Leadership from Youth Today

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Leadership from Youth Today

There seems to be discontent and crises everywhere today. The climate is a catastrophe, democracy is threatened, and our communities continue to struggle. The pandemic rages on, politics are more divisive than in generations, and the economy vacillates wildly. A continuously weaving thread of possibility weaves together each of these challenges though.

Last week, I facilitated a conversation with youth from one of our programs in Compton, California, and another in Preston, United Kingdom. More than 20 young people ages 11 through 19 participated, all with one thing in common: They are working to change the world right now.

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The students in Compton are working to support technology integration in their middle school, addressing issues of socio-economic disparity, bridging the digital divide, and creating community among diverse learners. The youth in Preston are organizing campaigns against period poverty, for LGBTTQQ awareness, and against ignorance and suffering. All of these young people are crossing borders and boundaries, creating new realities and challenging apathy and indifference. Their powers are steadily increasing as they change hearts and minds, shift policies and politics, and transform their generation through action.

This was yet another occasion for me to find hope with youth. Despite the apparent inability of adults to solve the most serious problems facing our world today, these learners and leaders are moving the needle through constant action, steady commitment, and empowered reflection. They’re using resources from Youth and Educators Succeeding and creating their own tools. Creating and accumulating knowledge and skills, they’re sharing with their peers and parents to help others. Ultimately, they’re shifting the future we will all share with practical, pragmatic, powerful action that will change all of our lives.

Listening to these youth last week reminded me that leadership from youth might be the very best pathway forward in our lives, whether in our schools, throughout our communities, or around the world. What do you hear when you listen?

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Adam F.C. Fletcher is available to consult, speak, and write.

Systems of Youth Engagement

Our society is filled with systems. A lot of them affect youth. A system is any group of coherent connections resulting in a predictable result.

Whether we’re talking about obvious systems like education, health care and juvenile justice, or less tangible systems like culture and families, it is important to understand how each of these systems affects youth engagement.

Systems are made of many factors, including people, policies, procedures and possibilities. There are eight factors in the graphic below.

The systems of youth engagement include formal and informal, obvious and subtle and practical as well as theoretical spaces. This graphic shows where and how they might exist.
The systems of youth engagement include formal and informal, obvious and subtle and practical as well as theoretical spaces. This graphic shows where and how they might exist.

While I’ve worked with schools, nonprofits, government agencies and other orgs over the last 17 years, I’ve explored how and these systems operate. I’ve seen “under the hood” in dozens of communities, watched the bad and the good arise in times of crisis and seasons of apparent ease… and every time I’m reminded of the systems at work.

Wherever they’re sustainably connected, youth engagement happens in systems.

  • Education—Education systems are formal and informal, apparent and subversive. Youth engagement starts in the space where they’re learning.
  • Sports—The youth athletics system includes rules, teams, scores, morals, codes and more
  • Culture—The cultural system all youth belong to includes obvious and not-obvious rules, behavior, attitudes and beyond
  • Economics—The youth employment system exchanges goods and services for money and more

Other systems of youth engagement include school, faith, justice, health, family, civic action, social services, mental health, recreation, or other systems, ALL youth EVERY where can experience the positive, powerful potential of youth engagement. Let’s explore that together!

Systems of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher

I’m offering a new series of training and speeches on Systems of Youth Engagement. If you’re interested in learning how I can help you, your organization or your community, call me today at (360)489-9680 or send me an email. Want to learn on your own? See the links below.


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The EGOsystem/ECOsystem dynamic as illustrated by Adam Fletcher
This article, “EGOsystems or ECOsystem in Education” by Adam Fletcher is available.

The Excitement of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?

As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects, youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.

That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!

Adam Fletcher's Project Based Learning Wheel
Adam Fletcher’s Project Based Learning Wheel positions youth engagement as the hub for all outcomes!

My research has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:

  1. POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
  2. REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
  3. PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
  4. LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
  5. OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
  6. CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
  7. AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.

These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Organization, Teamwork, Research; Procurement, Time Management, Project Management, and Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.

If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!

If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.

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Elsewhere Online

  • Freechild Institute—Freechild supports youth and adults working together to change the world in positive, powerful ways. Examples, resources and more.