Democracy is more than a form of government. It is more than an individual attitude, a group process, or a way to educate people. It is all that, as well as the thread that ties together individuals, groups, and society through our thoughts, words, and actions. Democracy is a way of life. Undergirded by the values, beliefs and attitudes of everyone within a definable community, democracy is made visible in the personal interactions, the organizing structures, and the shared cultures among people.
Even though it’s often misunderstood as just the operational process for government, democracy is much more. It is apparent in the ways individuals visualize themselves and society; it is observable in the interactions between people at home, within communities, across nations, and around the world; and it is obvious throughout the values, operations, and outcomes of places shared among people.
In the lives of some young people, democracy is a living, breathing function that can constantly guide their lives, inform their thinking, and drive their actions. While that isn’t the reality for most young people today, it is the possibility of that reality that drives so many children and youth today to take action to change the world. The democratic potentials in the lives of the young include family life, where democracy can take root, grow and expand dramatically; education, where learning, teaching and leadership expand the present capacity of our democracy everyday; and community, where the voices of children and the voices of youth can be fully expressed in governance, social capital, volunteerism, and more.
Democracy can be practically expressed within family life, whether in the parent-child dynamic, sibling relationships, or the valuation and devaluation of birth families and chosen families. Expressed through culture and attitudes, democracy at home or the lack thereof is evident in the ways parents communicate with their children; the everyday treatment of be
Unfortunately, these same places are where democracy deficit disorder is most prevalent throughout our society.
There are a lot of ways to change the world. For hundreds of years, people young and old have been moving and striving and fighting to make a difference using these different ways.
Here are some different ways to change the world.
Change Communities—When people connect because of their identity, their locations, their cultures or beliefs, their work, their recreation or many other reasons, they are forming community. One of the ways to change the world is to change communities, including neighborhoods, institutions, faith-based groups, and other places. Here are some examples of people changing communities »
Change Actions—The ways we behave, including our actions, reactions, responses and motivations, can be changed in order to change the world. Whether addressed alone or in groups, the actions we take can impact ourselves and others, small groups or large ones, and so on. Here are some examples of people changing communities »
Change Individuals—No matter how a person identifies, including their age, race, gender, socio-economic status, education or otherwise, it takes individual people to change the world. When groups of people change, more of the world changes. As the entire world is affected, the whole world changes. Here are some examples of people changing individuals »
Change Issues—The topics that matter most to us are the issues we can change. Addressing a specific issue can take a lot of different kinds of actions, diverse numbers of people and various communities. However, it can also simply require the power of one person in one community taking one action to address one issue to change the world. Here are some examples of issues changing the world »
Deciding how to change the world isn’t exclusive to just one of those approaches; sometimes you have to use all four. Do you have thoughts, concerns or questions about these ways? Leave a comment below!
In the last few weeks, the United States has seen a resurgence of interest in youth engagement. Young people from Parkland, Florida, have led the charge and created a stir among the media by calling out politicians and pundits in public forums, including social media and press events. They’re advocating sophisticated responses to the violence that tore apart their school, and demanding people pay attention. Its working.
However, this isn’t an “ah-ha” moment. Despite how the media is treating it, this isn’t a glorious revelation about the power of youth or the need for systems change. Instead, it’s the continuance of decades of youth-led social change across the United States. This article highlights how that’s true, and what we can do to KEEP youth changing the world!
Youth having been changing and challenging the United States to change for more than a century. From the newsboys’ strike of 1899 to the anti-gun activism enlightening the nation right now, young people have led the way for a long time. Here are a few issues they have covered:
Child Labor—In 1903, a few hundred children marched from the coal mines and textile mills of eastern Pennsylvania to Washington DC to demand politicians take action for labor laws. Led by Mother Jones, an infamous suffragette, the group shook Congress to the bones, leading to the passage of the first national child labor and compulsory school laws in the country.
Youth Rights—In the 1930s, a group of high school and college age students formed the American Youth Congress to lobby for recreation, education, food and work rights for their generation. They presented the The Declaration of the Rights of American Youth [pdf] to the US Congress in 1935. Working with Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1936 their work led to the formation of the National Youth Administration. Although it was dismantled shortly after, the American Youth Congress launched campaigns for racial justice, increased federal spending on education, and an end to mandatory participation in the college-level Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
Cultural Diversity—During World War II, racial hatred and white supremacy led to the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. During these terroristic battles, Hispanic and Latino young people led cultural battles to express themselves, while white supremacists beat them down and stripped children and youth of their clothes to suppress youth voice. This kind of cultural activism serves as a strong call for the rest of us.
Civil Rights—Nine months before Rosa Parks, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin became a pioneer in the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat for a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Not prepared to capitalize on the moment or recognize her leadership, movement makers didn’t promote Claudette’s actions. However, Colvin testified at the US Supreme Court trial that ended with a ruling against segregated busing and the end of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Self-Expression—The stories continue after that, too, with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, leading a generation towards activism in the early 1960s; the teen-led organization Youth Liberation Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan printing radical tracts about youth rights, freedom and justice in the 1970s; and the emergence of hip hop youth activism in the 1980s.
Global Youth Action—Youth engagement in social change has increasingly gone global, too. In the 1980s, the student-led movement against South Africa apartheid was openly credited by Nelson Mandela for contributing to the end of the regime of terror that segregated that country. After the turn of the century, the United Nations recognized the essential nature of engaging youth in international development plans. Youth in Australia gained a massive footing in their state educational decision-making around 2003 with the implementation of the Victoria Student Representative Council. Their actions created a foundation that’s still being built on internationally.
