Behind the Blackboard is a workshop concept which comprises two weeks to three months long ”transition workshops” held in elementary and secondary schools with 11-16 year old youths in different countries. The workshop aims to provide the youths creative space and means to envision their immediate environments more desirable and to transform that vision into reality.
The workshop can be applied in any youth community but since many of the youths spend a significant part of their time in schools the educational institutions provide a meaningful environment for the workshop implementation. The institutional framework offers also a convenient infrastructure to gather the youths together and to sustain the change the participants create during the workshop.The workshop consist of three parts and is based on the youth’s experience and ownership of their own environments. The youths are the authors of the workshop and the workshop initiators should avoid giving them any solutions for the problems raised during the transition process.
The first part of the workshop concentrates on mapping and understanding the problems within the school community. The youths are divided into small groups and encouraged to discuss problems inside their school. The highlighted issues are discussed by all the workshop participants. The process is repeated individually by using anonymous papers on which the participants can add the problems they don´t want to bring up publicly. After gathering all the problems, they are analyzed together and ranked according to their perceived importance.
Based on the discovered issues the workshop participants design an anonymous questionnaire for all the students of their school in order to find out the biggest problems within the whole school community. The youths are given a knowledge of basic survey techniques and asked to choose the most relevant ones for their research. After the survey is completed, the results are discussed together with all the workshop participants and the most crucial issues are selected for further processing. If the problems are sensitive, or difficult to discuss, the youths can be encouraged to make video art about the problematic issues. In this way the videos can be used as a medium for youths to express their thoughts and open a dialog on the issues.
The second part of the workshop focuses on creative problem solving and proposing an alternative future. The participants are divided into small groups and encouraged to brainstorm and develop practical but fresh and unconventional solutions for the most critical issues found in the survey. For inspiration the youths can be shown examples and asked to discuss the possible solutions with their friends and family members. The solutions are talked over with all of the workshop participants. If the outcomes don´t produce distinctly beneficial solutions for the school community the process is repeated individually with all the participants by encouraging the youths to develop more and more creative solutions. The group discussions and individual thinking processes are continued as long as the youths develop innovative and pragmatic solutions that all the workshop participants agreed on.
In the third part of the workshop youths apply the solutions into practice. The participants first map necessary resources and plan the actions needed for applying the resolutions in small groups. After planning the actions the youths implement them into practice. In the last part of the workshop, the engagement of the whole school community is recommended to increase the community´s ownership of the transition process in order to sustain the implemented change.
The whole workshop process is recorded to video. The video material is used as a tool for the workshop process evaluation and also edited to a video documentary for public presentations. These video documentaries from various schools in different countries show the ways youths from different geographical, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds produce change in their everyday environments at elementary school juxtaposing difficulties and problem solving methods in different cultural settings.
Each Behind the Blackboard workshop is evaluated based on the participants´ personal development in creative problem solving and skills to envision alternatives for their current situation. The main factor for the successful workshop relies however on the effectiveness of the change the youths implement in their communities. The experience of producing evident change, and the feedback it raises from the youngsters´ own communities can truly empower the youths, nurturing their development as resilient, active and vital members of their communities.