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Volume 23, Number 1
January/February 2007

Educators as “Applied Developmentalists”

An interview with Michael J. Nakkula and Eric Toshalis


The authors of Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators (Harvard Education Press, 2006) discuss the roles educators can play in fostering young people’s growth and development.

What does it mean to understand youth developmentally?

We often talk about adolescents as having “raging hormones” or emphasize their rebelliousness. Assumptions like these reduce adolescents to a stereotype. To understand youth developmentally, it is important for educators to resist the pathologizing “Teens these days!” rhetoric, and instead look and listen for opportunities to participate in their growth. By becoming familiar with underlying patterns of adolescent development, we can deepen our ability to read youth’s actions and expressions and respond to their needs.

In our book we use case studies to show how teachers and counselors can use their understanding of adolescent development to ask generative questions about identity and meaning, and to give specific assignments that help youth negotiate their relationships with peers and adults. The beauty of this is that it’s a two-way street: As we help students in their development, they help us develop as educators. Developmental understanding is really as much about our own development as it is about youth’s.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.