Nurturing the Nurturers: Self-Care for Youth Workers at the Social and Emotional Learning Training of Facilitators

To strengthen programs that serve young people, the Forum for Youth Investment’s Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality provides comprehensive training and coaching services to youth-serving organizations. These services include train-the-trainer workshops designed to build the capacity of our customers to train their staff in positive youth development practices. The newest of these models is the Social and Emotional Learning Methods Training of Facilitators (SELTOF). Our latest cohort, representing many of the diverse communities we serve across the country, completed the intensive in-person training portion of the certification process last month at a retreat center in Traverse City, Michigan.

I’m grateful to be in a space where there were other people who look like me because that doesn’t happen often in the field.

SELTOF candidates spend 5 days learning a common research-based framework for understanding social, emotional, and cognitive development. This framework was based on research with 8 exemplary youth development programs that supported young people’s social, emotional, and cognitive learning. The lessons learned from the project are documented in Preparing Youth to Thrive. Through literature review, analysis, and consultation with practitioners and leaders of these programs, we identified six SEL competencies that are the focus of our SEL Youth Work Methods workshops: Emotion Management, Empathy, Teamwork, Responsibility, Problem Solving and Initiative. Preparing Youth to Thrive also shed light on the importance of providing support and resources to staff, including cultivation of “adult SEL,” or SEL competencies of staff who are responsible for teaching SEL skills and competencies to young people.

Accordingly, the participants spend the week at SELTOF reflecting on their own SEL development, as well as learning strategies that support growth in SEL competencies and practicing delivery of ten workshops that bring this framework to life. The goal is to return to their communities to support staff in creating programs that better engage the “whole child” in learning, using the fun, active, and engaging SEL Youth Work Methods materials. On that journey, candidates enjoy rich conversations, deep self-reflection, and powerful new relationships forged in a learning community that engages the “whole adult” in the process.  

After seeing everyone facilitate the methods, I have renewed faith that we’re ready to take these workshops back to our communities and change the experiences for our young people.

Promoting SEL development with young people starts by focusing on the adults who support their learning. Participants arrive at the retreat with a range of feelings stemming from loose ends at work, family obligations, concerns about the curriculum and experience, and biases they may unknowingly carry with them.

I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from my daily routine to learn and to recharge.

Recognizing the impact that environment can have on learning, we hold the workshop at a serene lake-side retreat center. Exclusively reserved for our group, the venue offers a tranquil escape from the day-to-day stressors that can distract us from learning. Participants are welcome to arrive the day before the training, giving them the opportunity to unwind and shake off the stresses of travel while our staff prepare for the event.

Delivering the content within an intentional community setting allows us to structure the days with a balance of restorative self-care and optimal learning opportunities. Community building activities are heavily featured on the first afternoon and continue throughout the week. Meals and snacks are provided onsite, nature trails and sunsets over the lake are a stone’s throw away, and the communal living space allows for late night conversations with new colleagues and friends. Trainers also model skills, strategies, and effective practices for emotion management throughout the experience, from breathing activities, like the physiological sigh to (optional) polar plunges in Spider Lake, aimed to increase the window of tolerance for emotional dysregulation.

I can’t believe we’ve only known each other for 4 days!

The camp-like atmosphere also creates an opportunity to draw on some of the practices from the Institute for IDEAS, the summer camp experience where our Youth Work Methods originated. Among these practices is group singing, used to build and reinforce a shared culture. Singing helps address the impact of trauma by stimulating the vagus nerve, which tells the body to relax and combats the fight/flight/freeze responses, making it particularly useful in SEL settings. During the retreat, group singing provides a supportive opportunity for participants to try something new or something many people don’t think they are good at.

Before the first shared meal, trainers contextualize singing by teaching a song from the Institute for IDEAS. Following this, participants are invited to contemplate aspects from their family, youth program, or cultural traditions that they could share before future meals throughout the retreat. This offers a chance for the community to cultivate a shared culture enriched by the diverse traditions they contribute to the environment.

Thank you for letting me show up and be myself, while encouraging me to grow and become my future self.

These intentionally planned and sequenced features, combined with others not specifically outlined here, support a powerful learning experience. You can learn more about our training workshops, including SEL Methods and Training of Facilitators on our website. The SELTOF is typically held each fall and spring. Please fill out our interest form to receive more information when future dates are set.

I’m going to be honest; I wasn’t looking forward to coming, but from where I’m sitting now, I would come again.