How to create an environment of child development that gives all children and youth wings? SmART Upbringing – a magical development project in Re County.

Bjørn Hauger

In recent years, an increased consciousness has gradually developed of alternative approaches to organizational development and processes of social change.  This is articulated in strategies based on a more humanistic view of people and collaborative approaches to work with processes of change. In Re County there has long been testing of different forms of collaborative strategies in work with organizational development.  In 2002-2003, for example, all the preschools employed Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as an action research strategy in connection with quality development; all the employees were involved.  The plans for what was to be improved and how these improvements should occur were made collaboratively.  In this work, several different ethnographic methods were also used in order to access children’s voices in the work of development Those who participated in the training program also received training in how they could create new “communicative spaces” in the preschool characterized by dialogue that could enable people to bloom..

In 2005, one of the schools in Re County decided to employ Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to work with the creation of a new vision for the school.  A short time afterwards, the County decided that all school leaders should be trained in work with management and organizational development based on the same perspective.

It is in the wake of this training and development work that Smart upbringing arises as a new (generative) idea about how one can combine (and change) preventive programs for at-risk children and youth with strategies for releasing the individual child’s – and organization’s – potential (Appreciative Inquiry).

Originally,  “Smart upbringing” was viewed as a pedagogical implementation; a way of working preventatively and inclusively in relation to at-risk children in the individual school and preschool, and it became a unified project involving preschools, schools, Pedagogical-psychological services, the health service, parents, children and youth’s leisure arenas.  The project is further described as a strategic intervention to draw in “all, from children to politicians” in the work of development.

Viewed from a social constructionist perspective, this developmental work appears particularly exciting because of the ideas that underpin it:  One can imagine that if one is to do anything with the patterns of actions that lead to many children and youth being discounted, not seen as important, clever or valuable, one must change the way one understands, talks about and creates meaning in one’s own practice.

Through the project, “Smart upbringing”, the County has set the goal of changing a culture dominated by a defensive (problem-oriented) mind set to an offensive (strengths-based) one.  Through changing the dialogue between professionals, children and their parents, through posing new kinds of questions, through introducing a new professional language (among other things, about strengths), and planning a new choreography of conversations, one hopes to be able to change practice in a more radical way than if one continues to work with change interventions based on traditional modes of understanding.  Instead of placing weight on what it is that leads to so many children and youth being unable to cope with their school life, we are concerned with experimentation with new ways of shaping the future that give all children and youth the opportunity to reach their potential.

In the course of the years the project has existed, hundreds of employees, children, youth and their parents have been involved in the developmental work.  The discourse that characterizes these conversations is changing.  New collaborative arenas characterized by more hopeful dialogues are being established.  The voices of children, youth and their parents are promoted in a completely new way and with a new power than before.  Enthusiasm has been created among professionals, managers and politicians that has attracted attention beyond the County’s borders.

The County has, among other things, developed a tool for children from the age of 2 years up (in preschool and school) used to teach them to research positive experiences between adults and children, and between children in different everyday situations.  The tool consists of a set of books with an array of stories about moral dilemmas in the everyday lives of children and a vocabulary (printed on cards) that children can use to describe good qualities (strengths) that are expressed in the valued actions depicted in the stories

barn og smart oppvekst