Today, we’re seeing a shift in the battle over guns that has gripped the American soul with the murders of thousands of children and youth in the last 25 years. Whether shot by gangs, parents, stray bullets, police, or mass murderers, young people today are faced with increasingly hostile learning environments, with politicians who are seemingly intransigent to the threats they face. Luckily, they aren’t standing for it.
Inspired by activist youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the latest mass murder happened, young people across the country are organizing on-the-ground, practical campaigns to end gun violence forever. They’re confronting politicians, partnering with parents and teachers, and planning massive school walkouts, rallies and demonstrations.
Like others before them, this generation is calling the American soul to the carpet. Young people today want us to feel their anguish, understand their suffering, acknowledge the collective trauma facing them, and to take action and make change.
However, there can be more to this moment than ever before. Rather than being a flash-bang instance of youth-led activism and instead of a media-driven hysteria focused on the appeal of middle class white suburban youth screaming for change, we can transform the very perception of young people in society in three ways.
3 Ways Youth Can KEEP Changing the World
Create sustainable roles—There have to be positions, policies and practices in your organization and community that are long-ranging, impactful opportunities for youth specifically.
Foster lifelong engagement—Engagement must not end at 15, 18, 21, 25 or beyond. Instead, there should be a continuum of opportunities for young people to see themselves engaged and then become that way throughout their lifetimes.
Call forth the positive powerful purpose of youth—Don’t continue to make youth come to adults and insist change. Instead, reach out directly to young people and appeal to their sense of purpose, power and belonging, and then be ready to take action.
Its already happening. For more than a decade, youth have been fighting for social change in dozens of areas, like local farming, stopping smoking, challenging white supremacy and ending zero tolerance policing practices. Students have been partnering with teachers to improve schools, working with parents to build healthy families, and struggling against entrenched perceptions throughout society. That’s all happening right now, and we need to expand these practices.
We need to sustain and uplift the current actions young people are taking to change the world. Instead of creating more opportunities for involved youth to become more involved, we need to create new spaces for disengaged youth to become involved. Whether youth or adults, we can do this by changing the attitudes of individuals around us by confronting adultism (bias towards adults) and challenging ephebiphobia (fear of youth) wherever we see it.
Whether youth or adults, we can do this by transforming the structures we live in and operate throughout everyday, including families, schools, nonprofits, government agencies and bodies, and businesses, including all of the policies, practices and procedures we follow everyday. Whether youth or adults, we can do this by navigating and negotiating our culture, including the mainstream culture that paint youth as incapable non-adults; traditional cultures that treat young people as sometime to be seen and not heard; or socio-economic cultures that rely on youth repression in order to assure the social orders they rely on.
Ultimately, we must engage every youth and every adult in every community, everywhere, all the time. My own professional experience dovetails with history to show us that we must embrace, sustain and expand youth engagement. In more than 250 communities nationwide, I have worked with K-12 schools, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations to transform the roles of young people in their programs, policies and operations. By facilitating professional development for adult staff members; training children and youth in myriad youth engagement skills and issues; planning programs and evaluating outcomes; as well researching and writing curriculum, I have sought to move the needle from seeing youth as the passive recipients of adult-led decision-making towards engaging youth as partners throughout our communities. I have spoke at dozens of conferences, providing motivational and educational expert speeches for young people and adults to see each other as allies, not enemies, by breaking down generational assumptions and understanding the power of youth.
Most importantly to me, I have stayed at it: For more than 17 years, I have run the Freechild Institute to share examples and tools for youth-led social change worldwide, while directing SoundOut, which focuses on meaningful student involvement throughout education. Recently, I joined the Athena Group, a collective of consultants focused on systems change nationwide. Our work will continue to move youth engagement into the mainstream today and in the future.
When you see the headlines, experience the momentum and feel the demand for youth engagement today, I hope you consider the history that’s come before, and understand the efforts underway to continue these actions today and beyond. Youth engagement is our greatest hope, and you can help build it right now.
We live in a time of transition. Social change is swirling like a righteous cyclones throughout our society, bringing social justice, massive disparities and a whirlwind of destruction, transition, and ultimately, transformation everywhere, affecting everyone all the time.
Lots has been lost through these times. Job security disappeared for many of us, and along with it economic certainty, ongoing professional development, and benefits like retirement and healthcare. We’ve been stripped of the crystalline certainties of the middle class, including home ownership, higher education, and savings. Some of us struggle to put food on the table and pay rent, while others hustle to keep their mortgages and car payments going.
How can we find meaning when its all stripped away? What do we do when it feels like everything is lost, like we’re drowning in hopelessness and we need something more than mere survival?
Learning How to Sustain Ourselves
Throughout my career, I’ve been teaching low-income youth, youth of color, rural and urban youth, and the adults who support them. I’ve found their passion, courage and determination to be simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. Its exhilarating because of the ambition of youth; its frustrating because of the inability of adults to change their lives.
Worn down, beaten down, and otherwise held down throughout our lives, all kinds of parents, youth workers, teachers, counselors, and others are running low on juice right now. Its frustrating because nobody is teaching these essential warriors of truth and justice how to survive their professions.
About five years ago, I began facilitating self-sustainability workshops. Working with schools, youth programs, national organizations and at conferences across the nation, all kinds of adults and youth have been teaching me how they take care of themselves, how they support others, and what they do along the way. I’ve been collecting lessons from these workshops, and I want to share some of my learnings here.
3 Ways to Find Meaning During Life Transitions
3 Ways to Find Meaning
Following are three ways I’ve been taught to find meaning in transitions.
