dr Renata Pomarańska, Rzeszow University
Working with youths has never been easy, especially nowadays, when young people are at risk of addiction, crime, and are threatened with aggression, prostitution, etc. Today's teenagers, who lack proper care from busy parents more often than ever before, need someone who will listen to them, understand them and help them find their own way. In response to this specific demand, a new profession was created: the youth worker [see: Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy]. Therefore, this article entitled ‘Logos and ethos of a youth worker” is dedicated to this new profession.
Some terms used in the title need to be clarified. The term logos (from the Greek for "word") used in this article should be understood as an ontological and complete truth about a youth worker (see: Reale, 2014, p. 333). The term ethos (from the Greek for "custom" or "action") refers here to a practical lifestyle based on ethical values typical of youth workers (cf. Encyklopedia Popularna PWN, 1992, p. 215). The article also uses the term "youth worker". A youth worker is a person whose job involves working with young people, using non-formal education methods (cf. Krzaklewska, Ples, 2017, p. 277); supporting, initiating and organising free time activities for young people; conducting workshops and activities in community centres, clubs, extracurricular and informal education centres and in the street; working with schools and local communities; organising help and support by social services and health care centres (cf. Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy).
The issue raised in this article is included in the following question: What are the logos and ethos of a youth worker? The aim of this article is to answer the question.
Available research material was used in this study, including literature on the subject and auxiliary literature, as well as Internet sources. In the process of research methods of analysis and synthesis were applied. It is worth noting, however, that the gathered material is scant, because the issue is in its infancy. In effect the paper consists of two parts. The first part discusses the logos and the second part concerns the ethos of a youth worker.
I Logos of a youth worker
We talk about the youth worker’s logos with two truths about his or her in mind. The first concerns the youth worker’s personality (1), and the second deals with his or her attributes and qualifications (2).
1. Youth worker’s personality
The relationship between a youth worker and a young person depends to a large extent on the worker's personality, on who he or she is as a person, and as an educator. Youth workers’ deep relationship with young people is determined more by their personality or – as M. Grzegorzewska would put it (cf. Grzegorzewska, 1959, p. 16) – by their humanity more than by their humanity rather than by their methodological knowledge and expertise, which translates into results. Therefore, youth workers should have the following characteristics:
- personal: be genuine, direct, care about their aesthetically pleasing looks, be well-organised, consequent, reliable, responsible, punctual, self-critical, fair, dependable, sincere, demanding;
- teaching: interesting teaching, factual explanations, competence, creative discussion, dynamic transmission of content, use of variety of aids and audiovisual aids;
- educational: trustworthy, establish individual relationships, not only teach, but also educate, young people share their sorrows and joys with them, praise and reprimand, maintain contact with parents and guardians of young people, be understanding and show interest in young people’s problems whilst maintaining a healthy distance, and above all, be congruent, that is, have an unconditional and positive relationship with young people.
The above characteristics make up the whole youth worker, and in their diversity and multiplicity, the youth worker’s personality can be reduced to three dimensions. The first one concerns human and professional maturity. In addition to the first dimension, which is the basis and starting point of the personality, the second dimension, related to teaching, is also important. These two dimensions, i.e. to be and to know, are not sufficient for the youth worker’s full personality. There is also a need for a third dimension, which is experience.
- Human and professional maturity
A youth worker should be characterized by human and professional maturity. When you have developed a high level of biological, intellectual and psychological maturity, you mature in life (cf. Michalik, 1979, p. 41). Professional maturity is related to the ability of individuals to perform a professional task at a particular stage of their development. The worker’s mature activities, constantly considered and evaluated, will allow him or her to grow in emotional balance, in a critical sense, in inner unity, in the ability to have a relationship and a dialogue, in a constructive spirit, in respect and love for his or her listeners. Human and professional maturity should constantly stimulate the youth worker’s teaching and educational awareness. Therefore, he or she should know and implement concrete action plans.
