Robots as Reflective Peers?

This month I received an article written in 2015 by Sandra Okita called, “The Potential of Peer Robots to Assist Human Creativity in Finding Problems and Problem Solving.” In her article, Okita explores the idea of robots as peers in the classroom to help students reflect and learn through creative problem solving and learning by teaching (which she shortens to LBT). She also postulates that robots can record student behavioral data and encourage students to externalize their thinking in a safe space.

Now, you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?


Well, not exactly. But if we are training our technology to be a mirror for young people to externalize their creative thinking in a safe space, to practice teaching others in order to learn for themselves, and to reflect on their behavioral patterns and experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving… Are we outsourcing the human youth worker to technology? Or, does this concept have other implications for our field, separate from that of formal education, which could expand equitable professionalism and effectiveness across the country? My colleagues and I believe the latter, and our gears are turning….

Education vs Youth Work

In Okita’s vision, however many youth worker skills the robot “peer” has programmed, it certainly does not replace the human teacher. Remember that youth workers are not typically found in the classroom, primarily due to youth work values being in opposition to traditional teaching’s industrial foundation and resulting systemic inequities. This business/mechanical production style model of education requires enumeration of its product; a growth chart of returns on investments, complete with “incentives” and threats for lack of efficient production. Thus, a robot is born.

Are human development and education the same thing? Is learning enumerable?

One thing is for certain. Even when measurable results are at the center of focus and monetary investments are seen as more valuable going toward measurement technologies than humans, educators know enough about human development to put a human face on it.

Implications for Our Field

In what ways do we need human faces in order to improve our skills? In what ways do we use our technology to supplement our need for safe spaces to express our thoughts and reflect, to teach, and to learn?

My colleague, Lindsay Walz, M.Ed, and I have been exploring this idea and would like your feedback. We are planning a series of short, entertaining, and sharable youtube videos and video conferences that reflect “that youth worker life” we share.

Our hope is to become robots.

Well, not really.    More like, we want to use technology to build community with youth workers to help us better learn. From a social justice perspective this is especially important for those of us living in rural America, and working/living outside of established youth worker communities. Marginalized youth workers need human faces, and safe spaces to express themselves, reflect, and learn regularly with others in order to be the most effective with youth in their communities.


So, thanks to Sandra Okita and the Teacher’s College Record for exploring the idea of robots as peer educators. Because no matter how systems try to take the humanity out of learning, those of us who are really reflective, creative, and passionate about human development know to put a human face on it, at least. 🙂

If you have ideas for fun, entertaining, sharable videos for our youtube channel, or other creative ways of building online community, please comment below or send me an email! More to come on this exciting project soon. Stay tuned!

The article listed was published in an online journal called The Teacher’s College Record, which I highly recommend youth workers subscribe to, because they send free articles like this one. 

Clowning Activities for Youth Work

Click here for the CirSchool’s list of clowning activities for kids. Try one in your youth program and watch all the wonderful ways it opens humans up for holistic learning.

We all know that humor helps heal. We’ve seen the movie Patch Adams. But what we don’t always see, is how the history and theory of the archetype of the clown is one that teaches us to be the most human, the most vulnerable, and the most blissfully happy even in the worst of circumstances… that which makes us uniquely human. Our ability to adapt, and play.

What are your stories of clowning in youth work? Have you ever used the class clown’s skills to the advantage of the group? How? How have your foolish acts improved your practice? Share in our group, and let’s have fun!


On self regulation for us, and for our kids. Watch, rate, subscribe to another passionate (yet higher educated 😉 ) 30-something developmental professional, Dr Sara Langworthy.

Listen: “The Second Mountain” David Brooks’ 2017 speech at Aspen Ideas Festival

“We all have moments of wonder and things we’re kind of interested in, but the second phase of life is the initiation,” Brooks said, that’s the mentor or institution that takes your moment of interest and shows you how to use that wonder in the best way.”


