for addressing the social-emotional learning loss from COVID-19, please read the second blog posted here


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Zach Bell is a public middle school P.E. and social-emotional learning teacher in Oakland, California. In 2015, he co-founded Camp Common Ground, an inter-cultural overnight summer camp, where he co-designed and facilitated a curriculum about empathy-building, conflict resolution, and gender norms. Earlier in his career, he was a freelance writer and co-founder of an online magazine for youth activists, before working in business development at an ed-tech start up. More recently, he has deepened his work as a gender educator, including as a middle school basketball coach, running a boy’s group, and founding Real Men Share, an online magazine for men to share vulnerably. He is also writing a film about masculinity, listening to a lot of Ram Dass, and going to the beach.

For Youth, COVID-19 Changed Everything, but the National Response Movement Gave Me New Purpose

By Isabella, a 16-year old in Oregon.

Highlights:

  • My name is Isabella and I am a 16-year old junior who wants to share more about my COVID-19 experience.
  • During COVID-19, I joined the Mikva Challenge National Youth Response Movement (NYRM) and after 8 months I have some advice for others.
  • In this youth-led group, myself and others like me encouraged youth to share their experiences from the pandemic, did social media takeovers, developed policy recommendations, and organized a national roundtable discussion.

As a junior at one of the largest public high schools in Portland, Oregon, I have always cared a lot about my education, and have attended school everyday. From the age of four I have been dedicated to dance and have taken classes 3-6 days a week after school. Through dance, school, and other activities over the years, I have developed multiple different friend groups I’m equally close to and whom I rely on.

The pandemic changed everything. In less than 24 hours, every constant that I once had in my life had been taken from me, and from everyone I knew.

Life in the Pandemic & an Opportunity

For the first few weeks of the pandemic, I no longer had school, dance, or access to my friends in the way I had always known. It felt like someone just flipped a switch and nothing would ever be the same again; I felt panicked and anxious. To fill my days and distract myself, I took up running, I started reading more, and taking more time for myself. 

A couple weeks into the stay at home order, my Mock Trial teacher sent me an email telling me that he was choosing me to be one of his three nominees for the Mikva Challenge National Youth Response Movement. I was honored when I saw that email and knew I wanted to be a part of this, I wanted my voice to be heard. To my surprise, two days later I was notified of acceptance from Mikva Challenge, changing the way the rest of my year and summer would go. 

The Youth Response & Community

The National Youth Response Movement (NYRM), is a national group of 19 high school and college students from 14 states. Near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we gathered virtually to share our experiences and concerns for youth during this pandemic. We created a series of projects and initiatives for the spring and summer:

  1. Our first project as NYRM was to encourage youth to share their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. In creating this project, we wanted young people to share the issues that were most important and pressing to them during this pandemic, and then also create a call to action on how something could be done about it. This way, youth could be part of the national conversation about the next steps. 
  2. Our second project was focused on destigmatizing mental health and making virtual mental health resources more accessible to youth, since this is one of the major issues that we recognized was impacting young people during this pandemic. In order to do this, we held a social media takeover week on Mikva Challenge’s Instagram and my colleague Jennifer and I co-hosted an Instagram live to facilitate a conversation about mental health and self-care for youth. 
  3. Later in the summer, our team shifted focus to making schools more equitable, just, and student-centered. To accomplish this, we sent letters (which other youth can still do using the template provided in the previous link) to elected officials across the country about the importance of Social Emotional Learning in schools. We also held discussions on racial injustice and forms of activism with experts and other youth organizations, and created policy recommendations which we shared with stakeholders (like school board members, principals and teachers, and decision makers across the country). 
  4. As a culmination of our work, we planned and held a National Youth Policy Roundtable with 3 current and former members of Congress, 6 influencers, and a grand total of 91 youth participants from across the country who got to hear from and engage with these national decision makers about the quest to make schools more just, equitable, and student-centered places. 

We accomplished a lot this summer as NYRM, and have made our voices heard by many! 

One of the most amazing things about being a part of NYRM was the sense of family and community we accomplished through using Zoom. The tremendous amount of support and encouragement that everyone gave, along with the amount of fun we had, created a bond between us all. What made this NYRM family even better is that we’ve had each other through this time of uncertainty. We’ve had each other’s support, shoulders to cry on, and we are each other’s support system. This is what made NYRM so special.