An emotionally mature youth worker who is aware of his or her professional mission will identify the problems and needs of communities of young people in need of support and of organizing their free time sooner, will develop the interests and cognitive abilities of young people better, conducting interesting and emotionally engaging workshops and activities with youth at risk of social exclusion (cf. Kupisiewicz, 1994, p. 98).
Building motivation to change the way young people spend their free time and providing them with emotional support in difficult life situations is not an easy task. Expertise is not enough to carry out the task properly. What is needed is first of all empathy that comes from human maturity. To support another person, you need to focus all your concentration on that person. An immature person, even with the best qualifications, will not be able to do this, because "emotional maturity is shaped as a result of proper emotional development, under the influence of social and educational factors, on the basis of temperament and intellectual abilities". (Strus, 2012, p. 28). Emotional adaptation, stage of psychosocial development, competence achieved in independent performance of tasks, ability to self-assess and sense of responsibility, as well as the adoption of community-specific patterns and standards are completely different in the case of young people starting their professional life and professionally mature workers.
- Knowledge and wisdom
Human and professional maturity involves specific knowledge related to young people in adolescence, their problems and expectations. There is a need for knowledge of humanities. Researchers dealing with youth issues, for example, recognise the need to take into account basic elements of psychology, such as psychological conditions affecting people; personality structure, evolutionary psychology, stages of human life, etc. A youth worker should also have knowledge of developmental and educational psychology. It is important that youth workers also learn about the socio-cultural context in which young people live and which influences young people. Also, speaking of knowledge, a youth worker should demonstrate the ability to take into account sociological, cultural and economic conditions, aware of the impact on the development process of young people (cf. Czekalski, 2006, 319-321).
A youth worker’s list of tasks is long and varied. His or her responsibilities include issues relating to, for example, preventing social exclusion, providing emotional support or even organizing youth policy activities. The youth worker's work has a socio-therapeutic and inclusive dimension (cf. Krzaklewska, Ples, 2017, p. 279). An extensive list of youth worker’s responsibilities indicates that he or she must have knowledge in various fields, which he or she is forced to skilfully combine. Knowledge alone is not enough. What is needed is wisdom.
- Life and professional experience
Apart from human and professional maturity, and knowledge and wisdom, a youth worker should have life and professional experience. This is achieved not only by reading and education at school or university, but also through all situations and events. They influence specific emotions, thoughts and ideas. Humans experience with their whole being – every event and situation is important for the development of their personality consisting of records of experiences (cf. Jakubowska, 1987, p. 114). It is these experiences that increase knowledge and skills. All events become enriched with new content and result in better ability to share these attributes with other people. This is about giving personal testimony, which is not possible without life and professional experience.
Experience can be good or bad. The first category are events in one's own life that lead to an increased sense of security, ability, and develop a person, teaching something new. The second category are bad experiences that make it impossible to develop them on your own. Such situations cause fear and anxiety, because they go beyond current skills and abilities of coping with such experiences.
Youth workers should share their positive life and professional experiences with young generation, because in this way they contribute to shaping the developing attitudes of young people. The youth worker’s testimony is much more important in the didactic and formative process of young people than teaching is, as Paul VI put it: the world needs witnesses more than teachers.
2. Attributes and qualifications of a youth worker
Various studies on youth workers point to a comprehensive catalogue of professional attributes and qualifications, such as professional training, genuineness, good memory, ability to observe, ability to take a positive approach, communication skills, empathy, pedagogical tact, kindness in pedagogical practice, authority figure, ability to convey of knowledge, sense of humour, joy of life, cheerfulness and optimism, control of speech, intense experiencing of values, creative attitude (see Szpet, 1999, pp. 266-269). In addition to the above mentioned attributes that can be considered universal because they apply to all teachers and youth workers, the specific characteristics of a youth teacher should be specified. These are above all: awareness of the mission entrusted, testimony of life, responsibility and concern for the welfare of young people (cf. Szpet, 1999, pp. 271-273). There are certain attributes associated with these characteristics.
