One of our main priorities and necessities at the Teen Center is that the youth, staff, tutors and enrichment providers work together in harmony. We have been very fortunate to have had very few altercations/fights of any kind. I believe that is due to how are staff interact with our youth and how we guide them to interact with each other. The staff are trained in Youth Program Quality Methods to “Ask, Listen and Encourage” . This is a method for carrying out positive, purposeful interactions that help us foster positive relationships with our youth and hopefully between the youth themselves. We have a 6 step method for responding to conflict that all the staff use that involves approaching calmly, acknowledges feelings, gathering information, restating the problem for accuracy, asking for mutually agreeable solutions/choosing one and follow-up support. It sounds more complicated than it is in practice and works very well with our teens. We have been using these methods for the last 3-4 years. We have a few well chosen rules that we enforce in a fair but firm manner, all centered around safety and respect for yourself and others. We are always looking for signs that we are being successful with the youth and that they are learning to model positive social interactions. Sometimes when we are trying to re-frame conflict or defuse tension, I or a staff member will say, “Be peaceful”. This is something that I said to my children when they were growing up. It was more than a suggestion, it was basically a 3 minute warning that let them know that I was aware of the tension, was ready to step in and it was time for them to work it out. Anyway, we say it here at the Teen Center. With that information, you are now ready for the story.
One afternoon a youth came in and who was obviously upset about something that had happened during their last class at school. They were fuming and holding back tears. A couple of other youth were encouraging him to tell us what had happened. After getting everyone all signed in, two or three guys stayed up at the front desk still encouraging their friend to tell what happened. As the story came out, I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier at what I was hearing. A substitute teacher had been very rude and disrespectful to this young man about something that had nothing to do with school, or his responsibilities as a teacher. The youth explained THAT IT TOOK EVERYTHING HE HAD NOT TO PUNCH THE TEACHER! A staff member and I empathized with the young man and affirmed that it was completely inappropriate for the teacher to make any personal observations toward him or his family, praised him for self control and offered that subs aren’t necessarily trained teachers and sometimes not suited to working with youth. The young men went on into our cafe to get their after school snack. Still angry at what had happened, I was talking to the staff member about what had been said. When he walked back by a few minutes later, he came over to me, waited for me to finish talking and said, “I know you have my back and you are mad at that fool teacher (Acknowledge Feelings), what he said made me feel bad, especially in front of my friends (Restate the Problem). If he is their tomorrow I am just going to blow him off and think about what job he SHOULD have, like cleaning toilets, shoveling s*3%, etc. but not do what I really want to do to him. Maybe he won’t be there”(Choose a Solution). Then he said “Be Peaceful Ms. V, I got this. When he walked away the staff member with me said, “He’s got it down!” It took me a minute, but I realized he had hit every step of our Responding to Conflict policy. This is what we are trying to teach here. Not everyone wants to punch a teacher, but when this approach kicks in, it is a tool that they can use throughout life in so many situations. We felt like we won the lottery! These successes get us through the days that don’t go as well. So many of our members do not have adults in their lives that that model positive approaches to problems. This young man not only handled his issue, he was a role model for his friends and the other students.