Earlier this month I attended a funeral service for someone I hadn't seen in quite a few years. He was the pastor of the church I attended as a child and teen. But he was more than that. For many years he was that caring adult in my life outside of my family. What made the relationship so special was it was based on kindness. If I ever needed an ear, a hug, a laugh, or a piece of chocolate I could count on him. What truly made him unique was he was the caring adult to so many. Young and old, new relationships and long lasting, he had the special ability to let you know you were special, you were loved, you were valued.
In my years of youth services, I have always found that if I can do one thing to make a child or youth's day better it is to be kind. To be that one caring adult that the Search Institute refers to in their 40 Developmental Assets. I may not be able to solve all the problems but I can offer a kind word, tie a shoe, give a high five, tell a joke, and sometimes share a piece of chocolate.
So my challenge to you today is to be the one. Be the one who watches an episode of Dr. Who so you can have a conversation with the self-labelled Whovian, listen to an a recording artist you may never have thought to before to have a discussion with their fan, find someone who needs a high five, and if you feel so inclined share a chocolate bar with someone to make them feel special.
For breakfast I chugged a mug of coffee because I was in a hurry and then snacked on handful of pretzels and almonds.
Under normal circumstances, I'm not one to be political in a public and professional forum, but really, I'm in need of some writing therapy. Every day, I read the latest news story about another negative appointment to the President- elect's cabinet. Who knew there were so many people who both seem to despise the role of government AND also want to lead it? While alarming, those aren't even the most upsetting parts of my daily doldrums. What really brings me down are the escalating stories about racist attacks on a whole array of people who are part of the fabric and heart of this country. Apparently freed by Donald Trump's purposefully divisive and unimaginably offensive comments, far too many people are letting lose what they really think.
To battle my dark cloud, I have three shining lights that brighten my day:
2) Expanded learning programs and staff who make a difference in the lives of young people.
3) The amazing young people who will be that difference.
The day after the election, the Partnership for Children & Youth co-hosted a public seminar on social-emotional learning in Sacramento. Driving up from Oakland that morning, I couldn't think past the previous night's unbelievable disappointment. I also assumed there would be zero attendance at the seminar.
Much to my surprise, the room was packed with energetic people, eager to be positive, forward-thinking and impactful. Love California! (If you haven't already, please read this inspiring statement from the California Legislature.) The conversation about social-emotional learning was certainly timely – what stronger call to action than the election of a person who lacks the most basic skills around self-management, social awareness, growth mindset, etc. As you can imagine, the conversation was rich. It focused on the educational imperative to go beyond testing and academics, and to intentionally and effectively support students in building the skills they will need to be responsible, inclusive and active citizens. These citizens – with stronger critical thinking skills and experience as leaders - can work together to build and maintain a positive community for everyone.
Expanded learning was a primary player in this conversation. With deep roots in youth development, expanded learning programs help young people understand their potential and reach for it. Staff, like you, are deeply committed to creating safe spaces, giving kids the opportunity to learn and practice skills, encouraging their ideas and actions, and teaching them about their impact on each other and the world. The essence of youth worker skill is captured in the CDE's quality standards that clearly define what we're doing to make young people feel "I am, I belong, I can" – the essence of SEL skills as defined by your peers in "Student Success Comes Full Circle." Thank you, ELO staff. You are nurturing the next and better generation.
My 16-year-old daughter cried the night Trump won. But, she woke up in the morning with a smile and the realization that she'll be 18 and eligible to vote in the mid-term election. And then there's my favorite map from the election – showing the beautiful blue voting patterns of 18 to 25-year-olds. Watch out, Trump! There are a lot of smart, extremely motivated young women and men eager to mess with your agenda. Amazing young people who will be the difference!
For breakfast, I've been adding extra sugar in my coffee, hoping to get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth.
With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, life can become overwhelming. As youth workers we want the young people we work with to embrace the positive messages of the holiday season, be it gratitude and thankfulness to knowing that they are loved and cherished. While we go the extra mile at work to ensure our youth enjoy their holiday season, we may also be stressing about our personal schedules and responsibilities around the holidays. How will I find time to purchase all those presents, not to mention wrap them, attend the overabundance of holiday parties, prepare a turkey, bake the cookies, and still enjoy what the holidays are meant to be?