Now more than ever, this sense of community and family is important for youth, whether it’s at home, with family, school, friends, or anywhere else.

Even if there was not a global pandemic, a support system is extremely important to have in one’s life, one’s mental health, and wellbeing. The really special thing about our NYRM family is that we share common goals and similar values. Working with such driven people inspired me. They empowered me, built me up, and they continue to do this for me today. 

Living during this pandemic has changed my life, and not necessarily in a negative way. There are many challenges that I am still experiencing, especially as we go back into the school year. If it weren’t for this pandemic, NYRM wouldn’t exist so I would have never had the opportunity to be a part of it. I have another family now, I know other people who share the same values I do and who will have my back no matter what. This has sparked a passion for activism in me that I have never felt before. The experience with NYRM has inspired my colleague Shanthi and I to start a local steering committee within our school called the “Youth Advocacy Coalition.” We will work with our principal and school administrators to implement more avenues for youth voices within our school community and district. 

Advice for Others

One lesson and word of advice I would like to share with schools, administrators, teachers, and parents/guardians regarding the development of youth during this time, is to take the time to really listen. Listen to young people, listen to your students, listen to your children, because the best way you can make change or help them is to pause and hear what they are saying.

To listen isn’t only the act of listening, but also the responsibility for action, like asking questions or advocating on the behalf of youth. Listen to what youth have to say, and then find out the actions you can take to help make said change.

I believe people underestimate youth. We are paying attention to what is going on, we are keeping ourselves informed around what is going on in the world, and we care about how this pandemic is going to impact our lives in the future and possibly forever. Right now, finding solutions to racial injustice and the importance of the upcoming election are more important than ever. Right now, action from the people, local and federal state leaders, and community members is necessary. Young people are the leaders of today and of the future, and our voices matter.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Isabella is a junior in High School in Portland, OR. She has had a passion for youth advocacy since elementary school. During the spring and summer of 2020, she was 1 of 19 student steering committee members of Mikva Challenge’s National Youth Response Movement team. They began as a response to COVID-19 addressing issues important to young people and raising awareness of these to local and federal decision makers. She is passionate about photography as an outlet for creativity and storytelling, and she loves spending time with her two dogs!

Voting: Video Blog from a Charlottesville Freedom School Scholar

Highlights:

  • In the summer of 2020, the Center for Race and Public Education in the South (CRPES) launched the first Charlottesville Freedom School.
  • Third to fifth graders from the greater Charlottesville area participated in a virtual summer school that on focused on topics of voting, oral histories, and civic engagement.
  • In this video blog, one student scholar shared more about what she thinks adults should vote for, why it is important, and what young people can do.

CRPES launched Charlottesville’s first Freedom School in the summer of 2020! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Freedom School was virtual and had 70 students from the Charlottesville area participating. This year’s Freedom School focused on topics of voting, oral histories, and civic engagement.

Safalani was one of the outstanding 4th grade students. She created a poem or essay about what she wanted adults to vote for on her behalf. It was so fantastic, the National Freedom School staff chose it to be presented during the Children’s Defense Fund’s National Day of Social Action Pep Rally. The Charlottesville Freedom School was honored to have her as a scholar and can’t wait to see the incredible future she has ahead of her!


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Measuring Key Processes in Youth Mentoring

By Julia Augenstern

Highlights:

  • Mentoring programs are essential resources in many communities and one of the best supported approaches for fostering positive youth development.
  • However, despite a long record of empirical support for their positive impact, little is known about how mentoring benefits are rendered or the specific processes by which mentoring relationships work.
  • Presented here is recent work to help assess five key mentoring processes with the hope that when used this survey can reveal what makes some mentoring programs more effective than others.

Over the past 30 years, there have been numerous studies that show mentoring can help reduce youth risk of substance use, school failure and delinquency, and can increase their sense of support, connection, and self-efficacy. Not all programs show these benefits, with some even showing null or negative impacts. The question still remains:

What makes some programs beneficial and how do these benefits occur?

This requires looking into the processes that make up mentoring interactions; to understand the “how” of mentoring. Through reviewing theoretical and practical literature on mentoring we identified a set of 5 processes that were commonly mentioned as occurring within mentoring relationship and developed an assessment tool to capture them (See the original research article in the Journal of Community Psychology at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22408).