NAME YOUR STRENGTHS. When the world knocks us down and takes things away, its important to acknowledge the abilities we have within ourselves. These things can’t be taken away. When you name your strengths, don’t be vague or ambiguous; name specific, accountable realities. Make a simple list, draw a complicated mindmap, or just talk it over with yourself. If you’re a planner, you’d better name planning as a strength; artists, poets, builders, parenting, learning, advocating, driving and gardening all count, along with any specific skill you have. Knowledge counts too, so account for your professional knowledge, your personal hobbies and your downtime activities, too.
DRAW IN SUPPORT. If you’re struggling in life, bring your supports together from the world around you. Those can be people, places, activities and other assets throughout your life. Again, you can write them down, brainstorm images or do whatever works. In some way though, account for the supports in your life, including books, heroes, family, friends and whatever else helps you get strong and stay that way. Then, when you’re feeling the most low and vulnerable, be grateful for those supports. Go through your list and say thanks for everything you’ve drawn in, whether in person, over the internet, on the phone or simply by yourself. Don’t just name them; name them and then thank them.
TAKE ACTION. The temptation to remain still, be complacent and simply react to the situations we face can be overwhelming at times. However, once you’ve completed the first two steps here, you must must take action! Look at the abilities and capacities you personal have from step one, then match them to the supports you’ve identified in the world around you from step two. If a clear pathway isn’t automatically obvious, you have to clear out the fog from in front of your eyes and concentrate your vision. Do you even have a vision? Name one. Do you see the next steps? Take them. Do you need to name the next steps? Write them down. Make timelines, create plans, match the resources you already have and find the meaning in your life right now.
These three ways to find meaning in transitions. Whether you’re changing jobs, changing houses, changing yourself or changing the world, you can always use these three steps to take care of you, lift yourself up and make a difference in your own life. I hope you share your thoughts about them in the comments below.
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To say that schools are changing right now is a gross understatement.
Between technological, social and cultural transformations happening right now across the U.S., there are new trends becoming apparent everywhere, schools included. This paper puts the massive changes happening throughout the education system into context to help readers understand what’s happening, and why its happening.
Lots have said it, many see it, but few have called it out: for a century, our education system has revolved around ego. As we become an evermore interdependent and transparent society, this is inherently at odds with the future. This article explores the former EGOsystem of education and identifies an emerging ECOsystem taking its place. It also shows what the future might look like.
An EGOsystem of Education
When I first started working in education 15 years ago, I discovered quickly that educators in schools are most often the ones who school worked well for. After barely graduating from high school and taking eight years to get my BA, it was glaringly obvious to me that I was surrounded by former star students and others whose learning styles, socio-economic statuses and cultural backgrounds were being perpetuated by the system. This formula generally holds true for politicians who make educational policies as well as social service staff who support student success outside of schools.
These students often go on to work in schools as teachers and administrators; in districts as administrators; and in state education agencies as program directors, assessment officials and curriculum experts. They are successful in their careers, embraced by their institutions, and generally, reveling in the ways things are. If they are aware of how things are going for students who are most often failed by schools, they see these learners from a position of noblesse oblige, looking down on them from on high.
The system that created these workers has engendered particular school cultures that ensured succeeding generations of familiarity. Despite technology and social changes of many sorts, in many schools, learners who time travel from a century ago can find similar patterns of teaching, classroom management and testing. This is because the education system revolves around the ego, which is a person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.
Four Phases of Transition
Educators have relied on fulfilling their sense of self-importance and building their self-esteem through their work for more than 100 years. Through my studies, I have seen four phases in America’s education system.
1) The Control Phase
Initially relying on a high control environments, schools were initially places where teachers controlled students. The Control Phase looked like this:
Teachers could literally physically abuse students for not complying with their every intention.
Students who innately complied with teachers were awarded with increased amounts of autonomy and access to learning opportunities.
Educators sought to wrangle authority from communities and parents by illegitimating self-education and learning from life.
Education policymakers make child labor illegal at the same time legal and cultural systems were created to ensure government authority over learning and teaching.
The Control phase radically dismantled community-based and home-based learning opportunities, secured the function of a controlled curriculum, and imposed the meaning of grades and scores on students.
Voters supported this model enough to enable schools to emerge as a dominant force in society.
The Control Phase relied on the EGO of educators, as it enabled teachers to control large groups of students with minimal enforcement.
Administrators were able to control massive groups of students with few teachers, and were capable of ensuring teachers success through compliance.
The Control Phase served to break down the EGO of students in order to ensure students would learn what educators wanted them to. Academic honor societies were available only to the highest achieving students and student governments were almost nonexistent.
This phase displaced young people from their positions in communities, positioning them as dependents of schools for their learning. It attempted to strip students of self-leadership in order to secure the role of adults as leaders in learning and teaching.
All of these factors weighed together to create an EGOsystem in schools dependent on control. This phase evolved towards the Competition Phase. People who benefited from the Control Phase of American education saw the transition towards the Competitive Phase as logical, predictable and favorable progress.
2) The Competition Phase
With time, schools became high command environments that relied less on forcefulness and abrasion and more on leveraging authority for outcomes. During the Command Phase, schools looked like this:
Students were compelled to participate in classes because of government orders and nothing further.
The Competition Phase sought to essentialize schools by making graduation diplomas requirements for workplaces.
Conversely, during this phase post-high school opportunities were minimalized for non-graduates.
Voters initially supported this approach because they saw that when more people succeeded at schooling, more people succeeded in their careers; more successful careers led to more successful communities, which led to better schools.
In the Competition Phase, pragmatic acceptance reigns as students, educators, administrators, policymakers, politicians, parents and voters become acclimated and accustomed to the EGOsystem that has formed within the education system.
