Youth Voice Community of Practice: Supporting Youth and Each Other

The Youth Voice Community of Practice gathered again this month to discuss their work and how we can all do better in supporting youth voice. After a silly icebreaker that involved guessing chain restaurants from obscured pictures of their logos, we got into the real heart of the discussion. 

First up was Russell Bradbury-Carlin, who we had tapped to discuss some of his work at Youth Services in Brattleboro. He mainly focused on their youth-led business called Demo-graphix that they opened early in 2019. Russell spoke of many of the successes they have had, but also some of the lessons learned as well. One powerful thing they did was involve youth in interviews for staff as well as the design of the process for moving the business forward. This gave them strong investment in the process. Lastly, he commented on how paying youth for their time and having youth self-refer friends to the program was huge. It ensured there was both a strong draw and people to “vouch” for the program. It’s been very successful. 

In terms of things they could have done better, he wished they had involved youth earlier in the process and paid them sooner. This would have made the buy-in from them even stronger and ideas would have been more shaped by them as well. He also stressed how things will always take longer than you expect and that patience is needed. Lastly, he wished he was clearer from the beginning with how the process would go: because of certain constraints, it had to be less purely youth-led and closer to youth-led and adult-guided. Had this been more defined, roles would have been clearer, and some minor conflicts could have been avoided. It was great to hear about this program and if you have any screen-printing needs, check them out!

We then moved on to discussing an article from Youth Today called, “How To Supervise Your Staff During Times Of Great Change”. The author, Jocelyn Wiedow, lays out some tips to help support staff and supervisors during these times of change and also transfer well to supporting youth in direct service relationships as well. Her main points included:

  • Create a culture of learning
  • Intentionally build community
  • Model imperfection
  • Build in regular reflections
  • Focus on well-being

We then had a wide-ranging discussion about supervision, but I’ll draw out a few highlights. The first of which was the concept of “co-supervision.” The traditional concept of supervision (and even the use of that term) implies a power imbalance and a typically one-way flow of power as well. With co-supervision, it’s more of an agreement of mutual accountability. This reciprocal relationship draws on things like motivational interviewing to strengthen the relationship between the two people involved and ensure they’re both getting what they need and are able to be fully honest; both sharing “Seeds, Weeds and Blossoms.”

We also spoke of the importance of mixing up how we interact. How it can be powerful to have a conversation in person (safely masked and physically distanced of course). It can feel extra meaningful, show caring, and make connections in ways online or phone chats cannot. It’s also difficult to mix in “caring time” along with working time. Especially in work with youth, you need to stoke the flames of that relationship and ensure it doesn’t die out. If you only focus on “work” or “productive” aspects of the relationship, you’re simply using the flames’ warmth without adding more wood to keep the fire going. But platforms like Zoom make it difficult to transition to this “working time” from “caring time,” so it must be done with intention. 

At our next meeting on December 15th, we will be speaking with Sigrid Olson, the Personalized Learning Coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Education, about personalized learning plans and how we can integrate them into our program offerings. To learn more on PLPs and Flexible Pathways, head HERE or listen to this interview with Sigrid. We are also collecting questions in advance of the call, so to submit a question, story or resource, please head to this Google Doc

The Youth Voice Community of Practice meets from 1:00-2:00 on the third Tuesday of the month via Zoom. To learn more about the Youth Voice CoP or to be added to the email distribution list, contact Sam Graulty (