Disengagement is contagious, so watch out for those cats!

When youth workers are developing and facilitating any piece of group work it’s very easy and common to make the mistake of focusing to much of attention on the dogs, but if they can successfully engage the cats then the dogs will come along anyway!

Having read that first sentence you may be totally confused, or perhaps not, but either way you’re curious and open to learn more, “what’s he talking about” you might think, “tell me more” you cry. Alternatively you may have already decided that I’m a kook and there’s nothing more for you here, “time to move on” you quickly decide. Well there you have it, you’re either a dog or a cat.

The Dog

They’ve turned up convinced and engaged from the start.

All the youth worker has to do is put out a small tasty treat and they’re there, ready and willing, tongue hanging out in anticipation for opportunities to find out more and get involved.

They happily absorb, process and apply information, supporting the youth worker to move forward with the agenda.

The Cat

They’re naturally sceptical, proud of their independence and will probably need persuading.

They may start off alert, but will be watching carefully for reasons to support their scepticism and to disengage from the group work.

They’re certainly not going to be accepting of any ideas or directions just because they’re being presented by someone in a position of authority, in fact that may well be a reason for them to purposefully put up blocks.

Labelling participants in a group work intervention may not usually be that useful, and of course one needs to be aware that people will shift attitudes regularly, will have external factors influencing them and will be there for a wide variety of reasons. But I do find it useful to make a general assessment of whether the young people I’m working with are more prone to be cats or dogs. This way I can keep myself in check by asking, ‘Am I just focusing on the dogs?’, ‘Whose attention have I lost and could I have done better?’ ‘What can I do to make sure that the cats are better engaged and are an active part of the group?’.

If, like me, you aim to generate a collaborative, supportive and shared learning environment in your group work then it’s essential to try to engage with ALL participants, not just with those that have come ready and open, but also with those that require persuading and active inclusion.

Disengagement is contagious, so watch out for those cats!

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