As schools became judged for their success according to graduation rates, students EGOs were recognized as helping motivate academic vigilance. This phase saw the widespread prevalence of honor societies and student governments in order to satiate those EGOs.
With the decreased emphasis on teacher EGO in the classroom, this phase saw the emergence of powerful teacher unions that ensured the authority of educators.
Student connections outside classrooms were ignored or seen as irrelevant to teaching, learning and leadership in schools.
This phase positioned students as the subjects of teachers, securing the hierarchal relationship between adults and students in schools.
All of these factors weighed together to create an EGOsystem in schools reliant on competition. This phase evolved towards the Connection Phase. People who thrived in the Competition Phase were threatened by the transition towards the next phase and saw it as the devolution of schools.
3) The Connection Phase
When social change insisted, schools modified their approach to include connection between students, among educators, within the curriculum and throughout the education system. During the Connection Phase, schools looked like this:
Rigorous demands imposed on schools coupled with decreased school funding led to increased attempts to ensure community connections with schools.
Cross-curricular approaches to teaching and learning were recognized as essential in some areas.
Student connections outside classrooms were recognized and mass amounts of homework were assigned to utilize out-of-school time.
Students work and family responsibilities outside school time were dismissed.
The EGO of students becomes central with honor rolls, honor societies, extracurricular clubs and other student voice and student leadership clubs being perceived as elite or otherwise disconnected from mainstream student populations.
The EGO of educators is struggling due to having diminished authority throughout the education system.
In the Connection Phase, placing self above all others is the norm. opportunists have the most authority as they maximize connectivity in order to ensure their personal gain.
The EGO of education policymakers is peaked from their increased authority over educational outcomes and avenues.
The EGO of education textbook, assessment, preparation and advocacy organizations is peaked from their influence on education policymakers.
Voters become resentful from subsequent generations going through failed phases of American education and stop supporting schools with levies and pro-public school advocacy.
This phase fosters a sense of independence with an awareness of the larger whole.
All of these factors weighed together to create an ECOsystem in schools contingent on connection. This phase evolved towards the Collaboration Phase. People who benefited from this phase saw the emergence of the Collaboration Phase as a relief from the pressure of connection and competition.
4) The Collaboration Phase
Today, we’re in the midst of moving from EGOsystems towards ECOsystems of education. This movement is happening through collaboration fostered by technology, social change and other evolution that holds great possibilities.
Connectivity is recognized as key to successful learning, teaching and leadership with all partners recognized for their potential, purpose and power.
Students are recognized as full partners in learning, teaching and leadership throughout education.
While technology was initially frowned upon, connections among students outside of school time became an imposition on classrooms. Educators were essentially required to recognize student connections outside of schools and the effects they have within schools.
In the Collaboration Phase, placing self above others is becoming increasingly unacceptable as more people identify with the whole.
Students who work and have family responsibilities are recognized for the legitimacy and authority of their learning outside school time, and receive high amounts of support to ensure their successful academic growth.
Academic learning, liberal arts and community living skills are recognized with equitable authority throughout the lives of young people.
The EGO-driven era of education ends as learning is recognized and embraced as a community-wide, lifelong endeavor for all people everywhere all of the time. This leads to the ECOsystem of education.
Voters reinvest in education because of the re-asserted vitality of schools in the health and well-being of democratic society.
This phase nurtures a sense of increasing interdependence with strong awareness of the effect of individuals on others.
All of these factors weighed together to create an ECOsystem in schools revolving around collaboration. This phase is currently evolving and emerging. Everyone in society should benefit from the emergence of the Collaboration Phase and will embrace the ongoing evolution of learning, teaching and leadership.
The emerging ECOsystem of education is harder to see than previous phases. From my work in schools and throughout communities over the last 15 years, I have seen some aspects of it becoming apparent. Following is an exploration of some patterns that are becoming apparent.
An ECOsystem of Education
Right now, there’s a new picture of schools that is coming into focus. Across the horizon of testing, standardization and the school-to-prison pipeline are learning, teaching and leadership opportunities for all people everywhere in which love prevails and pessimism stops. With beautiful balance between critical thinking, cultural uplifting and participatory infrastructure, learning mirrors life in a balanced, holistic way that honors difference, embraces hopefulness and builds through equitable partnerships among everyone involved, regardless of their ages.
When considering the ECOsystem of education, its important to remember what constitutes an ecology. An ECOsystem consists of the interdependent and interacting components of a learner’s environment. There are living elements like teachers and other students throughout, and non-living elements like the building, computers and textbooks. Air and light cycles through an ECOsystem, as well as talking, music and paper ripping. Material elements also cycle through an ecosystem via cafeterias, heating plants, and other pathways.
As the ECOsystem of education continues to emerge, we will need new guideposts to know where we’re at. In the 300+ schools I have consulted over the last decade, the following three trends represent the new realities in education. These can serve as guideposts to ensure students, educators, administrators and others are on the right track to ensure the healthy, whole, successful and sustainable transition underway.
While more students opt to learn from home, more schools rely on BYOD and tablets-as-textbooks, and classrooms integrate more with communities, schools will have fewer and fewer options for retaining students in desk chairs. Instead, they will be forced to embrace disruptive learning technologies of all sorts, including experiential education, service learning and integrate CTE that positions elementary and middle school students in applicable, pragmatic problem-centered learning to address real world challenges.
With more adults actively infusing throughout the school day as both co-learners and co-leaders with students who are transforming communities, the role of student will be actively redefined. No longer the plaything of classroom tyrants, students will be recognized for their essential role in the American democracy as the foundation and implementation of lifelong civic identity and engagement. Students of all ages will freely co-learn, co-teach and co-lead communities in quintessential learning communities that are infused with vigor, vim and vitality.