One of the attributes of youth workers is their relationship in interpersonal communication. According to modern communicology, there are three basic channels of communication: verbal, non-verbal and written (cf. Stankiewicz, 1999, p. 54). Youth workers should be aware of the factors that should be taken into account when choosing a specific method and media of communication when they want to effectively convey detailed messages to their recipients. A person running activities should, bearing in mind the audience, take into account the age of the students in particular, and pay attention to various life situations of young people so that he or she can use appropriate methods and content. Certainly, youth workers must be aware that there is no single effective way of communicating with everyone, so depending on the audience they decide to communicate in such a way as to establish effective contact with young people (cf. Czekalski, 2006, pp. 342-346). Using their competence, both innate and learned, youth workers have to choose for themselves and their audience the method of communication. It is they who ensure the effectiveness of reaching young people.
For a youth worker, empathy is a very important element in establishing communication with young people. W. Okoń gives the following definition of empathy: “emotional identification with another person and vicariously experiencing the feelings of that person; entering into another person's feelings” (Okoń, 1998, p. 90).
Empathy in youth education is about the ability to listen skilfully to know the other person through careful listening to young person’s words and gestures (cf. Dziewiecki, 2000, pp. 31-32). Empathy in relation to young people consists in feeling what and how young people think about themselves and how they experience themselves and the whole external reality. Youth workers should have a mature empathy, i.e. to enter the world of another person while remaining themselves (cf. Dziewiecki, 2000, pp. 31-32). It is they to whom this face of empathy applies to. There is also another face concerning the recipient, and it is related to the psychological balance and maturity of the recipient. Students who are not mature themselves cannot enter the world of another person, their world of thoughts, words and experiences well. Youth workers should remember about it, and be aware of it. Empathy and conditions of empathic listening seem to be a prerequisite for the effectiveness of their work (cf. Czekalski, 2006, pp. 347-348).
Apart from empathy, assertiveness is another competency. This attribute is understood as the art of expressing feelings, thoughts and wishes, and ensuring that your rights are respected without violating the rights of others. It is a skill that a youth worker should master, not a personality trait with which some people are born, and others are not (cf. Mckay, 2002, p. 125). The basis of assertiveness is to adopt an attitude of friendship, kindness, respect, as well as honesty and openness to oneself and others. Assertiveness itself is the ability to express oneself, one's own feelings, attitudes, opinions and needs in an open, honest and confident manner, while respecting the feelings, attitudes, opinions and desires of others.
Assertiveness, understood in this way, should be characteristic of youth workers. Being assertive allows them to maintain their values and beliefs in accordance with their own system. Moreover, it inspires them to maintain respect for themselves, and is also expressed in tolerance towards their students (cf. Augustynek, 2008, p. 96-97).
4. Congruent person (with positive attitude)
Assertiveness is related to congruence. This word used in these reflections means that youth workers should try to offer their charges unconditional and positive regard. In other words, the youth workers’ congruence triggers a mechanism of identification with their charges and with their values – they are shared by their teacher and educator. The youth worker's congruence becomes a kind of bridge between young people and content conveyed by the worker to young people (cf. Czekalski, 2006, p. 325). As M. Grzegorzewska points out, "In the future such a student, already working independently, independent of further influence from the educator, will very often keep in mind the moral figure of the one who led him or her" (Grzegorzewska, 1989, p. 23). Therefore, choosing the profession of a youth worker and a later career should not be a random choice. The person that chooses this profession, knowing his or her abilities, limitations and competencies, has to think about many things before he or she decides to work with young people and enter their world. Without congruence, it will be impossible to get the potential out of young people, encourage them to actively participate in social life, implement their own initiatives and ideas, and develop different competences. In the end, a youth worker will fail in preparing charges to live in a civil society, fully exercising their rights and responsibilities in this respect. It is therefore a competence, the lack of which has undesirable effects on the effectiveness of work.