Five Key Mentoring Processes

The follow five mentoring processes are measured by the Mentoring Process Scale (MPS):

  • Role Modeling – Activities and discussions that provide the mentee opportunity to experience the mentor as a role model or figure of identification, those in which the effect may be to evoke admiration, respect, felt positive similarity and connection, or emulation.
  • Advocacy – A process by which the mentor speaks up for or supports the mentee to others, connects the protégé with resources, and/or helps the mentee seek and access skills and opportunities, helping support navigation of social systems.
  • Relationship and Emotional Support – Instances where the mentor provides open and genuine positive regard and companionship to the mentee in ways that would be expected to lead the mentee to feel supported and cared for by the mentor. This process is characterized by regular and open communication, with empathy and/or reciprocity prominent.
  • Teaching and Information Provision – A process by which the mentor teaches new things to the mentee and/or provides information that might aid the mentee in managing social, educational, legal, family, and peer challenges.
  • Shared Activity – The mentor and mentee engage in activities together (e.g., cooking, playing sports, going out to eat, watching tv) or simply spend time together.
Click here to see the large PDF.

Our goal was to capture and understand these processes from both the adult mentor and youth mentee perspectives. Our study validated these five components as distinct and important factors making up the overall scale and showed that these processes relate to other important characteristics of effective mentoring, when rated by adult mentors. For youth, the items formed as a single general positive mentoring activity scale.

We think the scale can help reveal how mentoring works, what differentiates effective and ineffective mentoring, and what might be important training targets and skills for mentors.

This scale also has promise to help address inequities in access to quality mentoring. Presently, too often, the quality of mentoring available is dependent on economic and social resources, with little guidance on critical components of the mentoring relationship. If we can learn what makes mentoring effective, then training can concentrate on those skills and activities. The scale and the practices it measures can be used to help guide initial and ongoing training. It can also be used to highlight if and how mentors might be applying learned skills in their daily work with mentees. By better understanding the mechanisms of positive influences, disparities in mentoring program quality can be better identified and remediated, thus ensuring a greater likelihood for successful mentoring impacts across communities.

Mentoring in COVID-19

Finally, in a world of physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, mentoring programs must adapt to new ways of engaging youth. They must find ways to successfully maintain the mentoring relationship and address new and unique needs of youth and communities. By considering what processes to emphasize and assessing variation in engagement and outcome as different ones are emphasized, we can learn how to ensure effective mentoring in these new circumstances. These five key processes can be helpful in guiding program adaptation to ensure that important components of the mentoring relationship are still maintained, regardless of the modality through which contact is made.


For more information about this research and the MPS, please see:

Tolan, P. H., McDaniel, H. L., Richardson, M., Arkin, N., Augenstern, J., & DuBois, D. L. (2020). Improving understanding of how mentoring works: Measuring multiple intervention processes. Journal of Community Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22408

or contact Patrick Tolan, Ph.D. at pht6t@virginia.edu


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Julia Augenstern, M.Ed. is a fourth year doctoral student in the Curry School of Education and Human Services Clinical and School Psychology Program. She studies positive youth development and social emotional learning in a Youth Nex affiliate lab and is a recent Curry Innovative, Developmental, Exploratory Awards (IDEAs) grant recipient.

Adolescence in the Time of COVID-19: Building an Identity Focused Online Environment

By Karis Lee, Juliana Salcedo, Jack Wren, & Lily Zhang

Highlights:

  • Adolescents explore different identities as they begin to figure out who they are and want to be.
  • Identity development is impacted by one’s social environment including family, peers, community, and online activities.
  • Even with the switch to online learning, adults can implement strategies to support students’ identity development.
Source: Curry School of Education & Human Development

Identity development in adolescents begins with their personal backgrounds and changes as adolescents encounter new experiences, ideas, environments, and people. Adolescents begin to answer “who am I?” by thinking about themselves in various contexts and from different perspectives. Adolescents may identify themselves in many ways such as race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and family. Younger adolescents are more sensitive to external feedback whereas older adolescents learn to hold stronger identity stances and consider themselves in broader contexts. There are many ways to navigate identity formation during adolescence that are relevant to education and distance learning. 

