The “initiative” that develops in InIt
In 2015, InIt delegate and then-Cambridge Rindge and Latin student Linda Mindaye wanted to provide useful information for her peers about social justice questions. As she explained,
I planned a three day curriculum workshop called “Real Talk Conversations About Isms.” The first day of our workshop was let’s talk about definitions of what is racism? What is an ism? What is a stereotype? What is classism? Just kind of talk through the different definitions because you don’t do that enough, and Google doesn’t really help. You could research it on your own, but it’s really hard to find solid and helpful information. We do a lot of interactive activities to kind of help people stay engaged.
Linda’s workshops were the product of her Community Action Project for InIt. Before she graduated in 2015, she passed the baton on to a classmate she felt would not only evolve the existing program at Rindge, but would benefit from the community to be found through InIt. She recommended her classmate Lucas Raagas for the InIt Class of 2016, telling him,
“Out of all the people that I know at Rindge, you commit to things and you stick by them and you follow through all the way. So I think that’s a really important trait to have for someone doing this and I thought that you’d find a community like this really helpful.”
Lucas went on the next year to reach more community members than ever.
Linda and Lucas displayed the key social emotional learning skill of initiative, defined in the SEL handbook as, “capacities to take action, sustain motivation, and persevere through challenge towards an identified goal.” Aside from being a surprisingly useful pun, InIt is actually short for Initiative. The program develops this transferrable skill in delegates, not only so they can plan and execute their Community Action Projects, but also for them to draw upon in school, work, and post-secondary opportunities. As InIt staff, we cannot simply give or teach initiative to the delegates. At InIt, both staff and delegates craft a learning context together where all can acquire and practice the skills and dispositions needed for initiative together.
In order to practice this skill, delegates must set goals, sustain motivation to complete their projects, and persevere to the end of their long project.
Delegations decide where they wish to go with their project early on in the planning process. In our Community Action Project proposal outline, delegates are required to list their long-term goals and outcomes for the Project. Our delegation at Boston Latin School set goals in the form of takeaways they would like the participants to leave the workshop with. These goals serve as a frame for their project and workshop curriculum planning. We work with the delegates to make sure they are realistic and achievable, yet still challenging.
In order to achieve long-term project goals, delegates set smaller goals after each meeting. We call these ‘action steps’. The goal with action steps is to complete them by the time the next meeting arrives. These action steps keep the project moving, and make larger tasks more manageable. As InIt staff, we provide the scaffolding to assist in regulating and sustaining efforts toward delegates’ long-term goals.
Motivation can come from many different sources. At InIt, we provide space for delegates to do work that matters to them and their community. We help develop motivation by encouraging delegates to choose Community Action Project topics and formats they are passionate about. Because these are often very personal topics, delegates have a stake in their work and feel motivated to implement their project. For example, some of our delegates chose to focus on educating their fellow students on gender and sexuality, two topics which are deeply relevant and personal to them. This sense of mattering can also come from satisfaction in knowing that their projects will benefit them and their greater community.
During Program Days, we also partner with community organizations and institutions to show delegates how adults and other youth are doing the work in the Greater Boston Area. These partnerships show delegates how important their social justice knowledge is, and the various ways they can use this knowledge and their emotions to fuel their motivation for positive work toward social change.
Youth also develop motivation through building their skills and confidence, a prerequisite for initiative according to the SEL Challenge study. During our Program Days, we always have a leadership skill component where we focus on different skills needed for successful projects. So far, we’ve covered public speaking, facilitation, pitching, and knowing one’s leadership style. With our ‘educate and empower’ program model, InIt aims to create a space where delegates are able to learn and practice skills to the point where they feel confident and empowered in their ability to implement their project.
Perhaps most importantly, delegates learn that taking initiative requires perseverance in the face of challenges. These challenges are especially likely to happen while doing a year-long project. While challenges, setbacks, and mistakes will happen, each hardship provides a learning opportunity. The perseverance needed to complete a Community Action Project is reflective of the perseverance needed in the fight for social justice.
Sometimes, we make mistakes and stumble; sometimes it might seem like we fail. But we keep fighting and fighting until we make progress and see results. Delegates are able to see this modeled through the community organizations showcased during Program Days. Similar challenges will arise for delegations in InIt, whether the students have a disagreement with the administration on how to handle an issue in the school or they have difficulty recruiting students to come to a workshop. Students learn how to overcome these different issues, with help from InIt staff. When we hit a road block in delegation meetings, I do not rush to solve the issue for the delegates. Instead, I try to ask questions and provide scaffolding for the delegates to come up with their own solutions. After all, they are the students and know their school community and structure the best.
After all their perseverance, delegates will have a chance to take time to reflect on and celebrate their accomplishments when they graduate. Graduation can be seen as a rite of passage and a time to acknowledge the growth/progress made, as well as the knowledge and skills gained. This provides a very concrete end goal to work toward. This celebration of acknowledgement of their work can create more incentive for persevering through challenges.
You could say our program is extremely InIt with our initiative practices. And all corny jokes and puns aside, it is extremely exciting to see delegates motivate themselves and each other to keep their project moving along, not only for the year that they participate, but for well after. They are simultaneously practicing and experience initiative, while learning how to better their communities.