Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Classroom Power Defined

"When a people are mired in oppression, they realize deliverance only when they have accumulated the power to enforce change. The powerful never lose opportunities-they remain available to them. They powerless, on the other hand, never experience opportunity-it is always arriving at a later time."
-Excerpt from The Black Power Defined, MLK, 1967

It would be misleading to tell young people that we can change the world from inside the classroom. It would also be misleading for me to believe nutrition is a top priority for most of these young people. But, putting their "enforcement of positive change" as an agenda item and giving them the skills and the reason to opt-out of the oppressive system and demand more for themselves, changes the tone of the classroom. Obviously tone isn't enough. It's not until these students actually experience a moment of enforcement that they will feel the beginnings of their power. Encouragement for them at this point is necessary because power, as was made clear by MLK, does not come knocking at the door of the oppressed, must be prepared for and seized when seen approaching.

Opting out is an interesting and engaging idea. But how can a young man living in a facility or any large urban area opt-out of the fast-food/cooking-disabled culture of the American city? Through thoughtfulness. First comes the motivation to be thoughtful and helpful to yourself and others, and then the time to plan what that thoughtfulness and helpfulness ought to look like, and then the skills to implement the plan. Unfortunately, there is difficulty at every turn in this equation. Motivation is difficult to foster, focusing in on a plan requires sketching a practical guide to get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future, and skill-building requires a teacher with the desired skills and the ability to teach them well.

This is not to say that the process is impossible. On the contrary, whenever young people are faced with a situation like this and they have the motivation to begin and the community of people to plan with, they will always find the a way to learn the skills and their energy will propel them close if not directly to the finish line.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stand Up for Yourself in Interview

If the goal is to help found and support empowered young thinkers with the nutrition work I am doing. Perhaps I could incorporate a suggestion made by an administrator at one of the facilities I work with to create an empowering session for the young guys.

The director of programs, during my last trip to the facility, suggested that I promote the possibility of a student entering their opinion into the newspaper. Like testimonials reinforcing nutrition messages, the opinions of the young guys are exactly what we are after so perhaps giving them their own soap box to speak from would be the best way to really promote their ideas about nutrition. Now, undeniably some young guys won't have the kind of positive outlook on nutrition administrators or I would like to see in print, but I think the activity of pairing students up together would put both the interviewee and the interviewer into a powerful position of empowerment where with the right prompting students couldn't help but speak of the positive effects of good health.

Beyond promoting their opinions of health, an activity based as an interview would also serve to make clear their opinions of health and wellness giving me the raw data I need to create relevant questions and activities to push their thinking about the subject.

All in all, I think utilizing the interview format and empowering these young guys to put their words into the newsletter would be a step in the direction of confidence and creativity necessary for changing minds and making commitments to living better.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Change Do You Want to Make?

I want all interested in the Wellness of this facility to be able to accumulate the power to enforce change good for their bodies and the community here. Thus, rather than employing such a philosophy through the general nutrition lessons I will instead move such a community interest to the wellness council. (The Wellness Council will be a group of students interested in meeting once a month to conduct cafeteria tastings and meetings about nutrition and personal self-care). You might ask yourself, how can a "wellness" council do this for me and our community? Well, these wellness meetings will be focused on practical lessons of food preparation and nutrition, and a secondary focus with be on creating a conversation about change. Questions of what change would you like to see will be the secondary concern after practical skills and nutrition knowledge. This format is essential precisely because as young people or their communities of support look for new directions out of this or that facility you need a plan to change what has not yet worked for you. If change for students and the community is something you would like to see, think about joining wellness meetings. The question you need to ask yourself is what change do you want to make?

Just as critical to a conversation about change is a need for patience. Planning for change means fun through food prep, empowerment through implementation of cafeteria tastings, and change through planning.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Questions from the Frontlines

I'll be traveling out to one of the two facilities I teach at to talk to young men about exercise and wellness. My goal is to open a safe conversation about healthy exercising and address the usual teenage concerns of body image and physical appearance. I want these young men to understand exercise as something done for the fun of it instead of "sculpting" a more "manly" body. I want them to confront the media influences and peer pressures. Looking those influences in the eyes and choosing a healthier alternative of self-care.

Body image is a subject with which educators need to be very sensitive. Because young people are working through all sorts of ideas about what is and what isn't attractive, this sort of conversation can turn ugly quickly. Make the foundation of the conversation composed of concern for the care of someone's body.