Professionalism means a high level of professional activity. It is socially useful, requires knowledge and skills, i.e. specific qualifications, and constitutes a source of income. A youth worker is a profession, so youth workers should be expected to have the professionalism and knowledge of craftsmanship (cf. Jazukiewicz, 2017, p. 58). The professionalism of youth workers means not only expertise, but also meeting high cognitive, behavioural and ethical standards (cf. Kwiatkowska, 2008, p. 167). The professionalism of this profession should be considered in such dimensions.
This definition of the three dimensions of the professionalism of a youth worker should be expanded with an additional dimension which helps determine the quality of task performance. The professionalism of a youth worker can be comparable to that of a teacher. Henryka Kwiatkowska expressed this in the category of two meanings of teacher professionalism: the cognitive meaning (how much knowledge the teacher conveyed, what was understood and consolidated, what was of interest) and the existential meaning (whether and to what extent the teacher helped develop a positive attitude towards himself/herself, others and the world, the student's self-esteem, a sense of the meaning of life) [cf. Kwiatkowska, 2008, p. 170]. In the case of a youth worker, only the proportions should be reversed and more attention should be paid to the existential meaning than to the cognitive meaning. Moreover, this meaning should be expanded with the aforementioned dimensions (cognitive, behavioural and ethical).
The ethical dimension of youth workers is a great commitment for them to give testimony, since no pedagogical and didactic methods, and no psychological and social methods exempt them from personal testimony at any stage of the education and training process. The "professional vocation" and the transparent testimony of life are the essence of any method. Youth workers, sometimes unknowingly, become a role model for their charges. Young people closely observe and imitate adults. If youth workers follow their own rules, they are likely to become a true authority figure for young people. Youth workers, who become a role model for young people, strengthen their status, and expand their area of influence. Only a youth worker with the right attitude to life and work will ensure good use of the scientific base and other teaching aids and, above all, will influence the effectiveness of the youth worker's work.
The youth worker’s service function requires an ethical life and responsibility from the youth worker. This testimony helps to shape the attitudes of the young generation effectively and fruitfully.
For example, the altruistic attitude of a youth worker teaches young people to provide various kinds of help or support to other people. When a youth worker recognizes the right of others to express their own views and to act in a different way to the youth worker, if they do not undermine the common good and personal dignity of individuals, and are not at odds with any other universal and timeless values, then young people will be similarly tolerant of others. On the other hand, perceiving a youth worker as a responsible person may influence the conscious and voluntary commitments made in the future by young people to suffer the consequences of their behaviour, regardless of the expected penalties for an act committed or omitted. A youth worker acting as an appropriate role model should also educate them for freedom. As a result of these influences, young people should learn to make the right moral choices and highly appreciate other basic values, and respect the inalienable rights of every person who has his or her own dignity. These are, in particular, natural human rights, such as the right to life, the right to work, the right to have one's own thoughts and beliefs, the right to personal development, the right to found a family and right of parents to decide on the upbringing of their children (cf. Zarzecki, 2012, pp. 65-66). The personal life of a youth worker may also have an impact on the shaping of justice, one of the cardinal moral virtues (ethics). This will be done when young people have an opportunity to observe this socially and morally valuable value in the person who works with them.
Apart from their attributes, youth workers should have appropriate expertise to perform tasks. This is a regulated profession in some countries, and in order to become a fully qualified youth worker, you must gain a professional youth work qualification (e.g. in the UK). In other countries it is a liberal profession, and you become a youth worker through participation in training courses, workshops and trainings. The roles and responsibilities of youth workers vary from one country to another – in most cases, their mission is to facilitate the development of young people through a variety of educational and sporting activities, and to help them solve their daily problems (cf. Duda).
In order to meet these challenges, there is a need for youth worker training. The training should cover at least the basic areas of anthropology, i.e. pedagogy, psychology, social rehabilitation, etc. In Poland, features such as age, diplomas and qualifications fade into the background in the case of youth workers. Speaking of the qualifications of a youth worker, it is worth considering whether separate provisions should be made to regulate such qualifications. It would certainly be connected with appropriate rights and obligations of a youth worker, such as organising meetings with students and their parents or guardians outside normal working hours.
