white blank notebook

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, the Class Log & the Process Log

The Class Log is a document that you will use over the course of the semester to log your in-class activities, preparing for class activities, and to keep your Process Log. You should have a minimum of one entry per week for the duration of the semester (15 weeks), plus any additional logs for second class periods. Your Class Log is a private document to be kept between you and the class instructor, except when you choose to share pieces of it with classmates. However, you will always get the chance to interpret or present these pieces as you choose – you will not be asked to read directly from this log!

Each log entry should contain the following components:

  • Title (just the number of the class or a more creative title you’d like to give it)
  • Date
  • Time (I invite you to be honest with the timing – it’s more as a note of interest than an accountability measure)
  • Preparing for class: Any requests from the instructor or your peers that invite you to prepare for the week in a specific way. For example, if you are asked to read something and reflect on it, or experiment with something – your notes or reflections go here.
  • In-class: Notes or reflections you were asked to take during class. For example, we will often spend a few minutes writing about something before we discuss it in small groups or as a full class.
  • Process Log: Part of doing youth work is learning to see as a youth worker. And we learn to see others at least in part by learning to see ourselves. The process log is a brief observation log about your experience in class. What did you notice about the group’s dynamics during class? What did you notice about your own experience of these dynamics? This is a reflection on what’s present for you as any particular class or the course as a whole unfolds – what is your experience of the “here and now” – even if that experience is one of being distracted by something else going on in the world! 

Why a process log? We learn to notice and observe the way we learn anything else – by practicing! I’d contend that a major practice of youth work is noticing what’s going on just underneath the surface, both for individual youth and for any groups you work with. Is the group energy high or low? Tense or relaxed? Engaged or disinterested? Is that young person doing okay? Ready for a challenge? If we don’t notice these sorts of details, our youth work practice is just rote implementation of a curriculum or even just the re-enactment of a set of habits. We all already do this kind of observation, often unconsciously. The point of a process log is to bring this observation to the surface, to get better at the observations, and eventually to use those observations to take action to help youth or youth groups grow.

Over the course of the semester, we will sometimes discuss these observations during class. We will sometimes discuss them during 1-1 sessions. We will practice getting better at making observations as neutral as possible, at trying on multiple interpretations for any given observation, and at taking experimental action to create change in ourselves or our group based on our observations.

The Process Log: Explained

When we write in our Process Log, what is it we are trying to notice? We are looking for the emergent (unfolding) processes of our group. Sometimes we are using our own experience to name these processes. This is often referred to as naming our “here and now.” Other times, we are looking at the group – what is happening for other individuals, or what is happening for our group as a whole. Leadership scholar Ronald Heifetz calls this listening for the “song beneath the words.”

The purpose of this exercise is to make us better youth workers. Youth work is (almost always) both individual work and group work. As individual work, it involves working on ourselves and our won default thinking and behavior. It also involves supporting young people through their own self-work to become more effective leaders. As group work, it involves helping a group grow and transform together so they can do collective work more effectively and to create an environment in which individuals can flourish. In order to practice differently, we need to become adept at noticing what’s happening for us, others, and the group as a whole. Once we get good at noticing it, we can get better at making interpretations about what is happening, and finally, on trying to create changes – interventions! So let’s get specific about what we mean when we talk about the “here and now” and the “song beneath the words.” Heifetz and colleagues write:

“There is so much more data than just the actual words being said. Look for the body language, eye contact, emotion, energy. For example, pay as much attention to what is not being said as you do to what is being said. If people around you are focusing their stories on team dynamics but not on how to produce the outcome, that may indicate there is a problem with being accountable for the outcome. Also watch for behaviors that seem at odds with people’s statements and with company policies. For instance, look for unusual factions or alliances as well as informal authority relationships that differ from the organizational chart. These may indicate where informal authority within the system is placed. Finally, notice whether there are any disproportionate reactions to proposals regarding possible solutions to the problem. A response that seems out of scale with the suggested idea or initiative is a strong sign that something else is going on, something more than a simple solution to this one issue.”

From: Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty; Grashow, Alexander. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (p. 76). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Learning to hear the “here and now” and the “song beneath the words”

Learning to listen to your own “here and now” and to the “song beneath the words” for another/the group is not an easy task! It requires a new sort of attentiveness. We can’t be embedded in our own experience – example: “I’m so bored.” Instead, we have to take that feeling a step further: where does this boredom stem from in me? And we can’t just look at a group and say “nobody is talking, this is so awkward!” Here, we need to say: why is nobody talking right now? 

