By Stephanie Guinosso, MPH | August 18, 2014
I recently spoke with some schoolteacher friends of mine on the topic of professional development. One of them said, “I basically use our professional development time to complete my lesson plans.” Comments like this inspire me to deliver thought-provoking, whole-brain-engaging professional development that is useful for educators in our field. My goal: when participants leave the session, they will do something new and better in their work serving young people—and they will be excited about it!
This year I had the pleasure of developing a new workshop on a topic near and dear to my heart—fostering resiliency among vulnerable populations of youth. I’ve studied the effects of stress and adversity on the developing brain. I’ve worked within the juvenile justice system, both serving youth directly and building the capacity of educators. In this work, I’ve often struggled with the question, “What does it really take for vulnerable populations of young people to overcome the odds and become thriving adults?”
I knew that many of my workshop participants struggle with this same question, thinking about the youth they serve, the people they know, or even their own lives. For this workshop to deliver a powerful impact, I had to tap into these experiences, guide participants to acknowledge and question their subtle assumptions, and reinvigorate their attitudes toward the topic. To do that, I had to gain their trust. Only then could they draw from their internal motivation to make use of the research and best practice.
When it came time for the workshop delivery, this is exactly what happened. The energy in the room was palpable and the discussion incredibly lively and rich. I guarantee that no one in the room was working on a lesson plan!
This is what I love most about professional development—guiding participants right to the edge of their comfort zones, navigating the challenging questions, and allowing them to go beyond the superficial conversations to talk about what is real for them and the youth they serve. In this situation, the brain has no choice but to fire the synapses, draw upon what it knows, question, and…learn!
Stephanie Guinosso, MPH, leads training and technical assistance efforts for some of ETR’s professional development projects. She has provided capacity-building assistance to youth-serving professionals in many vulnerable youth settings, including juvenile justice, alternative schools and foster care. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in public health, focusing on the effects of early adversity on child cognitive development. She can be reached at email@example.com.