Setting High Expectations and Respecting Youth Ownership

Through coaching, staff promote high expectations, respect youth’s ownership of their roles, and provide help only as needed.

Coaching is about balancing the need for youth to take responsibility and ownership while providing the supports youth need to develop mastery. It is about holding youth accountable, supporting ownership, and negotiating at the same time.

In practice, staff can do this by:

  • Articulating, encouraging, and enforcing high accountability for youth living up to roles and obligations.
  • Vigorously supporting youth’s ownership, empowerment, and latitude for decision-making within their roles, providing assistance only as necessary.

For many youth, high expectations from staff play an important role in keeping them motivated in their role and doing their best work. Because most youth in effective programs trust and identify with staff members, they readily internalize those expectations and use them to keep giving their all.

Additionally, letting youth figure something out on their own does not imply a passive role for staff. Considerable skill and energy may go into pressing youth to struggle with a task, use their best judgment, and make their own decisions. When youth are passive or ask for direction, staff might reflect the question back to them. At The Possibility Project (TPP), this is a form of de-programming staff do with the youth, many of whom are used to being told what to do by others. The importance of youth ownership infiltrates TPP’s entire program. Paul Griffin explains:

Quote markStaff are trained to listen first, ask questions second, and offer options third. They understand that youth must lead the way, and our role is to facilitate that leadership. This is why youth write their own shows, and this is why youth choose what issues to address in their community action projects and then lead them.

Staff must feel comfortable giving up some of their control in order to give youth authentic roles of authority and decision-making. Having high expectations and giving youth ownership and the latitude to make decisions encourages a high level of responsibility when staff have scaffolded effectively and set up a supportive learning environment. Youth ownership leads to youth learning from doing, including learning from mistakes and perceived failures.

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Often, it’s tempting to offer solutions when youth are capable of solving the problem themselves. How do you hold yourself accountable to be a coach and not a problem-solver?