By actively taking control of the things they want to learn, students are actively moving from being the passive recipients of teaching towards becoming active partners in learning and leadership. Each individual student will develop and implement their own course of learning from their youngest years in schools. Learning about their roles as active learning partners, they will also assume more responsibility throughout their communities for teaching their elders. In turn, today’s teachers will continue towards become learning coaches and facilitators to the willing. Students will gain full authority through true interdependence, and communities will become fully integrated throughout their local education systems.
The effect of dispersed learning and teaching are already rippling throughout the education system. Technology is actively pushing students out of the forced irrelevance of age- and interest segregated classrooms and towards their broader communities, while schools have to reach deeper towards their local communities in order to cover budgets. This is drawing students towards meeting real community needs through authentic leadership and away from falsely important student governments. In turn, this is forcing schools to reconsider engaging those students in educational leadership. In the ECOsystem of schools, education uses all members of the community in order to drive, transform and sustain learning. Students become researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates throughout communities, which in turn recognize their legitimacy as contributing members of society.
This rekindles community investment in education, which further enriches the educational environment. Racial inequities are eagerly addressed by communities, and the school-to-prison pipeline is dismantled. Every student creates their own learning plan with strategic systems of learning supporting their implementation. Restorative justice engenders new cultures of respect, trust and ability throughout schools, while nutrition, school buildings, athletics and other activities become safe supports for learning and teaching. All of this happens through new leading.
As schools move forward through the phases, a natural ECOsystem of learning will emerge. There is a growing awareness of this transformation. Some people see a complete destruction of traditional, EGO-driven schools, while others see an ongoing evolution towards ECOsystems of learning, teaching and leadership. If we deliberately identify the systems supporting education, we can make this shift intentionally.
As the entirety of the system moves forward, there will be resistance and denial. People who’ve upheld the first and second phases will resist the inevitably of this transformation, while others who’ve embraced the third and fourth phases might actually deny the need for the system to move forward. Those who resist and deny are actually representing the EGOsystem of education that has become entrenched by the powers that benefit most from the EGOsystem. However, truncated by the inevitable transformation fostered by ongoing social change, its inevitable for the EGOsystem to die.
In order to move it forward, its important for educators, students and others to make an honest assessment of where their own personal expectations lay; where their schools’ realities are; and what the gap is between those two areas. Schools will never do more than we are willing to do in them. If a person is young, then its imperative to establish genuine expectations for their own experience. This comes through reflection and critical thinking. If a person is older, its vital to engage in critical self-analysis as well as self-engagement in a project for school improvement. For anyone, its important to get active. Research what exists right now. Work with others to plan for alternatives. Teach people about options, no matter what age you are or they are. Evaluate and critically examine what exists, what could exist and what the gap is between those two spaces. Get involved in decision-making wherever there’s an opportunity, including on committees, in forums and in other spaces. Finally, everyone must advocate for the future of schools and the emerging ECOsystem of education. This has to be brought forth on purpose, and the only way to do that is to encourage individuals, organizations and communities to move towards the ECOsystem on purpose. Advocate for that.
Learning is a beautiful, nature and evolutionary approach towards expanding our human potential. The ECOsystem of education moves us towards powerful possibilities for all students everywhere all the time. You should come with.
Let me start by saying that I don’t know what humility is. For more than a dozen years I’ve consciously struggled with the word and the concept of humility, and I’m still not sure. I do know this: If you want to change the world, humility is definitely a requirement.
The dictionary says humility is simply defined as the quality of being humble. It also says that to be humble is to lower something in importance.
This means developing and maintaining a modest view of our own importance in public and personal regards to who we are and what we do. Sometimes, we are given struggles that humiliate us, cause us to get humble and send us down the road with compromise in our hearts. That is the core of humility: Accepting that everyone, everywhere screws up and is screwed up.
That doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference in the world, and that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to make a difference in the world. It does mean that while we’re working for social change, we shouldn’t be arrogant. Being proud and selfish can mean not seeing our faults and hoarding our accomplishments without sharing props with the people we worked with. That selfishness is typical in a lot of activist campaigns, where peoples’ egos and conceits become obvious. Its selfish to think the world owes you anything; to think the good guy always wins; to think the world works in a balance that will benefit you particularly.
Being right is the enemy of understanding. There’s a difference between knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know; one suffocates curiosity while the other leaves the door open to possibilities. In the same way that being perfect is the enemy of being good, so it holds true that being right is the enemy of being humble. Screwing up and being wrong, as well as tripping and falling, are all pathways to humility. They won’t automatically make you humble, but they can help you get there quickly.
Despite all the things we may have accomplished in the past, there will always be opportunities ahead. Our ideas, activities, outcomes and struggles do not make us better than anyone else, more correct than anyone else, or less faulty than anyone else. Being humble means acknowledging our mistakes, accepting responsibility for our inabilities, and working in earnest to make progress within ourselves as well as throughout the world around us.
Its a leap for some people to understand, but just to check whether you’re paying attention, I’ll say the reality for me: True humility means accepting our equality with everything else on Earth, including past and present, old and young, rich and poor, human and animal and insect and plant and dirt. All of it.
No matter what happens, in trying to change the world we should always really, really try to be respectful towards everyone, all the time. Humility is an absolute requirement for changing the world. Look at yourself honestly, strip yourself of your pride, puffed up chest and closed eyes. Look at yourself and what you’re trying to do and allow yourself to develop a humble attitude. Then, correct your defects, ask others for help and keep taking action to make the world a better place.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate our successes, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be arrogant or boastful. Don’t brag. Feel quiet confidence, because in the long run your character will speak for itself. C.S. Lewis once wrote “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” Understanding that is a pathway towards being humble.
