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Take action with action learning

By Amber Shanahan

If you could have 14 colleagues working alongside you to help you meet your goals, that would be pretty great, right? And what if they were helping you to solve the most important issues in your field? That would be greater still, right?

Fifteen Minnesota 4-H program coordinators did just that in a recently completed Youth Development Learn and Lead (YDLL) cohort. They networked, worked as a team, and shared positive youth development research and best practices. Over the eight-month period, they took part in an Action Learning Project (ALP), a practical assignment to solve issues, create support or improve programs. In ALP, participants identify a topic or concern relevant to their community and work in small groups to share progress, reflect and gain perspective.

I think of the process as an annual professional plan of work goal with a very regimented support system of colleagues to guide you every step of the way. Sounds pretty great, right? Here’s the kicker: you don’t have to be in the YDLL cohort to take part in action learning. ALP groups can work on a grassroots level and foster professional growth.

What you need to get started

Identify your issue: Focus your efforts on an existing issue or idea that demands intentionality to complete; identify a process or program that could benefit from focused support and accountability.

Find your tribe: Reach out to colleagues and peers who understand your issue and can give insight and reflection to nurture your growth. Be prepared to reciprocate. The ideal group has 4-8 diverse members.

Make time for feedback and reflection: The process of insightful questioning and reflective listening is key. Your small group might not have all the answers, but they should be able to challenge you through inquisitive discussion and inquiry.

Share your progress: Don’t forget to celebrate your work and progress. Make a big deal out of how the program has transformed because of your leadership.

As you might have guessed, the ALP process is more than just meeting the stated tasks. It provides a space for professional and personal growth by pushing youth workers beyond their comfort zone to lead in unique, fulfilling ways.

Why should this matter to you as a youth worker?

  1. You may be feeling isolated in your role. Cultivating a small group can overcome that feeling.
  2. Positive youth development work can be draining. Many youth workers think of others before they think of themselves. Action learning encourages professionals to invest time into themselves as leaders and ensures they are moving beyond the everyday to-do list. This benefits your organization and the youth you serve.

Have you taken part in action learning? What was your experience like? How could ALP support your professional growth?

-- Amber Shanahan, Extension educator

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  1. Team work plays a key role in the Active Learning Program. It is a place where different thoughts are meant to get together in helping the task faster and simple. Interesting and sharable.

    1. Hi Anshul! Thanks so much for your reply. Team work is definitely a key component to Action Learning, especially when you unite a variety of perspectives and beliefs about how to solve an issue or how to approach the work itself. Thanks for highlighting this important factor.


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