The prevailing question whenever I attempt to talk with these teenage boys about health is: how do I facilitate the conversation so that they continue to invest in it and remain interested? The key is putting them into a position to pull their background into the classroom so that we can safely look and talk about it.

I suppose this is an excellent depiction of the chance I take walking in there talking about health:

The resistance I envision on the road is nothing compared to my determination to open the eyes of the youth to their own potentials and then back away as they rise like the ash from the can you discarded. What else can I say. I know they will make a truthsayer out of me. I have pointed to them in a popular fashion with hands caked with honesty and integrity and they have seen the cracks of skin. Skin cracked by honest work is strange to them. They could barely recognize me. Now they can. It's the fire. Inside of you we can feel the heat.

Climb the stairs against all of the means to hold you back. Press on in the face of the feeling of failure and know that failure is death and rebirth. No action will ever lead you to nowhere but a new direction toward the peak.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wellness: Student Leaders

The focus of my attention concerning the Wellness Council will be the meetings rather than the cafeteria tastings precisely because I need the students to understand that council meetings can produce a product that relieves their problems and issues with the facility and their health.

My encompassing objectives for my next visit to the residential facility are to involve as many students in the wellness council process, meet with Pete to set up the date for the first cafeteria tasting and meeting of the Wellness Council, and to create a system for empowering students involved to be leaders in the council.

Because I want this effort to sustain itself beyond my initial leadership, I need a tactic for giving voice to the next generation of leaders within the ranks of students. The ultimate vision is to see students who care about their bodies and who see the need for leadership on the multitude of issues holding them back from their true potential.

Particulars: Leaders chairing meetings, advertising cafeteria tastings, research Nutritional Value of food being tasted, and research future cafeteria tasting foods.

The next step for me is to sit down with the administrators in charge of the students and make sure I have permission and logistical support for the first day of the cafeteria tasting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Facilitators: God's Answer to Apathy

My vision is to work as a group facilitator. Something like a creative organizationalist but for large groups of people. Specializing in working to bring forth the unrealized and untapped potential of a group, I would direct experiential activities to uncover obstacles and unused strengths. With everything on the table, the group could have a conversation about their own hopes for group work.

For all intents and purposes I already do this but with a fixed focus of nutrition. Now, I broaden my context and address issues from body image to food access. But, being able to draw from any and all subject matter relevant to the work group, I can prompt a much more personal conversation and begin to uncover all the baggage and all the promise.

I was first introduced to the idea and/or profession of creative organizationalist from my girlfriend who was telling me how her boss would consult with a profession facilitator. Essentially, the facilitator would draw out the client's passion and direction and challenge them to follow them out to their logical conclusion. Met with a fantastic logic, people find themselves more hopeful and confident they can achieve.

The question we are not seriously asking ourselves is why we can't achieve our goals. What is standing in our way? With renewed confidence, a network of professions already in the field, and a long-term plan for implementation, we have a far higher chance of seeing our dreams achieved.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Teaching Leadership in the Real Food Movement

Yesterday while working with the young men in one of the facilities I travel to I posed a question to begin a conversation about leadership. What is leadership? I asked. Why be a leader? I got a lot of replies and the majority of the answers came back like: a leader is someone who doesn't follow; doesn't copy; does things their own way. Their was an obvious heavy emphasis on self-reliance. No one wanted to feel like they were dependent on others. Now, while I asked about followership, I didn't ask the obvious question: what is a leader with no followers? I believe if I had posed this question and then challenged the young men to name some leaders in their local food environment and then asked if we should be following them, then they would have had to make the decision to trust and follow someone who might not have their best interests at heart. The point I would hope to be getting across is that there exist influences (leaders) in our environments we might consider to be "emotional leaders" but they have ultimate control over resources and inevitably our health. There are leaders that reign only because of a lack of an alternative. How does this relate to the young men I see and talk with? Because as they return home they must think deeply about who or what they want to follow. And where and how far do they want to follow them. The first step though, for a group so sure of their leadership potential, to having high expectations for the leaders not so much in the foreground is to admit that we all follow sometimes. Admitting the limitations of our control in the real food environment of our lives is essential for our claiming responsibility and changing that which exists now and is unsatisfactory.

This conversation is so essential precisely because of our interest in being in control of our lives. The reality of the food environment is that we are constantly choosing from the options granted by the real leaders. In order to supply ourselves with better options we must demand better from the leaders we often do not see. So, the students just have to ask themselves if they consider themselves leaders of their food environment. If they do not, then they must be prepared to admit their lack of control. Something no teenager wants to do.