Of course, this does not mean that the competences of youth workers are not important, but their path of development should not be limited only to the formal education system, which is best evidenced by scout instructors, who despite their young age, often have a much higher level of competence to work with young people than many graduates of social rehabilitation or other similar courses (cf. Duda).
In Poland, despite the fact that there is a definition of a youth worker, there is currently no common system of validation of qualifications of youth workers. However, some large organisations use a system based on uniform education and validation of acquired knowledge. Therefore, it seems necessary to create a single tool for the validation of youth workers to allow standardised and reliable research instruments both in Poland and other countries.
II Ethos of a youth worker
1. Tasks of the youth worker
The first task of a youth worker is to represent the institution in which he or she is employed. The youth worker "conducts workshops and activities in community centres, clubs, extracurricular and informal education centres and in the street”. All these institutions should have their own legal documents, such as statutes, regulating the tasks, or a set of regulations regulating the rules of conduct, such as rules and regulations, in accordance with which a youth worker should act.
The second task is to teach young people. According to the description of the profession, "he or she supports, initiates and organises free time activities for young people at risk of addiction, crime, threatened with aggression, prostitution, unattended by parents". His or her role is therefore to make young people aware of the consequences of such risks and threats.
The third function is to educate. This task consists in accompanying young people as a friend in their personal development. The relationship between youth workers and young people is of significant importance. It should be characterised by educational passion, creativity being developed, adaptation and a great respect for the freedom and maturity of the person. Therefore, the youth worker "works with schools and local communities; organises help and support by social services and health care centres” (Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy).
The above-mentioned basic tasks of a youth worker make up a diverse and multifaceted whole. Each of them includes the youth worker’s professional goal.
2. Teaching aids in teaching and education
According to W. Okoń, teaching aids are psychical objects that facilitate teaching and achieving optimal results (cf. Okoń, 1998, p. 289). As there are a lot of teaching aids, they may be classified based on stimuli:
- visual aids – physical objects, preparation, models, images, boards, textbooks, subject and methodological texts;
- auditory aids – tape recorder, radio, audiobooks, musical instruments;
- audio-visual aids – film, television programme, photomontage, YouTube;
- aids automating the teaching/learning process – didactic machines, computer, the Internet (cf. Kupisiewicz, 1998, p. 219).
Apart from the above-mentioned division, in his publication “Zarys dydaktyki dialogu”, M. Śnieżyński gives a clearer and simpler division based on gradation of difficulty: from simple to complex. In general, teaching aids can be divided into direct teaching aids and indirect teaching aids (cf. Śnieżyński, 1997, p. 123).
Regardless of the classification, these aids should help youth workers carry out their programme. Both direct and indirect teaching aids should be logically integrated into the appropriate activities. The frequency of using teaching aids is important in youth work, as it has a positive impact on participation in classes. A youth worker should be aware of this. It is worth noting that the above aids strongly correlate with educational measures, sometimes overlapping, e.g. a film, programme, poetry can have a double didactic and educational function. This should be clear to every youth worker.
This study shows that youth workers should undertake continuous improvement. The improvement should concern the personality sphere and the development of attributes and qualifications. These values are extremely important in the youth worker’s life, as they affect the effectiveness of his or her work. This is the youth worker's logos.
In addition to the logos, the youth worker's ethos is also important. Therefore, youth workers have specific tasks, such as representation, teaching and educating. Teaching aids should be used effectively in these three functions performed by a youth worker. The formative dimension of youth work should be emphasised in today's youth work, and should be a priority in all youth worker’s activities.
The author is aware of some imperfections of this study. She hopes, however, that these reflections will serve as an inspiration for further research and search that will disseminate the new proposal.
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Key words: leisure time animator, youth worker, project "Mapping, evaluation and validation of competences of NEET youth educators".
The paper refers to the Erasmus project: MAV Mapping, Assessing and Validating Competences of Youth Educators Working with NEETS. Project No 2017-1-PL01-KA205-035785.