Why Identity Development is Important in Adolescence

According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, adolescence (ages 13-19) marks stage five of development and is key in the lifelong process of identity construction. During this period, individuals grapple with identity versus role confusion, and they focus on organizing their skills, interests, and values into a core sense of self. These tasks are also supported by key changes that occur in the brain during this time period, such as abstract processing, consideration of multiple perspectives and possibilities, and the reasoning of truths. Adolescents engage in the identity “search process,” in which they explore different identities and eventually commit and follow through. Adolescents spend a significant amount of time in school so peers and curriculum both play crucial roles during this search process. Since many students are engaging in distance learning at the moment, peer-interactions, online activities, and community support are elements educators must consider when building an identity-based learning environment. 

Adolescence is also the period in which individuals process their beliefs and attitudes about their ethnic-racial identity (ERI) membership. ERI is multidimensional, and it is impacted by how one’s racial identity is regarded by others, how identities are formed based on racial beliefs (or how a group “should” act), and the internal reconciliation of these various perspectives. It can be a combination of the maturity of one’s self-perception and the broader contexts that affect that self-perception. According to William Cross’s model of ERI development, a racial or ethnic “encounter” often catalyzes one’s processing. The “encounter” and how that impacts students’ ERI is especially important to keep in mind, as it could be affected by both the move to online classes and the current Black Lives Matter movement.

Adolescents Shifting to an Online Environment

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the move online may affect adolescents’ identity development  by restricting their autonomy. In-person school can provide a needed environment in which students can engage in the identity search process, where they can “try on” different identities without familial identity constraints or pressures. For example, schools can provide a needed social outlet for  LGBTQ students to learn about their sexual or gender identity. Online learning, however, constricts students to their home environments and thus limits the search process. Students may not feel as comfortable exploring their identity with the influence of their parents and their parent’s beliefs surrounding them as they are learning.

In an online learning environment, teachers can continue to support identity development through assignments that have students engage with their interests. Teachers will likely need to rely on parents and families to engage with students through this process. However, not all students have the same access to resources at home so flexibility should be a guiding principle.

Building an Identity Focused Online Environment

Here are some suggestions for building a identity focused online learning environment that teachers could consider:

  • Have students read books that are of interest to them and form reading circles to share.
  • Create playlists of music, podcasts, or documentaries that relate to class material and introduce students to new ideas and perspectives.
  • Encourage students and parents to work together to engage with their community by walking around to historical sites and landmarks, or exploring historical sites online. Students can use this activity to talk with parents and/or other family members about their own identity. 
  • Have students reflect on current global and social events, such as the role of social media during COVID-19, being GenZ, the Black Lives Matter movement and Supreme Court cases.
  • Continue school-sponsored activities online so students have the opportunity to stay connected with others and gain support for organizations that are important for identity development.
  • Provide flexibility and freedom when doing identity-based work so that students are not constricted by labels. 
  • Cultivate cognitive routines with a set of prompts allowing the teacher to guide the activity rather than directly transfer knowledge (this helps students to develop their own opinions and think for themselves).Use prompts such as: “What was the biggest surprise?” or “I used to think ____. But now I think ___.” It is important to let students showcase their interests and knowledge!

In sum, the school environment plays a crucial role in adolescents’ exploration of identity, and their interactions both inside and outside the classroom help them answer the key “who am I?” question. It’s important for teachers to be aware of how the transition to online learning can impact this exploration and develop class strategies that allow students to continue engaging with the identity search process.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Juliana Salcedo is a graduate student in the Curry School of Education and Human Development working on her master’s in teaching for secondary science education. She is a recent graduate of the College of William & Mary with a degree in Biology and Chemistry.


Author Bio: Karis Lee is a student at the Curry School of Education working towards her masters in teaching secondary language arts. She is a recent graduate of the College of William & Mary, where she studied English and history.


Author Bio: Lily Zhang is a graduate student in the Curry School of Education and Human Development working on her master’s in teaching for secondary English education. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2019 with degrees in English and Psychology.


Author Bio: Jack Wren is a graduate student in the Curry School of Education working on a master’s in teaching for secondary Mathematics education.  He recently graduated from UVA in May 2020 with a degree in Mathematics.