Meet David Heller, our new Education Director
As a young teacher in Oakland struggling to connect with students from backgrounds very different than his, Heller found one thing that worked: stories.
That experience of the power of stories to spark new ways of thinking and learning has carried through his career. It includes six years teaching high school English and history and a recent position developing literacy and social and emotional learning (SEL) standards for New York City’s afterschool programs, at the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD).
Now, as Youth Communication’s Education Director, David is eager to build on YC’s success in harnessing the power of stories to help teachers connect with struggling teens and develop their literacy skills and social and emotional competencies.
As Education Director, David is responsible for leading YC’s professional development. He helps educators learn to use our award-winning interventions to support girls’ empowerment, career readiness, and other youth development goals. He is also creating lessons for two new interventions this fall: one that focuses on boosting SEL and literacy in high school, and another on promoting positive masculinity.
David is particularly interested in professional development for youth workers. “These young adults have real potential to make a difference in the lives of the kids they work with,” he said.
One challenge, Heller notes, is that “We often teach the way that we were taught.” He has often encountered youth workers who were running groups in the same didactic, adult-centered way they had been taught themselves. “I helped them flip it, so the young people had to do the thinking,” he said.
He’s working to add opportunities for reflection for group leaders while they run sessions using Youth Communication lessons and stories. The reflections will help educators be more conscious of how they support youth in their group and connect to themes in the stories.
Building those connections is at the core of Youth Communication’s Story-Based Approach, which provides educators with compelling stories, engaging lessons and professional development to promote reflection, critical thinking, dialogue and, ultimately, gains in literacy and SEL skills.
“With YC stories there are no right or wrong answers,” he said. “It’s about processing what the story’s telling you.”
“I used to tell my students, ‘It’s not always, ‘find the answer to this question.’ We can go through these experiences vicariously while we’re reading; we don’t have to live them. We can think about how we might react and use what we’re reading to learn about ourselves and the world.'”