What is our vision of ourselves? What do we in the youth development, out-of-school-time, non-formal learning field want to become?
During discussions at the National Afterschool Association Annual Convention in Orlando, Fla., a weekend of great sessions and discussions about the future of the youth worker workforce sponsored by the Next Generation Youth Work Coalition, part of a series of critical conversations that started back last fall at the History of Youth and Community Work Conference I was struck by these most basic questions.
Do we want to be a workforce with multiple job categories and a checklist of the skills each should possess? Something that systems can support but also control, as Joyce discussed last week? Is that enough?
Do we want to be a profession with a defined body of knowledge and a set of values and ethics driven by both practice wisdom and research wisdom on what works and how? If so, are we professional front-line youth workers? Or are we professionals at many levels from part-time to full-time, from doers to managers and from program designers to system intermediaries?
Or do we really want to be a field -- a field with a set of workers of many different types in allied professions with various levels of competence and expertise, and who work together for the learning and development of our nation's children and youth?
Perhaps the real answer is D) all of the above. I believe that what we are really talking about is the breadth, depth, and differentiation of who we really are:
- Breadth: We must include everyone in the community workforce who supports the development of our children and youth. Our field is broad and varied and we should claim that breadth.
- Depth: What are the core competencies that bring us together and which we can begin to assess authentically, not as items to be checked off but as knowledge to be understood and a frame of mind about the very heart and nature of this work. A profession whose values and ethics unite us even as some of our skills and expertise varies in the content and context in which they are practiced.
- Differentiation: We must recognize that we are a set of differentiated professions that share a common set of core competencies, values and ethics that drive our work and differing perspectives and skills. Perhaps we are a field of researchers, evaluators, educational designers, content translators, bridgers of research, practice and policy, organizational leaders, recreation workers, child and youth care workers, and afterschool professionals who enrich the developmental diet of young people in our communities and our nation, and work to ensure they have choices in how they exercise their learning muscles growing up.
What vision do you have for our field? What types of debates, decision, tools, and other actions will help us build our identity?