December 3, 2009

What I did with the high school teens

A few of you have wondered how things went for me when I met with the high schoolers during their retreat a couple of weeks ago. Below is pretty much the response I gave to one person who asked me "How was it?"

If you were a teen who participated, I hope you'll add your own thoughts and perspective on what it was like.


First off, I mention a teeny bit about how my preparation went (or didn't) in the start of my previous post.

Parts of it fell pretty flat, but other parts went really really well.


1. I'd like to ask a few days before the event how many people were already registered! I had been planning for about 12 teens--and there were 22 of 'em!! The day before the retreat got started, I learned there were 17, so I had a little bit of time to rethink things.

2. I would have liked to have been better prepared to make explicit that if the same person (or persons) frequently wanted to comment, I'll stop inviting that person to speak--and encourage the person (or persons, in this case) to practice some discernment about whether or not that thing needed to be said. But with only a 2-hour timeslot, I didn't recognize the pattern of two of the teens until we were halfway through the morning.

3. I'd take more time--MUCH more time--to talk about how Quakers aren't perfect. I'd like to figure out a way to ask more effectively what gets talked about too much and what doesn't get talked about enough. Maybe I would search for a way to get a few of the teens who were registered to answer this question ahead of time...

4. When I started talking a bit about my own experience about God, some of the teens seemed to tune in and perk up. Wish I had stayed in touch with that energy and pursued it a bit more: how often do they hear about God/Jesus/faith from Quaker adults...?


1. Following the nudges and hunches I had. For example, the teens were still eating breakfast 15 min before we were supposed to start--and they were still in sleeping bags, etc. about 15 min before that! So I ditched my high-energy ice breaker and instead had them do a step-forward exercise. All the questions were about family, since I was going to talk about Quakers and the RSoF as extended family.
  • Who here has a family? (After stepping forward and looking around, then we'd create the line again.)
  • Who has a large extended family?
  • Who doesn't feel like they know their extended family that well?
  • Who feels like they don't fit in with their own family?
  • Who is holding a grudge against someone in their family?
  • Who would want to know their family better, if the opportunity came up?
I also ditched the Four Corners idea I had been thinking about because there were so many chairs in the room, and the open spaces were very spread out.

And I didn't spend a lot of time talking about Convergent Friends, just because it didn't seem like where they were at. And it turns out, none of them write or read blogs (or so they told me when I asked).

2. There were a few times when I had a chance to talk about the importance of being authentic, honest, and real--not just as Quaker youth, but as people in general. I didn't know if this was an important point to make or not--but by the end of the time, two teens acknowledged to the group that they were atheist. Folks wanted to talk right over that, but I held the space and had all of us slow down and acknowledge what was just said. An opening, even if a small one.

3. BEST EXERCISE: A modified version of Chalk Talk, the exercise I've heard Peterson do with folks. I had three large pieces of paper (made up of 4 sheets of flipchart paper), each with a different word or phrase in the middle:

Evangelical Friends

Quakers aren't perfect


Then I gave each of them a marker and let them loose to write their own comments on each paper, and their own comments to each other, too.

Gave them about 15 minutes and they could have used 25. Two teens later told me that they really liked that exercise. (I also found out that none of them had done a Chalk Talk exercise before, so I hope I did it justice.)

4. Second best exercise, to wrap up: I gave everyone a piece of paper and asked them to write one or two WORDS or CONCEPTS that really had been lingering with them during our time together. Make the word (or words) big on the page. Then place the papers in the center, going every which-way, to form like a mosaic. After everyone has had a chance to add their page, then stand around and take a look at what's there, noticing what made you smile, squirm, or appreciate. All done in silence.

We closed with worship. I was hoping someone would be moved to say something, but that didn't happen. The things that were on the Chalk Talk papers and the mosaic sheets, though, were powerful evidence of things being stirred up in the group, and I made sure to tell the FAPs (Friendly Adult Presence) and coordinators to look over the papers, there might be opportunities for more discussion if the teens wanted.

...I was tempted to take photos of the mosaic and of the Chalk Talk papers, but I decided against it. There was a tender energy in the room and I felt it was important to "leave in the room" what had been shared in the room.


1. At some point, after enough trust had been built within the group and between the group and me, I'd like to start a check-in round with "One thing I don't want you to know about me is..." I've used this check-in before and it encourages folks to get real authentic real quick.

2. Flesh out how Quakers are not perfect. Explore the "nice and pure" image of early Quakers (i.e. that all Quakers were abolitionists) as well as modern examples of our imperfections--as individuals and as meetings.

3. Do a spectrum about degree of belief in a Divine Principle and/or Four Corners about those beliefs (God - Jesus - Love - nothing, eg.)

4. Worship sharing instead of/in addition to worship.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have to say, just having those 2 hours to feel the group out a bit gave me a peek into what might be possible with a WEEK of them during an FGC Gathering workshop.



This post about raising young children as Friends from Amy of How'd I End Up Here?


Anonymous said...

Oh Liz. I really want to encourage you to apply for a teenage workshop at FGC. There are kids hungering for this kind of discussion.

Anonymous said...

Ooo, I am so glad the Chalk Talk worked out for you. I love that activity and it is easy to modify. Once we had a regular meeting for worship with teens and had the Chalk Talk set up so anyone could share a message that arose through speaking or writing or drawing. Very cool experience, but more importantly, deep worship.