Youth care workers and teachers often feel "outnumbered" by the large groups or classes they work with. Troubled or difficult kids are challenge enough when they come in packages of one; groups of ten, twenty or even more, ask us to dig deep.
"How can I keep this group helpful and effective when I need to have eyes in the back of my head?" asks the child and youth care worker. The teacher may wonder "How do I do my job of teaching the curriculum when I have so many needy, untrusting, disruptive students in my group?"
And it is, of course, exactly when we feel up against it, that we tend to be at our worst – when we cut corners, pull rank or go all controlling and authoritarian. Also, it is true that if we had to devote hours of individual attention to every difficult kid, we would simply run out of time.
But the benefit of the group is that it offers to its disparate members a variety of healing and learning opportunities. And we get get bulk discounts. Consider this. One youth behaves in an fractious or defiant manner. When we as the the care worker or teacher deal with this behavior in a responsive and constructive manner, remaining non-punitive, respectful and goal-directed, all of the other potentially difficult kids see this, and are impacted by our behavior: The hostile youth now has less reason to be so; the fearful youth sees grounds for hope; the attacking youth is disarmed ... all by a single intervention with one kid. The group leader puts the stamp of fairness and reason on the milieu which now can be seen as more supportive.
This is, of course, not the end of the "war", but an inch is won — and the balance moves towards engagement over confrontation, trust over suspicion, dignity over humiliation, confidence over despair ...
Today in our practice we remember that when a single member of our group is sensibly and sensitively handled, any kids who are simply present, may gain. They can discern the promise of our program; either by being directly involved – or simply by seeing, hearing or experiencing good practice.