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Using Creative Jams for Professional Development and Stronger Programming

For the past several months, I've been working with the Philadelphia Youth Network on several staff development projects, including the Try It Tuesday blog, where we share tips and ideas for engaging young people in youth programs. 

I've written here before about how we could use "hackathons" and "creative jams" to build stronger programs and engage our communities and on Friday, April 24, we were able to put that idea to the test. 

Jam4Justice 2015

In March, we invited anyone who was interested to join us to work on this question:

Jam Question

The idea was that we would spend 7.5 hours working together, with people forming smaller teams to work on projects that they identified at the beginning of the Jam. By the end of the day, they would have concrete prototypes and materials to use in implementing their project ideas. 

Over 30 people showed up to the Jam, including a number of people who were not currently doing work with young people but who were engaged by the question. 

Structure of the Day

We began the day by sharing a very loose agenda for how we would spend our time, along with these guidelines:

Jam Guidelines

Then we put out a call for projects. Anyone who had an idea for a project they wanted to work on was invited to write down their project idea on a giant Post-It and then each person did a brief pitch to the group, describing their project and why they were passionate about it. 

Within the first hour, we'd identified 6 project areas and people rapidly formed teams to work on their projects. We supplied them with a variety of office supplies--markers, Post-Its, index cards, paper, markers, etc. as well as puzzles and small toys to keep their hands busy while we worked. 

Jam Supplies

For the next 6 hours each team worked hard on their projects, with only a brief break for them to grab the boxed lunches we supplied before returning to their tables to keep working. 

The energy and excitement in the room was fantastic!

We had teams working on a DIY musical (see the video below), a 6-week digital story-telling curriculum, a youth-led cafe that would be both a creative outlet for youth and a chance for them to act as entrepreneurs--even an adventure-based learning school!

We were blown away by not only the projects that people created, but also their engagement and enthusiasm for the process itself. We provided the question, some limited structure and some supplies and they were free to apply their passion and creativity to coming up with prototypes for their project ideas.

The video at the top of this post shares some of the reflections on what we learned and took away from the session. And here's some additional feedback we got from participants:

To be honest I was quite surprised at how the day went. I first thought I was walking into one of those long workshops where I sit for hours. But I learned a great deal about myself and help to realize my project on paper. Thanks to Kelly Wilson and Mr Bob. I had a wonderful time and would like to do this monthly. I could go on sharing and sharing what the outcomes were for me on that day. I am so glad I went to the Jam. It was bigger than what I consider a jam.

Having the space to come up with real solutions to assist youth while networking and having fun. Also, having creative liberty and not being bound to unnecessary restraints. I had a really great time and worked with an amazing group of people who were all so different, but came together and created an awesome experience that I believe can empower our youth to positively impact the world.

Loved the action-oriented nature of the event. And that it was organized around a central theme/topic of social justice. There was enough structure to keep everyone "on task" but not too much to stifle our creativity.

You can see more about the projects (including their project presentations) as well as pictures and additional information at our Jam4Justice website

We're currently discussing how we can do a series of "mini Jams" and quarterly full-day Jams as ongoing professional development for staff. We are also looking into bringing young people into the next Jam, empowering them to work alongside staff to create their own passion-based projects. 

We're very excited about the possibilities with this structure and see it as a really exciting way to unleash the creativity of staff to develop projects, share resources and learn from each other. 


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