Social and emotional support in new contexts: Promoting development for marginalised youth

Year: 2017

Author: MacCallum, Judith, Pressick-Kilborn, Kimberley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Mentoring programs and alternative schools are often developed for marginalised young people in the hope that the new context will enable some kind of positive change. The focus of this paper is on how intentional support in two specific programs can contribute to promoting a sense of possibility and agency for marginalised young people of secondary school age.

A sociocultural approach provides an alternative set of theoretical tools for analysis and interpretation than the sociological one more commonly drawn on in the alternative schools literature (McGregor, Mills, te Riele & Hayes, 2015; Mills, McGregor, Baroutsis, te Riele & Hayes, 2016) and the traditional psychological approach used in youth mentoring research (Dubois, Portillo, Rhodes, Silverthorn & Valentine, 2011; Raposa, Rhodes & Herrera, 2016).

We draw on data gathered through semi-structured interviews in two projects with marginalised young people: with mentees, mentors and teacher coordinators in a mentoring study (n=10), and with students and staff at alternative schools (n=12). In each of these sites attempts were made to 'do things differently', creating a new setting which disrupted old ways of acting, feeling and being (Zittoun, 2014). We each read and coded the interview transcripts, and identified data excerpts relating to ways of acting, feeling and being.

Valsiner's (1997) complex of ZFM/ZPA/ZPD framed our explanation of constraints and guidance within the different contexts, and supports for students to act in new ways. In analysing and interpreting the data, however, we found that other notions from sociocultural theory are needed to develop conceptualisations of the connection and the 'energy change' that seemed a part of what supports participating in the new social context. We additionally examined the range of social and emotional supports offered by the teachers and mentors through the theoretical lenses of agency and identity development, through the processes of canalization and self-canalization (Valsiner, 1997).

There was also evidence of 'becoming', with young people choosing and constructing a possible future. The young people spoke of beginning to see themselves, and to be seen by others, as able to do and be differently. Each was at a different point of what could be termed 'emerging agency', but each student showed a new sense of confidence and skill in being able to identify reachable goals and work towards them. The findings highlight the importance of social and emotional supports for young people, especially in programs that create new contexts and possibilities for marginalised youth.