“Here and Now”

Here are some things you might notice are at stake for you or others in a group:

  • Identity
  • Competence
  • Comfort
  • Security
  • Reputation
  • Time
  • Money
  • Power
  • Control
  • Status
  • Resources
  • Independence
  • Righteousness
  • Job
  • Life
From: Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty; Grashow, Alexander. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (pp. 96-97). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Whatever’s at stake for us usually shows up as an emotion. When we are uncomfortable, those emotions might be:

  • Fear
  • Annoyance
  • Anger
  • Aversion
  • Confusion
  • Disconnection
  • Disquiet
  • Embarrassment
  • Pain
  • Sadness
  • Tension
  • Vulnerability
  • Yearning

When we are comfortable, those emotions might be:

  • Affection
  • Engagement
  • Hope
  • Confidence
  • Excitement
  • Gratitude
  • Inspired
  • Joyful
  • Exhilarated
  • Peaceful
  • Refreshed
This list of emotions comes from the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

So keep note of these in your Process Log – which did you feel and when? What do you think is at stake for you when these feelings come up from the list above? You might even try to break it down like this:

EventEmotionAt Stake
My white classmate interrupted a black classmate while they were telling a personal story that felt important. Fear (how will the interrupted student respond? my classmates? the instructor? myself?) Annoyance (why did my classmate do that!!) Anger (what’s happening is wrong)Righteousness (this conflicts with my sense of right and wrong) Identity (conflicts with my sense of myself as someone who speaks up about injustice) Competence (maybe I’m incompetent at stopping negative things from taking place around me) Reputation (maybe others won’t see me as someone who cares)
We were telling stories and ones student talked for what felt like way longer than anyone elseAnnoyance (why do they get to take so much time?) Disconnection (I’m lost and bored) Embarrassment (I’m embarrassed for them that they don’t have a better sense of the way that everyone else is responding to them) Inspired (I have to admit I’m a little inspired because this story was so vulnerable and I feel a bit more space to share my own story now)Time (this is using up time that could be spent on something that felt more valuable) Control (I don’t feel like I can change this situation, but also it is very frustrating)

The Song Beneath the Words

While the “Here and Now” category focuses on what’s happening for individuals in the group as a response to group dynamics (or other happenings in their broader life), the “Song Beneath the Words” category names dynamics that apply to the group or a subgroup within it.

Here’s a list of group dynamics/processes that you might notice happening:

  • Whether, how, and where people socialize outside of class
  • What do people socialize about when the opportunity presents
  • What jokes are OK to tell, and which are bad form
  • If decisions are made at the meetings, what is the decision rule? How are decisions made?
  • Focus only on the technical parts of the challenge and apply a technical fix.
  • Define the problem to fit your current expertise.
  • Someone “turns down the heat” (make things more comfortable) in a meeting by telling a joke or taking a break.
  • Deny that a problem exists.
  • Create a proxy fight, such as a personality conflict, instead of grappling with the real problem.
  • Take options off the table to honor legacy behaviors.
  • Marginalize the person trying to raise the issue—that is, shoot the messenger.
  • Scapegoat someone.
  • Externalize the enemy (it’s someone outside of “us”).
  • Attack authority.
  • Delegate the adaptive work to those who can’t do anything about it, such as consultants, committees, and task forces.
  • Other sources of group stress: competing values, suppressed perspectives, protecting against losses?
  • When there is a stress on the group, or conflict, how do people tend to respond?
    • Do nothing?
    • React by fight or flight?
    • Look to authority figures (instructor) to sort things out?
Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty; Grashow, Alexander. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (pp. 85-88). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

These are group processes you will notice all the time! Just like with the “here and now” you can track these events:

EventDynamic(s)Interpretation(s)Response(s)
We are talking about  action steps that individuals can take to support young people through experiences of police violence and everyone starts talking about all the things they don’t think they can do or accomplish. The group starts talking about how terrible “the system is” and how it won’t change.Scapegoat someone (“the system” is to blame) Externalize the enemy (we don’t have to do anything differently ourselves) Take options off the table to honor legacy behaviors (the way we run class doesn’t need to change because it’s always worked that way and it isn’t contributing directly to police violence)If we see it as other people’s work, we don’t have to do anything to change how we practice. Our identity as good youth workers isn’t threatened because we aren’t part of the problem. The history of our practice that is complicit with police violence against communities of color doesn’t need to be re-examined. We get to remain comfortable.Remind the group that even if “the system” is big, we can make an impact in the lives of the youth we work with, so what should we do now? Kindly name this dynamic for the group (scapegoating, externalizing, etc.) and ask if we can come up with a solution together.

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