Thu, Sep 27th, 2018
Aiste Slajute is the founder and director of Eurobug International Youth Work Training and Collaboration, an organisation that focuses on grassroots youth work with young people from ethnic minority groups. She is also a volunteer co-coordinator of the No Hate Speech Movement in Ireland, and a member of the SALTO Trainers Pool. Aiste uses a range of creative non-formal education methods in her work: in this post, she considers how to use one in particular – reflective practice.
If you’ve ever driven the coast road, taking in the sea views, only to arrive home feeling something was missing, or been left with a sense of longing, that’s because there was a whole world beneath the surface still waiting to be discovered.
For me, this is what it feels like to engage in non-formal education without reflective practice. You’ve seen the ocean, the waves breaking and the sun bouncing on the surface. But to know its real beauty and depth, and all that it contains as far as the seabed, you need to dive in. This is the only way to experience the hidden treasures. Likewise, when we use reflective practice in international youth work we invite young people to dive beneath the surface of their experience. Only then can they recognise the power of non-formal education and discover the real magic of Erasmus+.
For me, reflective practice in its simplest form is about deconstructing actions, behaviour and patterns of thinking while also acknowledging the feelings; it leads towards change and informed future choices.
When I talk about reflective practice, three main points come to mind. Reflective practice is a way for young people to recognise and gain ownership of their learning process; it is an essential way for youth work practitioners to grow and to expand their capacities; and it is a practical tool to collect the evidence we need to advocate for the recognition of non-formal education and youth work in Europe.
This means we have to make sure that people involved in this journey get the most out of it and that the process is empowering. When it comes to international Youth Exchanges, we have to find a way of working that provides space for young people to effectively exchange their knowledge, experiences and skills; to connect with each other; to develop new competences; and to take ownership of their personal and professional learning. We must ensure that the space is inclusive for all, and that the project meets the actual needs of the participants. Our work should reflect the values of human rights and put an emphasis on youth empowerment.
To achieve this, we need to incorporate reflective practices throughout the duration of an international Youth Exchange. It’s only by taking time to reflect that we can see clearly where we are. The choice of actual tools to incorporate reflection in our practices is huge. For example, you can find a long list of creative activities and manuals on the SALTO website. Or if you prefer the digital world, I would highly recommend using the Learning Badges digital tool.
In the Youth Exchanges that we organise in Eurobug, we create a ‘Flower garden’ to track our learning outcomes. Participants make regular visits to the garden and ‘water’ it daily with the new skills and knowledge that they have gained. We take care of our garden and watch the flowers blossom through the week. We go through the process of recognising the value of our learning and exploring the power of non-formal education.
Each evening we hold meetings among our national groups with guided questions for reflection that are linked with the YouthPass competences. You may ask, “Why is YouthPass important if we so many other tools?” Well, first of all, it gives participants an opportunity to define their learning and to assess the competences they have acquired: a big part of the ongoing reflection process. Secondly, it is an actual document that young people can add to their CV to enhance their employability; and thirdly it is an instrument for recognising non-formal learning which also strengthens recognition of Youth Work.
These are exciting times for the Youth Work Sector in Europe. The Council of Europe published the ‘Recommendations to Member States on Youth Work’ and the Commission adopted its proposal for the next Erasmus programme with a doubling of the budget to €30 billion for the period 2021-2027. We also have the EU Youth Strategy that puts an emphasis on fundamental values, such as respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, and which helps us navigate the complex world of Youth Work. Now it is up to us in the Youth sector to make the best use of these recommendations and strategies, and move further towards gaining recognition for non-formal education and Youth Work.
If we want to be heard and valued we need to articulate the outcomes of our work. This is another area where reflective practices and tools such as YouthPass come in. Reflective practice not only deepens participants’ understanding of their learning, it also helps Youth Work practitioners to evaluate the learning outcomes and to collect evidence of the impact that non-formal education has on young peoples’ lives.
I would invite all Youth Work practitioners to dive into the ocean of Erasmus+ International Youth Exchanges and discover its power and beauty, by using reflective practices and YouthPass.
Finally, to help you navigate the water, I would like to share some of the resources that I mentioned in this post:
The Critically Reflective Practitioner by Sue and Neil Thompson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) – available in most good book shops in Ireland!
Images courtesy of Aiste Slajute. We welcome your contributions to ‘Insights’ at firstname.lastname@example.org.