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What If Teachers Saw Themselves As Youth Developers?

Learners with varying smiles on their faces sitting in school desks. The picture is taken at an angle, so each learner can be seen starting in the lower left quadrant of the photo all the way back to the top right quadrant of the photo where the last learner in the back is standing up.

What If Teachers Saw Themselves As Youth Developers?

By Paul Haluszczak

As a teacher, you identify with a certain set of responsibilities that cause differing amounts of joy and frustration. Such is the nature of work, right?

Perhaps. But, what’s a reasonable balance?

According to a 2017 survey of 5,000 teachers conducted by the New Teacher Center, teachers said 70% of their workdays were spent feeling “frustrated,” “overwhelmed,” and “stressed.”

Is a 70/30 split between frustration and something (hopefully) better than frustration the balance you’re looking for?

Probably not. But, what can you do? The job is the job, and given the chaotic state of affairs we are all navigating, what’s really in your power to shift this balance?

Playing With A New Identity

Let’s pretend for a moment that something is in your power. What might enable you to reconnect to the reasons you got into teaching in the first place?

What if we started by pretending your job title wasn’t “teacher” and took a moment to think more broadly about the role you play inside a classroom. At the highest level, you have every reason to call yourself a “youth developer.”

Now, youth development has no agreed upon definition, but Peter L. Benson and Rebecca N. Saito, authors of The Scientific Foundations of Youth Development, make a strong proposal:

That’s an impressively concise working definition that includes both the “what” and the “why” of youth development.

What enables positive youth development? Communities. 

What does youth development aim to achieve? The development of strengths in youth that promote health and well-being.

How might you fit inside this definition? 

Certainly you play a role in developing the strengths of youth. 

Now, what would happen if you focused on the outcome of promoting health and well-being and did so in the context of community?

Like youth development, “community” and “well-being” are also a bit ambiguous and can be related to in myriad ways. Let’s expand our table of definitions that we’re working with:

Whether you’re imagining a community as small as a classroom or as big as a country, it all starts with creating a sense of belonging, and feeling a sense of belonging is at the core of promoting positive well-being.

The really interesting thing about the well-being definition is it invites us to think about well-being as both an outcome and a tangible set of skills we can cultivate.

Part of the strengths youth developers (remember, that’s you) help young people cultivate are well-being strengths. If a young person has strong well-being skills, they will naturally develop positive health and well-being within their daily lives. How cool is that?

Bringing This Identity Into Your Everyday Work

Let’s recap. As a youth developer, you’re primary responsibilities are two-fold:

  • Develop a community of learning that promotes a sense of belonging; and
  • Support young people in developing strengths that promote health and well-being.

You might be asking how you can do these two things while still honoring your more formal job description. But, that’s not quite the right question.

It’s by focusing on these two things that will empower you to fulfill the accountabilities in your formal job description AND do so in a way that brings joy and fulfillment—rebalancing the scale once and for all.

It’s not just about shifting your focus though. You need tools at your disposal that will reinforce that focus every day.

That’s where Thrively’s Well-Being Index plays a powerful role. With the Well-Being Index, you can establish a daily well-being baseline and plant a seed for students to feel emotionally secure, develop high executive functioning, and find meaningful achievement in their work.

Best of all, the Well-Being Index is completely free to all Thrively users. Sign-up for Thrively today and begin developing a sense of belonging in your classroom. You can help flip the script on average teacher sentiment by transforming frustration into joy, overwhelm into fulfillment, and stress into satisfaction.