NUMBER 98 • 30 AUGUST 2002 • SHAPING MODIFYING ENVIRONMENTS
INDEX OF QUOTES
Whatever the specific setting, the task is to establish and maintain a modifying environment appropriate to the needs of the particular clientele being served (Beker, 1989).
Four Basic Components
1. Expectations. A conviction on the part of the staff that the desired kinds of growth and change are possible and that they can be produced through a planned, systematic program of active modification—that this is not simply a matter of luck, chance, magic, charisma, etc.— is essential. Parallel to the first of the Wolins (1974) criteria described above and rooted in the kinds of evidence cited there, this is the view that, if we do what we should, the results will be in the desired direction; if they are not, then we need to rethink what we are doing. Thus, we view failures as essentially our failures, rather than those of the students, although we do expect and require appropriate performance on their part as well. Successes are viewed as normal and failures as idiosyncratic, instead of the reverse. In short, in the vernacular, “You gotta believe!”
2. Importance. Here again, a belief system on the part of the staff, supported by the setting, is crucial. The commitment must be to the desired student growth or modification as the primary goal and task — beyond comfort, cleanliness, order, etc. This may sound simple but, in many group care settings, direct care workers are at least implicitly evaluated on the basis of unit cleanliness, lack of “troublemaking,” even passivity (Montalvo & Pavlin, 1966). Which groups, for example, are shown off to visiting dignitaries? This is not to say that unkempt living quarters are desirable either; the appropriate question always is, “How can we best use this situation (any situation) in the service of student growth?” Here, the operative vernacular principle is, “You gotta care!” i.e., “You gotta believe it’s important!” As Plato said, “What is honored in a land is cultivated there.”
3. Resources (Beker & Feuerstein, 1990). The variable of resources is not to be understood as a static or a concrete one. Programs do have finite resources in the sense of facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel, etc., but how these can be utilized is usually limited only by the creativity and resourcefulness of the staff. For example, field trips or invited guest programs can expand physical boundaries. Appropriate volunteers can expand staff resources. Community-oriented internal mechanisms can compensate, at least in part, for a lack of integration into the community outside. Resources may not permit the group to play polo, but they can play soccer — with a makeshift ball, if need be. And so on. Resources can be assessed in terms of their range or variability, richness, flexibility, modifying power, etc. Together, they comprise the properties of the “medium” (in the artistic sense) in which the work is done.
4. Individualized Process (Beker & Feuerstein, 1990). How actively, consciously, and creatively the medium is used or “sculpted” to meet the modificational needs of each student is the fourth variable. This can be viewed as a process of craftsmanship (Eisikovits & Beker, 1983) based on familiarity with the medium, its strengths and weaknesses, and the desired “product,” outcome, or goal.
Three components are critical:
The ongoing process of assessment and intervention prescription;
The use and adaptation of available program resources and the development of new ones as needed to reach and teach individual students; and
The worker’s use of himself or herself — strengths, weaknesses, etc. — as a teaching tool through modelling, not allowing one’s own weaknesses to get in the way of student development or colleague effectiveness, maintaining self-awareness, and the like.
JERRY BEKER AND REUVEN FEUERSTEIN
Beker, J. and Feuerstein, R. (1991) Toward a common denominator ineffective group care programming: the concept of the modifying environment. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work, Vol.7, pp. 20-34
Beker, J. (1989) Editorial: On the nature of modifying environments — A preview. Child and Youth Care Quarterly, 18(4), 225-226Beker, J. and Feuerstein, R. (1990) Conceptual foundations of the modifying environment in group care and treatment settings for children and youth. Journal of Child and Youth Care, Vol.4 No.5, pp.21-37
Eisikovits Z. and Beker, J. (1983) Beyond professionalism: The child and youth care worker as a craftsman. Child Care Quarterly, 12, 93-112
Montalvo. B. and Pavlin, S. (1966) Faulty staff communications in a residential treatment centre. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 36, 706-711
Wolins, M. (1974) Group care: Friend or Foe? In Wolins, M. (ed.) Successful group care: Explorations in the powerful environment (pp.267-290). Chicago: Aldine