When you visit a kindergarten classroom what do you see? You see student’s work all over the walls. When you enter a dentist’s office you generally find a variety of magazines and pictures of healthy mouths. When you walk into a teen health clinic you expect to see pamphlets and brochures related to health issues like STD prevention. The first time I entered a particular suburban high school, I was struck by the pictures of past students in caps and gowns on their graduation day. The photo gallery began at the entrance of the main office and continued down the main hallway and the hallway leading to the guidance office. The ultimate goal of each of these four locations is evident as soon as you enter.
What greets your youth when they enter your work area? Whether your title is Child Welfare Worker, Foster Care Case Worker, or Investigator, you are working with youth who have been abused and/or neglected. They may come to you harnessing anger, fear, or disappointment. I ask that you go beyond cleanliness and order and make your space as inviting, encouraging, motivating, and inspiring as possible. Don’t just display rules and consequences. Sometimes it is the things that aren’t said that helps build trust and opens the door for honest communication later on.
You may not be able to control the general waiting area or common areas in your building but I recommend that you give your personal area a personal touch. Some professionals believe that you should never decorate your office with personal family photos. In some occupations I agree but I believe that a youth worker’s office décor should reflect their work ethic and goals for their clients. Inspirational calendars, computer screen savers, affirmative reading materials, and motivation posters and framed art are great visual reminders. Not only will your youth benefit from a positive atmosphere, but at times we as workers also need a little inspiration or something to re-energize us or remind us why we do the work that we do. I urge you to seek out motivational pictures and objects that signify what you want your young people to achieve or attain and express that you have faith in them. Remember our motto, “The World is Your Classroom”. What small things can you do to make your work area more motivational and youth friendly?
Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer
The Teen Toolbox provides youth portfolio development and civic engagement and academic enrichment opportunities to help teens set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals through its PACKAGED FOR SUCCESS™ Programs.