A report from the youth worker training course “Activate your strengths through art”, 23-31 August 2021, Berlin
By Rebecca Baumeister, Germany
“Wow, it’s so strange to finally meet you in real life!” This was the greeting I received from one of the participants in the recent third installment of our long-term Erasmus+ project “Activate your strengths through art”. The same interactions were echoed all throughout the dining room on arrival day. “I can’t believe how tall you are!” – “It’s so nice to finally hug you!”
It definitely felt strange – and wonderful.
Many of the youth workers who were arriving in Berlin for the youth worker training course had met each other before – in an online Zoom project during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. We knew each other as tiny patches of grainy video on a screen, not as fully grown 3D adults, many of them now youth leaders ready to support a new group of participants.
Of course, there were also many new arrivals from our partner countries Spain, Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Greece. We quickly got to work, spending our first days getting to know each other with team building games and organizing the timetable. As this was a youth worker mobility, our learning goals were very important, so we formulated a mixture of general ones for the whole group but also individual learning goals.
For example, one participant shared that she wanted to work on her public speaking and put herself in as many situations as possible where she would have to present or manage a group. Another participant wanted to challenge himself to be more open and vulnerable with his feelings.
As a group, we wanted to work with creative methods as much as possible and learn how to get to know our strengths and resources so we would later be able to use them in the facilitation of workshops and preparing a digital booklet.
The project helped me a lot to figure out my strengths and how I can use them in my daily life for my professional growth. I am grateful for the facilitating team, for their support and dedication during each session.
For the facilitation practice, each small group of participants chose a topic they felt interested in and prepared a 20-minute session for the whole group. Before the brainstorming and preparing of the sessions, the facilitating team organized a workshop on different methods to prepare a workshop well and what factors help structure it, e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy.
The atmosphere in the seminar room was very excited before the session because it was not just the facilitators who had a task: each participant was asked to give written feedback in a sandwich format at the end of the session. They shared two aspects they particularly enjoyed about the session, and one they would improve. The sessions were very diverse and engaging in nature, from a session on the power of dance to an awareness of body language in communication.
The project week made me feel empowered. I let go of fears, connected with people and felt really grounded in the beautiful venue. It was a really motivating experience!
After each session, the facilitating group received their feedback. In a session about feedback and lessons learned – which the participants rated as 4.8 out of 5 points on average – we integrated these experiences into tips and tricks for successful sessions. Each group was also invited to share their experience of facilitating, what they learned and what they would like to change about the structure of future sessions after receiving feedback.
One participant commented that he was especially aware of using his strength – “gratitude” – during the feedback session as it helped him see the value in reflecting on his work and receiving ideas from participants.
The project made me feel more comfortable in my skin, more confident in my resources and what I can bring.
After reflecting on their life’s journey and turning points with the River of Life exercises, drawing a tree with roots representing their energy resources, roleplaying and making vision boards, the participants were ready for a final creative task: creating the “digital booklet”.
Our goal was to develop a creative way of sharing what we had learned in the project so others may also be inspired to learn more about their strengths. One idea was for the participants to create short videos to share on YouTube and other social media. They rose to the challenge with a sense of great joy and creativity!
The final results ranged from a short film love story about the different comfort zones of people to a video highlighting a number of strengths in a dance number. Needless to say, the presentation session was one of the most enjoyable and exciting sessions of the week and was rated at 4.75 out of 5 points on average.
And what of long-term effects?
Six weeks after the project, we asked the participants to describe to us what experiences from the project they have been able to implement into their daily lives.
Here is a collection of their answers:
While planning my lessons, I now use strategies from our facilitation practice e.g. COLV’s learning styles.
Visualizing and setting goals has been very useful in making plans for their realization. Also, some of the experiences from our facilitation practice have helped me feel more confident at work.
I implemented the resources tree technique with children in online classes and energizers when they feel disconnected from their work at school – it worked really well!
What has been very important for me personally is that I started noticing those moments in my life when I feel “mentally not fine” (due to stress, too many obligations, etc.) so I could implement techniques of relaxation we learned during the project.
It’s safe to say that our whole journey with the “Activate your strengths through art” project – from two digital youth exchanges to an in-person youth worker mobility - has been full of surprises, inspiration and connection. Hearing how the experiences from the project have boosted participants’ skills and have been the biggest motivation for our team to keep doing what we are doing – sharing non-formal learning experiences through Erasmus+ projects!