6 Ways to Be Humble
Learn to be humble and always strive to become a better person.
Find your moral compass and strive for constant conscious contact with what matters most to you.
Stay humble while you’re trying to change the world.
Stop being selfish and start being selfless.
If you want to change the world, be humble.
Oh, and if you think you are humble, you’re not. If someone else tells you you’re humble, you lose it. If you are striving for humility everyday in every way in everything you’re doing, you cannot become humble.
There are a lot of people who want to make a difference in the world. However, many get frustrated because they don’t know what it takes.
After more than a decade of teaching people around the world how to do it, I’ve developed this list of what everyone needs to have in order to make a difference. They are grounded in my experience, pulled from a variety of research and proven by the fires of social change over the decades. These capacities make the difference between those who talk about successfully changing the world and those who actually succeed.
I call these items capacities because they provide definition to our vessel in life. They determine what we can do, who we can be, and where we are. Each of us is absolutely limitless in our capacities. If it helps you understand them better, think of this as a list of traits, skills, dispositions and abilities.
If the title is highlighted, there’s an article about that topic.
Capacities to Change the World
Change Management—We successfully move people, leadership, and constituents through transitions and times of change.
Humility—We develop and maintain a modest view of our own importance in public and personal perspectives regarding our efforts. Despite all the things we may have accomplished in the past, there will always be challenges ahead. No matter what happens, we want to always respectful towards everyone. We love to celebrate our successes, but not in an arrogant or boastful way. We believe in a quiet confidence because in the long run our character will speak for itself. We strive for humility.
Collaboration & Teamwork—We build and sustain the necessary group and cross-group cohesion and operations needed to maintain success.
Learner Mind: We work to S-T-R-E-T-C-H ourselves both personally and professionally. We see the differences between being stuck in a rut and moving through a groove. We know everyone, including me, has more potential than we ever realize. We work to constantly unlock that potential, both in myself and the people we work with. We will never “get it right,” and that’s a reality we gladly accept. The only way we can solve new problems that arise is by learning and growing myself to meet them head-on. We are learning.
Conflict Management—We identify and successfully navigate conflicts and problems from an operational, day-to-day perspective.
Openness: We are open books. Our availability and vulnerability can lead to creating strong relationships built on trust and courage. We can use these strong relationships to accomplish so much more than we can otherwise. It’s not easy getting there! We strive to always act with integrity, be compassionate and loyal, and try to be a good listener. At the end of the day it’s not what we say or do, but how we make people feel that matters the most. We care about others, both personally and professionally. Peeling away the layers, we work to be open.
Passion: What keeps us going? It’s passion for engaging people. We’re inspired because we believe in what we are doing and where we’re going – even when we don’t know where that is! We don’t take “that’ll never work” for an answer. A lot of people tell me that the Engagement Revolution will never happen; imagine if we had listened to them so far! We have positive and optimistic attitudes because we have open eyes and are inspired by everyone around us. We are passionate.
Decision-Making—We discern how, when, where, and why to make decisions, and how to help others make decisions, both on a micro- and meta-level scale.
Community: We want to build community, not just colleagues. We serve children, youth, adults, and organizations by removing obstacles and enabling people to succeed on their own terms. The best decisions and ideas are made by people who take action, and we want to foster action among people. We collaborate with people and organizations to address the challenges in their worlds. Beyond that, we watch out for our community and care for others. We work together and play together with our community because our bonds go beyond the typical consultant/coach/trainer/speaker relationship. We work to build community.
Diversity & Cultural Competency—We acknowledge, embrace, and enable all sorts of differences as powerful motivators and assets.
Amazement: We seek amazement in this work, and we seek to amaze others when it happens. To amaze, we differentiate myself by doing things in an unconventional and innovative way. We go above and beyond the average level of action to create an emotional impact on people and organizations and to give them a positive story they can take with them the rest of their lives. We seek to amaze.
Coaching—We guide, transition, and mentor others through their daily professional and personal challenges without attempting to teach or lead them.
Boldness: We are bold and try not to be reckless. We aren’t afraid to make mistakes because that’s one way we learn. We take appropriate risks and we encourage others to take risks too, and we use risks to make better decisions. We believe gut feelings, and we know everyone can develop gut feelings about decisions as long as they are open to new ideas and can allow failure to happen.
Motivating & Empowering—We constantly seek to engage others in consistent, substantive, and sustainable ways that are motivating, empowering and sustainable.
Drivenness: We constantly change and embrace it with open arms. We never accept status quo and I’m always thinking of ways to change processes, perspectives, and opinions, hopefully for the better. Without change, we can’t continue to be useful to myself or other people. We are driven.
Personal & Professional Goal Development—We recognize our own goals and their relevance to our position, as well as help others do the same.
Open-Heartedness: Help is a key word for us. We offer it and ask for it often. Often, we can’t do everything required in a project, so in a large part, part of our livelihood is helping others do their projects successfully. We are not expected to know all the answers, but we know where we can go to ﬁnd them, and we share that with others. We help myself help others.
Knowledge Management—Using diverse ways of identifying, developing, sharing, and effectively using the knowledge of communities, we work to expand the knowledge of individuals and organizations.
Humor: We have a sense of humor, and we know it’s good to laugh at ourselves frequently. Living shouldn’t be drudgery or toil. We have fun and can be goofy even when there’s work to get done, and we get lots done. Being a little goofy requires being a little innovative, and we are always looking for a chance to fully engage in life by bringing out the fun and goofy side of it.