Top 10 things you need to know about the Journal of Youth Development, by Kate Walker

Kate Walker, of the University of Minnesota, is the new editor of the Journal of Youth Development, an online and open access peer reviewed journal about youth work.

I’ve known Kate for a number of years now through my participation in practitioner fellowships through the UMN Youth Work Institute. Her passion is for exactly what this journal is all about- Bridging Research and Practice.

The first issue of her tenure as editor has been published in March of 2017, and due to her passion for practitioner voice and leadership in the field, she has dedicated the entire issue to practitioner-written papers. You can view these papers and more practitioner writing on our youth worker publications page.

Kate’s article,Top 10 things you need to know about the Journal of Youth Development is from the University of Minnesota Youth Insights Blog, another place youth workers can make their voices heard. I encourage you to check out the blog and engage in the comments.

Okay, so I won’t spoil all the 10 things you need to know- you’ll have to read the original post for that because there’s also lots of links to additional info- BUT, I will spoil the number one thing you need to know because it’s what I want to encourage you to do!

NUMBER 1:    JYD is seeking regular submissions as well as papers for a spring 2018 special issue on the value of camp experiences.

So go ahead, check out the blog and all the rabbit holes it provides, and if you have interest in writing I’d love to chat with you about what it’s like and help you in any way I can!

Happy Reading!

Source: Top 10 things you need to know about the Journal of Youth Development

Read: Enhancing Children’s Mental Health Through Social Emotional Learning Processes

Read this issue brief from the smart folks at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development that ties our work in children’s mental health with youth work in out-of-school-time (OST)!

“… SEL is about more than just improving academic achievement—it is also a powerful mechanism for improving children’s mental health.”


Watch: Mental Health: Yours, Mine, and Ours, by Cari Michaels MPH for UMN Extension Center

What does mental health mean to you?

Adult youth workers need to be emotionally secure and stable enough to behave responsively under stress in order to be most effective in our practice. However, a public health lens helps us identify that being stable, or being mental HEALTHY, is not the absence of mental illness. In fact, they exist on two separate but related scales.

Regardless of any diagnosable mental illness, youth workers can and should work in supportive environments that promote mental HEALTH.

Cari Michaels holds a masters degree in public health, and this short video describes what a public health approach looks like with regard to mental HEALTH.

Join the Conversation! 

How do you feel about this model?  What supports does the field need to promote mental health of youth workers through a public health lens? 

-comment below!


Note that this video was made by another 33 year old Minnesotan who is passionate about human development, Dr Sara Langworthy. I’ll be doing a full post on her work soon, but for now I encourage you to click her name for a link to some seriously entertaining and informative content on human development. 

Listen: Harvard EdCast- A New Way of Being at Work

Listen to this interview on Harvard EdCast with Lisa Lahey, one of the developmental psychologist writers of An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.

An Everyone Culture supports everyone’s development while simultaneously increasing delivery of the company’s mission.

Lahey’s findings reflect the discoveries of my action research, in which I concluded that by creating a supportive, developmental culture for youth workers, supervisors can increase quality of service. 

Check out her interview and learn how corporations are doing this to create deliberately developmental organizations and increasing achievement of their mission.

Find the original EdCast here.

Meaning Making as a System of Conceiving Reality and Knowledge

Robert Kegan’s theory of adult meaning-making has influenced theory and practice internationally across multiple disciplines. In a special RSA event, he considers: is it really possible to grow beyond the psychological independence of the “self-authoring mind,” so often seen as the zenith of adult development?

Trauma Informed Care Values = Youth Worker Values

I’m so excited to share that I’ve received permission from CJ to use these slides in my upcoming e-learning module for the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Policy on Values-Based Youth Worker Management!

Check out his slides on the Guiding Values of Trauma Informed Practice for yourself and let me know what you think- How do you see them overlapping with Quality Youth Practice?

Source: TRAUMA & THE TRAUMA INFORMED CARE INITIATIVE OCT 23, 2012 CJ DOXTATER, AGING & DISABILITY SPECIALIST Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. – ppt download