Before starting curriculum design and development, it is important to be aware of the values, principles and philosophies that will be brought to the work and that should inform and underpin every aspect of the participants’ learning experience. For Coady youth leadership programs, our values are enunciated in the Youth Strategy, and our underpinning philosophies include the following:
Asset-Based, Community-Driven Approach
The ‘Coady approach’ suggests that “nobody has nothing” and that, in the words of Jody Kretzmann, one of the founders of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), “Every single person… Read More
Focus on Personal Leadership Development
Particularly when working with young adults arriving at the cusp of their independent lives, it can be quite a transformative experience to focus inwards on the self, potentially revealing things… Read More
A Coady youth leadership program is inherently a reflective practice process. For homework after the first day of most Coady youth leadership programs, participants are requested to read the first chapter of… Read More
Popular education is an adult education method that is closely associated with community development and is considered to be a participatory approach to training. Popular education seeks to involve learners and to… Read more
Asset-Based, Community-Driven Development
The first element is foundational to any Coady education – an introduction to a citizen-led, community-driven, asset-based approach. Particularly for young Canadian university graduates who studied international development in their degrees, but also for practitioners who work in the development field, learning about this approach can be quite transformative to their thinking and subsequent practice.
The predominant development narrative continues to be one of a needs- or deficit-based approach – learn what is going wrong and what is lacking in a community and then inject the required resources to address that need. This is the education that the majority of those participants with a Development Studies background have received, and is the direction in which most of their thinking tends to go.
The philosophy espoused within Coady is somewhat different. The ‘Coady approach’ suggests that “nobody has nothing” and that, in the words of Jody Kretzmann, one of the founders of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), “Every single person has capacities, abilities, gifts and ideas, and living a good life depends on whether those capacities can be used, abilities expressed, gifts given and ideas shared.” In every community, even the poorest, there is something that can be utilised to develop or strengthen the community.
Further, and vitally importantly, the Coady approach advocates for community-driven development. The people who know most about what is happening within a community, and what can be done about it, are the members of the community themselves. Fostering a community’s participation and ownership in its own development reinforces local ownership and “the capacity to act”, and can act as a motivating catalyst for further internally-driven community initiatives.
When these two concepts – of community-driven and asset-based development – are brought together, it can create powerful opportunities for communities to drive their own development, starting with what they have rather than what they lack, and then being empowered to proactively reach out for external resources on their own terms when required. This approach can change mindsets both within a community and also within outside agencies which learn to invest responsively in communities’ own initiatives and focus on community strengths and assets, rather than needs and deficiencies.
When participants are exposed to this approach to development, and more broadly to viewing the world, there is generally a feeling of great appreciation. At the same time, significant care must be taken in the way the concept is introduced. As it is a definitively and markedly different philosophy and practice not only of development but even of how one views the world, it can be tempting for many ‘newcomers’ to this approach to subconsciously seek a reason not to adopt it – to maintain their status quo. So, although it is essential in the fullness of time to attend to rigorous critical analysis and thinking, it is just as important to first allow the idea to settle and germinate in the minds of participants, and address critiques only once the core concept has been appropriately assimilated.
Additionally, it is also important to accompany participants as they apply these theories, philosophies and approaches into their practice. Participants can benefit from regular gentle reminders and being challenged to reframe their thinking, as they can often automatically revert to what they were previously accustomed to – needs assessments, externally-driven solutions, tokenistic (if any) community participation in the development process, and the like. Experience has shown that effective and sustained adoption of community-driven and asset-based thinking and practice requires a considerable amount of time and ongoing accompaniment.
Personal Leadership Development
A Coady youth leadership education begins with, and continually circles back to, personal leadership development and growth. Significant time is dedicated to this throughout all on-campus and distance learning components, in the belief that it is vital for participants to have a solid understanding of themselves and how they interact with others, to inform their attempts to influence their communities.
Particularly when working with young adults arriving at the cusp of their independent lives, it can be quite a transformative experience to focus inwards on the self, potentially revealing things about themselves to which they had previously been unaware. This new awareness can be extremely helpful in supporting participants through some of the more challenging moments in their work and lives, such as periods of self-doubt and interpersonal conflict which will inevitably occur, not to mention the broader lifelong benefits of enhanced self-knowledge.