Problem-Solving—We effectively, consistently and realistically identify, address, critique, and re-imagine challenges.
Action Orientation: We avoid the risk of not trying and the regret of wishing we had done something. When we were young, we knew that it would be far more haunting to live with the regret of having not followed our instincts than to have followed our gut and failed. We have lived in action and done risky things. We see our ideas when we have them and make note of them. That’s why we always have a notepad. If we think an idea is compelling, we go after it. We live life only once, and we all die too soon. We always try. We take action.
Training & Facilitation—We successfully identify and meet the needs of people through group training and individual learning.
Simplicity: More and more, we realize the power of simplicity. Since we are in the business of ideas in action, we want to share them as effectively as we can in our complex world. We do that by being simple. It takes more mental space for me to create something simple or communicate something complicated in basic terms, but ultimately, that’s what people want. We don’t need to explain everything the first time around. WE need to facilitate the best tailored learning experience ourselves and our organization or community. We always need to break down knowledge into easily digestible, clear statements and actions. We work hard for simplicity.
Verbal & Written Communication/Public Presentation—We engage the public through customer service and imaging.
Release: We have to release everything we do when it’s done, and just let it go. Instead of trying to figure it out, we just let it be and accept that it is what it is, nothing more or less. It doesn’t determine our worth, others don’t validate our choices, and our contributions never go unnoticed, even if it seems like it. We release what we do when it’s done.
Personal Engagement—We foster our own connection to the work you’re doing, maintain that connection, and sustain the relevance of the work you’re doing throughout our own life, as well as help others do the same.
Focus: We work to transform the lives of youth, no matter what I’m doing. We do not look for fame or fortune, and we reject greed and deceit. Instead, we constantly look for opportunities to serve others, and we share our energy and efforts as often as we can. We see the ripple effect in everything we do, not just the flashy or huge things. If we don’t see the ripples, we trust the waves work. We know every action in our lives sets off an entire cascade of responses whose overall impact is huge, and we know this is true for others, too. We are focused.
Compassion—We develop our ability to establish and foster empathy with people and places outside of our own personal or professional sphere.
Listening: We speak by listening. Instead of rushing to come up with a quick reaction to what someone has said or done, we listen to them. When the time is right, we respond with knowledge. When we were younger, we assumed that the world was more interested in us than we were in it, so we spent most of our time talking. We were generally under-informed, we shared whatever we thought, we tried to be clever, and we thought about what we were going to say instead of listening to what someone else was saying to me. We have learned to slow ourselves down and engage rather than debate. We take time to really listen to what people say, and we try to learn from everything we hear. We listen to people.
Systems Thinking—We see how small things that seem separated can create big things through complicated interactions.
Facilitation: We provide appropriate support to learners. We do not train people, because we don’t do tricks or routine work. Instead, we adapt and contrast, modify and transform. We encourage learners through questions and activities that build confidence, stretch understanding, and foster engagement in learning. We facilitate learning.
Deliberation: We regularly stop to check our intentions and affirm our actions, so that what I’m doing actually reflects who we are. If I’m not aware of why we do what we do, we are disconnected from what matters to me. If I’m disconnected, I’m ineffective. Staying aware of our intentions and being deliberate allows me to guide our work with purpose, and challenge myself when its time. We are deliberate.
Challenge: When a we get too attached to the way things are, we lose the the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to fail. Without feeling like a failure, we don’t have to assume that a slight misstep is a deep plunge into the abyss. Instead, we step forward to challenges and see them each as an opportunity to innovate using a smart idea or strategic thinking. When I’m stepping up to challenges, we accept that failure is going to happen while I’m growing. Ultimately, we won’t become a better person because of how we respond to success, but instead, what we do with failure. We accept the challenge.
The entire list of capacities for changing the world includes: Change Management; Humility; Collaboration & Teamwork; Conflict Management; Decision-Making; Diversity & Cultural Competency; Coaching; Motivating & Empowering; Personal & Professional Goal Development; Knowledge Management; Problem-Solving; Training & Facilitation; Verbal & Written Communication/Public Presentation; Personal Engagement; Compassion; Systems Thinking; Challenge; Focused; Deliberate; Facilitate; Release; Listen; Simple; Action; Help; Amaze; Driven; Funny; Bold; Learning; Openness; Community; Passion; and Humility.
Respond below and let me know what you think!
If you’re really interested in these capacities, send me a message for my free one-page self-assessment tool. I also provide training and coaching in each of these capacities for groups and individuals.
There are many skills that you should build within you in order to change the world. In more than two decades of training adults who work in nonprofits, government agencies, schools and communities, I have identified more than 30 different skills that are important for anyone who works with youth, including mentors, tutors, coaches, teachers, counselors and others to possess. I’m going to post a series of articles over the next few weeks exploring these.
When the Stuff Hits the Fan
The first skill I want to call out is called Change Management. Its first on the list because it may be the most important skill for change agents of all kinds. Usually applies to nonprofit leaders, public officials and other figureheads, change management is important to individuals, too, because it applies to all aspects of their work:
Youth—Given their ages, the lives of young people are inherently transitional and almost never stagnant. While this can be exhilarating and challenge adults to feel alive, it can also be frustrating and feel defeating
Program—Whether you are on the frontlines all the time or in the back office making the policies, practices and positivity work, program change management affects your daily realities.
Social—Communities, cultures, societies and our planet are all changing all the time, whether or not we see it. Social change challenges us to stay alert, attentive and aware of the possibilities to change the world.
Personal—Within yourself, there are countless things changing right now. Making sense of these changes, staying on top of the challenges and opportunities in your life, and being real with yourself are essential.
