This long-range plan entails a different approach to cooperative learning implementation because I am not a teacher. Cooperative Learning was taken as an elective for my Master of Education in Youth Development Leadership. When people discover I am pursuing an M.Ed., I am often asked what I’m going to teach. I’m not. It just so happens my M.Ed. program is in the School of Social Work. However, I’m not going after a social worker license, either. It is a unique program that understands the role education has on a young person’s development, but explores the social, emotional, cultural, and intellectual development that the youth experiences as well.
Before I talk about future plans, I want to review my past. I believe you won’t know where you are going until you know where you have been. My best memories of early education were during an outdoor, summer education program at Trollwood Performing Arts School. For two months each summer, we learned and played the performing arts in an outdoor environment. Theatre is a cooperative experience by nature; you learn to perform together, encourage each other, and celebrate together. If done correctly, the orchestra members feel as important as the actors, which the audience perceives as the center of the performance. When produced properly, the make-up crew creates a seamless integration with hair and costumes, lighting compliments the designs of the set and costume crew, and the people in black (the backstage crew) execute a flawless performance without being seen by the audience.
In the context of youth development, then, cooperative learning entails applying the individual’s learning ability to the development of social skills and team building.
My approach to Youth Development Leadership differs than many others in the YDL program. While many are youth workers, or will work in some aspect directly with youth, my involvement is as back-office, administrative support personnel. By understanding the YDL theories in use by the frontline workers, I can work with them more intimately, and find better solutions to the struggles and problems they encounter on a daily basis.
I am also bringing a great deal of technical skill and knowledge to the playing field. I know best practices, rules and regulations, and tricks of the trade from years of involvement in the tech industry. One person cannot know it all, but by working together, you can know most of it. And, as I’ve learned in my Cooperative Learning studies, you can teach others what you know, while learning what others know. When done effectively, all parties gain the full wealth of knowledge in the given subject.
In one of my YDL classes, we wrote a paper defining our own theory of youth development. Part of my theory was the explanation that we are always learning, even as we are teaching others to learn. In my Experiential Learning class, I coined this phrase: In this time of learning, I have learned to learn from the learner, and learn what the learner is learning. Ultimately, you need to ensure that the learner is learning the subject in the way you intend to teach it. Effective education ensures that the subject is learned, and the learner comprehends the teacher’s intent.
And so, my long-term plan for Cooperative Learning is to ensure the policies, procedures, and practices of the organizations and institutions I work with encourage cooperation at all levels, be it as teacher/learner, youth worker/support staff, or youth/administration. Not only is youth education at stake, but so is professional development and team success. While I am not a teacher or direct youth worker, it is important for me to understand and promote these practices in the environment provided to youth.