A hallmark of a Coady youth leadership experience is the attention given to participants’ underlying values and philosophies in the conceptualization, construct and implementation of their action planning. It is felt that by shining a light on these foundational belief systems, bringing them into participants’ consciousness and then periodically circling back and revisiting and interrogating them, participants are provided an opportunity both to become consciously aware (if they weren’t previously) of what drives them, and to test and possibly update these core elements of who they are and how they move through the world. This is beneficial beyond the on-campus portion of the program, and beyond the program itself, as it helps participants and alumni to understand and communicate their core values whilst in community. Even more importantly, as they step off into their future lives they are better equipped to navigate the myriad temptations and distractions that are thrown at them and chart a course that is true to what they believe in.
In the classroom, the role of Coady facilitators is intended to broadly be that of an Animator (balancing content and process), but moving constantly along the scale between Trainer (who has a certain body of knowledge or information which s/he has decided is important and wants to give to the students) and Facilitator (who is interested only in structuring the process whereby people get together to work with and learn from each other).
Fletcher et al, 2014, p. 44
In those protracted programs in which participants spend time in the field implementing concepts learned in the classroom, the program and Coady have a responsibility to ensure participants’ welfare and provide sufficient programmatic and logistical support to create a safe and supportive environment for participants to progress efficiently and effectively through the program. At the same time, they must be afforded sufficient liberty and autonomy to optimize the opportunity for learning and growth through the program experience.
Arising repeatedly in participants’ reflections and in group and individual conversations with participants from these programs have been expressions of appreciation for both the support provided to them and for the autonomy they are offered in the implementation of their initiatives. There is a fine balance in effectively turning this concept of supported autonomy into reality.
A Coady youth leadership program is inherently a reflective practice process. For homework after the first day of most Coady youth leadership programs, participants are requested to read the first chapter of Bolton (2014) and provide their reflections and insights from this reading. The intention of this is to help them to appreciate from the very beginning the importance of reflective practice both within the program and in their lives more generally. Specific reference is subsequently made to Donald Schon’s “swampy lowlands” from this chapter (pp. 3-4), and thence to the idea presented in chapter 2 of this book, of how espoused values translate into values-in-practice. Bolton suggests that “professional integrity can be defined as having values-in-practice as close to the same as espoused values as possible” (2014, p. 22). This, then, is the challenge for all Coady youth leadership programs: how do we ensure that our espoused values—of community-driven, asset-based development and of liberating education—translate into our practices within programs, in the way the program is designed and in the classroom?
Popular education is an adult education method that is closely associated with community development and is considered to be a participatory approach to training. Popular education seeks to involve learners and to enable them to seek out, and to be aware of, alternatives in their lives in order to make choices for themselves. Popular education was born out of the work and writings of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher. Some of the key principles that Freire espoused were:
- No education is ever neutral: education is either designed to maintain the existing situation, imposing on the people the values and culture of the dominant class, or education is designed to liberate people, helping them to become critical, creative, free, active, and responsible members of society.
- The aim of education is radical transformation: transformative education is based on the hope that it is possible to change life for the better. It must be based on the vision of a new, more just society. The process of transformation includes both action and reflection. Development and education are not separate processes but two sides of the same coin.
- Relevant, generative themes & empowerment: Freire believed that only by starting with the issues on which the community has strong feelings and bringing these to the surface will we break through the sense of apathy and powerlessness which paralyzes people in many places. The role of the animator is to help people find new hope as they tap into their natural energy and break through this apathy together. Freire calls the issues that generate this energy and hope “generative themes.”
- Dialogue: dialogue is crucial in every aspect of participatory learning and in the whole process of transformation.
- Problem posing and search for solutions: the role of the animator is to use a series of questions to help the group describe and analyze the problem. Because the problem is related to a real situation in the individuals’ lives, this generates the energy to take action. Then the animator challenges the group to find solutions.
- Reflection and Action: by setting a regular cycle of reflection and action in which a group are constantly celebrating their successes and analyzing critically their actions, they become more capable of effectively transforming their daily life. This ongoing cycle of action and reflection is called ‘praxis.’
Adapted from Hope & Timmel, 1995, pp. 16-23
Balancing the requirement for several essential elements of training towards participants’ competency, the intention is to ensure that all education Coady provides will be supportive, democratic and liberating – encouraging ownership of the process and freedom of thought and expression, and continually offering opportunities for transformative learning.