NUMBER 276• 26 MAY 2003 • OUR STORIES
INDEX OF QUOTES
I arrive at the residential treatment center early in the morning. One by one I wake up five boys who said they wanted to join me for a run. They’re tired. Some complain and resist. “Leave me alone, I don’t want to go.” I put my hand on the youth’s shoulder, gently shake it, and humor him.
Slowly they put on their running clothes. As we stretch out, more complaining. The first few blocks are difficult. Some start too fast, others struggle to stay up. Two boys push each other. Eventually, we begin to find our pace. Then, for a while, it’s as if we are lost in the rhythm of our movement together.
Like many youthworkers, when I reflect on my experience in a residential treatment center with troubled youth, I often recall moments such as the one above when we were fully engaged in what we were doing. We were in the moment, alive and energetic. I also remember the struggle. When I was “on,” I was in the right place at the right time. I was in the center of the group or at the edge when I was supposed to be. My pace and tone of voice were in synch with what the situation called for.
When I was “off,” I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The distance between myself and a youth or group of youth was too large or too small. I was moving too fast or too slow, or speaking too loud or too soft. Memories like these from my early experiences in a residential treatment center for troubled youth led to a career-long inquiry into how youthworkers use their knowledge, skill, senses, and creativity to form relationships and promote the development of youth in daily relationships. In a previous article in this journal, I mentioned that over the years, stories have become my primary source of information, my own stories and the stories of youth workers and youth. Like many others, I have found that a good story provides the context that is needed to understand youthwork.
Recently, I have been fortunate to learn from the stories of several youthworkers who are participating in a qualitative inquiry with me. Our inquiry includes four general steps. First, we try to be in our work fully so we can know and experience it. Second, we reflect on an experience. Third, we write a story about it. And fourth, as we write a story, we interpret it and look for themes and techniques that inform our practice.
We meet every other week, usually in a small coffee house on the East Side of Milwaukee. One or two workers serve as the primary reader. He or she will read a story and the rest of us will listen. After a story is read, we help each other rewrite and interpret the story. During our discussions, the group also provides a source of support for the participants who enjoy talking about their work and being with others who have experienced similar struggles and successes.
Our practice is informed throughout our inquiry, as we write, interpret, and talk about our stories. Thus far we have identified several themes that run through several stories. Most of the themes are not new. They have been written about before in youthwork and/or in related fields. What is new is the context, and the sense of affirmed and additional importance that is placed on a theme.
For those who are interested in our study, our stories are published each month on www.cyc-net.org online magazine. Later this year a detailed description of our study and dozens of stories and additional themes will be published in a book titled, In the rhythms of youth passing.
Krueger, M.(2003) The significance of stories told by child and youth care workers. Child and Youth Care. Vol. 21 No.2 pp. 7-8