Being aware of these different types of changes in social change can be the key to successful change management. The next section shows exactly how to manage change, no matter which type you’re facing in your efforts to change the world.
Steps to Manage Change
When you’re working to change the world, there are several steps to manage change. Whether you work in a small community-based charity, large state agency or any other scale, your program, activities or entire organization can benefit from looking at these steps specifically.
Source: Identify what the source of the change is by looking at whether its youth changing, organizational change, social change, or personal change. After you’ve named that, find the catalyst who is making change happen. Is it a parent, a program director, an executive or is it self-driven? If you can, connect with that catalyst to see if you can support the change, how and whether its your responsibility.
Buy-in: If it’s your job to implement change, get buy-in for the changes from youth and your co-workers. You can do this directly or indirectly, ensuring success and opportunities for everyone as change happens.
Meaningful Involvement: Involving the right people in specific ways can make sure the right changes are made in good ways that benefit everyone.
Readiness: Getting young people ready to implement and adapt to change; working with adults to ensure everyone has the best information; and providing training and assistance along the way is essential.
Two-Way Communication: Tell everyone about the changes, answer questions and prepare your youth program or organization as effectively as possible.
Evidence: Look for practical, purposeful evidence of what is happening, and assess how the changes will affect young people and adults.
Reflection: Change can’t happen in a vacuum, whether its among youth, in our organization, throughout our society or within ourselves. Adults and youth should take responsibility for change management by engaging in conscious critical reflection.
When a program, individual, organization or community has completed these steps, they will have successfully managed change.
Most people working to change the world know that change can’t happen without people—whether young or old! Unfortunately, a lot people get stuck in plans and processes without actually talking with youth, or even other adults. Facing up to changing the world means accepting the emotions, ideas, challenges and criticisms that inevitably come with change intentionally and with grace.
Its not a mystery, and may represent the greatest possibility of changing the world: If we can help young people manage change by conscientiously practicing change management, we can change the world!
When programs are developed, many people can be excluded. Among youth programs, community nonprofits and government agencies frequently cater only to particular children and youth. Same with activist organizations helping particular adult populations, and businesses doing outreach in their demographics. Our society is built on this type of exclusion.
In the name of social justice, many advocates frequently position their constituency above all others. In cities that are predominately white, people of color may be targeted for programs civic engagement, cultural enhancement and community-building activities. Women-focused nonprofits are offering more STEM programs for girls. Low-income and poor children are being provided free sports programs they couldn’t otherwise afford.
These programs are generally based on inclusionary assumptions: Where there’s a gap between haves and have-nots, they are bridged specifically for the communities where they’re happening. Programmers are literally trying to expand the in-crowd so there’s more room for more people to become active in things they want to, they could, or they should be involved in.
If we don’t remain vigilant, acute assumptions and prejudices can lurk in at about this point.
Exclusionary action of ANY kind is never the solution. These are not black OR white problems, rich OR poor, homeless OR homed, youth OR adult. We have to reach EVERYONE inclusively, everywhere, all the time. I’m NOT okay with segregation of any kind.
Our biases are ugly little hungry ghosts that come in from our pasts and invade our present. They have nasty names and do gross things, like excluding others and fostering dislike, in spite of our best intentions. Suddenly, we’re judging people by their skin color, socio-economic levels, cultural norms, gender identity and sexual orientations, and much more. In our attempts to make a better world, we actually serve to cheapen, lessen and otherwise tear apart the good things that exist right now. One of the good things about our world today is diversity.
Despite what some people would have us think, North America is not heading towards a giant pool of light-brown skin people who all earn middle class incomes, sharing loving families and equal lifestyles. That’s simply not ahead of us.
Instead, we’re going to continue being a pluralistic, spastic, dynamic and diverse society for a long time yet to come. Instead of forcing conformity, uniformity and singularity of any kind, we need to create new opportunities that foster dialogue, encourage interaction and give people chances to experience people from different backgrounds, different beliefs and different realities from our own.
From that place, we can build democracy. We got get behind positive, powerful social change. We can make a change. But not before then. Not before we stop segregating people for who they are, how they are, no matter what they are.
Don’t make new programs just for homeless people. Don’t facilitate new programs just for youth. Don’t target only rich kids. Instead, weave it all together and create new realities, new communities, new opportunities and new possibilities, everywhere, all the time.
Culture is anything and everything that makes up the parts of a person’s entire way of living.
Culture is organized into groups, including a person’s geographic location, political identification, sexual orientation, familial makeup, friends, religion, jobs, and AGE. Age is a cultural group because of the traits shared among different age groups throughout society.
Ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are all rooted in these cultural realities. Adultism is too.
Adultism is bias towards adults.
In order to successfully, meaningfully and wholly engage children and youth anywhere, anytime for any reason, adults have to confront our bias towards adults, and the consequence of that: discrimination against young people.
The question of becoming aware of the culture of young people is at the very core of my work for a lot of reasons.
For all that we continue expanding Euro-awareness of the value of indigenous culture; for the cultural expansion towards equitable roles between women and men; for the upsurging awareness of the equal rights of GBLTQQ folks; we’re missing a key element in these conversations, and that’s the cultural shoehorn known as children and youth.
Young people have a distinct and unique culture for many reasons, not the least of which being the routine and systematic segregation of them from society by adults. The culture of young people is almost wholly and constantly neglected, denied and dismissed by adults. They are actually and actively repressed, consequently fostering adultism and the adultcentric nature of schools and homes and businesses and government and, and, and…
That’s why cultural awareness is at the middle of what I do. From my perception, we’re talking about human rights, and the distinct right young people should have to be themselves.