What drives you to work with young people?
Most educators have a story. Some had teachers who influenced their choices tremendously, some find the work of shaping mindsets highly rewarding, and others may have just chanced upon a teaching/ facilitating job, but ended up loving the experience. For Themis Gkion, founder of Flow Athens, and PYE’s lead trainer in Greece, his love for teaching started as a toddler, at his grandmother’s primary school. As he grew older, he led groups of students there, by engaging them in collaborative challenges like sculptures, puzzles, and creating stories. That was the first spark!
But, his career wasn’t a straight line. Says Themis, “I started as a mechanical engineer, then worked in finance, and eventually found my way to teaching. During my 4th career change, I realized I was able to manage such diverse changes, and even trigger some of them, because I was willing to experiment, and even fail, until I succeeded.”
What started off as a hobby of exploring creative education, has led Themis to design and lead programs for youth in the age group of 8-18 today. And there is a unique one where he brings together the worlds of bio-medical research, PYE’s Creative Empowerment Model, and his passion for teaching:
“With the Biomedical Research Foundation – Academy of Athens, I facilitate a program where we invite 18-year-olds interested in this field. They come expecting to visit labs, listen to researchers, and look at new technology. All that happens, but it is the tip of the iceberg. Mid-way, I facilitate a group challenge for them to create a structure with ropes and hula hoops. Although the instructions are simple, it is unexpectedly difficult to ‘complete this task as a group, not individually.’ This throws them off. They have to communicate ideas, listen to each other, negotiate, build trust, take up roles, and then create,” shared Themis, beaming with pride, as he spoke to PYE’s Manager of Partnerships, Nilisha Mohapatra.
One aspect of the Creative Empowerment Model that influences Themis’ program is the I-P-C Framework, which invites the young people’s imagination through experiential learning tools right from the beginning, and thus increases participation. The group challenge, the second aspect, is the tipping point into transformation. Not only do they have to imagine the shape of the structure and then create it, but also navigate interpersonal dynamics to work together. It sets them up to take healthy creative risks, which, as defined in our Theory of Change, allows participants to increase their self-confidence, and feel appreciated. Their choices influence the experience of the group challenge. Hence, their investment is amplified.
What happens towards the end of the five-hour program? The youth reflect on how different people have different needs, skills, and qualities. This means, they will all make different choices, be it in their careers, relationships, values, lifestyles etc. In the program, they commit to their personal choice by embodying it, and stating it in front of the group. This is another aspect of the CEM which Themis facilitates powerfully – creating a psychologically safe learning environment where young people explore many choices, feel confident to make their own, and express them! The program strengthens their self-belief to act on their choices and be resilient with failures.
A young person from this program felt that a lot of pressure was released from her mind at the end. She said, “There are plenty of people in the same position with me, dealing with the exact same questions. Even if there are disappointments in life, I learned that we should persist, because there are infinite choices in life and never one-way streets.” The same degree of hope was echoed by another: “In a time where I have been feeling tired, disappointed and have doubted myself, I’ve found inspiration and motivation here. More specifically, food for thought.”
Young people recognizing their own power and agency is what drives Themis. “I knew that succeeding in what I care about is possible. That made me confident and helped me understand myself better – my values, strengths. And that’s exactly what I want to empower young people with – to know who you are and be proud. This is exactly where PYE’s training helped me. It showed me a methodology and tools through which I could help youth learn these deeply personal skills in a safe, creative way.”
At PYE, we use arts-based practices to invest in people’s imagination. Themis has combined PYE’s model with his love for robotics and tinkering, to create richer, more meaningful learning environments. As a result, participants increase their creative confidence and self-efficacy; they experience a deeper connection with self/ others, and also find joy in learning.
- To know more about Themis’s work, visit Flow Athens.
- Find out how you can increase your facilitation skills and create transformative programs: click here.
Author: Nilisha Mohapatra