Enter, the Power of Positive Thought!
The power of remaining positive, whatever the situation, can never be underestimated. The true test of an individual to remain positive is when challenges become difficult. Remaining positive keeps one's mind in the right state of balance and often opens resolutions to the problems at hand.
Embracing the Power of Positive Thought is a mindset that can be found at any moment, and turned into a habit. Here are some ways to embrace the Power of Positive Thought:
Shift Your Thoughts
Be conscious of your thoughts. The moment you realize you are diving into frustration, distress, or low self-esteem – shift your thoughts, think about something completely unrelated. This breaks the pattern of negativity. We have the ability to control our thoughts and think for ourselves.
Find the Lesson
No matter how unfortunate a situation may appear, recognize the beautiful lessons waiting to be discovered. You may have made a mistake, but now you can accept it and continue, knowing that you will make a different decision in the future. Understand that every problem is a learning opportunity in disguise.
Attitude of Gratitude
You cannot be both angry and grateful at the same time! Start counting the blessings and miracles in your life, start looking for them and you shall find more. You think that you don't have anything to be grateful for? You are alive and breathing! Realize how fortunate you are and all of the abundance in your life.
Positive Affirmations & Visualization
Practice seeing yourself in a positive and confident light. Try it whenever you have a few minutes. Self-affirmations (list of positive statements about yourself and your self-image) are another simple and powerful tool to train your subconscious to see yourself in a positive light. This is important, as many of us can be extremely hard on ourselves!
Inventory of Memories
Keep an inventory of memories that can immediately make you smile. Recall occasions where you felt happy, appreciative and cheerful...when you were at peace with the world. Whenever you are in a negative frame of mind, reminisce on those happy moments to bring a balanced perspective to your situation. You realize that what appears negative today will change tomorrow. Nothing stays the same.
Whether you are positive or negative, the situation does not change. So, we might as well be positive, right? As with any habit, the habit of embracing the power of positive thought in all situations takes practice and a commitment to take control. Start small, paying attention to your emotions, and you have to start by wanting to change. Keep going at it, and you will gradually become a positive energy source for the others around you!
Source: Think Simple Now
For breakfast, I had creme brulee coffee with almond vanilla oatmeal!
Use of The Enneagram – a personality profiling system – has risen in popularity in the past few years. Some scholars trace its use to ancient cultures and religions, but its use in post-modern self-awareness growth can be more attributed to psychological, sociological, and mystical studies beginning in the 1960's and 1970's.
Serious Enneagram practitioners and scholars would caution lay people about using it as a parlous trick to amuse ourselves. It was, after all, designed to help us understand our driving fears and anger, and not just puff up our self-perceptions. The nine points on the Enneagram help define general types of personalities who have specific fears, shame, and anger about themselves and the world around; each type has communication patterns that, when misunderstood, create conflict. By understanding our communication patterns and what's driving our reactions, we can begin to take a step back and choose how to interact with ourselves, others, and God differently.
That's an incredibly basic overview. The Enneagram is far more nuanced than a single paragraph definition.
But what about typing kids on the Enneagram? Have you tried? Are you wondering?
Whether you've already done it or not, whether you're reluctant or not, and whether this is all brand new to you or not, here are some important points to consider:
1. Children are learning about themselves, their fears, their insecurities, their typical habits, and communication patterns all for the very first time. You might see classic Type 5 traits in your child or student, but your child has no idea what a Type 5 is. Remember to see kids as kids first, whole and entire. The Enneagram can be a good tool, but it is only one kind of description on a huge tool-kit of descriptors. Make sure children have plenty of space to explore the world and who they are first.
2. Your "classic Type 2" child could act like a Type 2 for an entire year and suddenly turn into a Type 8 overnight. Children grow at a rapid pace. Some personality traits we'll be able to see consistently from the start, and others will change with age and experiences. Some events, like trauma for instance, have the potential to change a child's personality traits on a neurological level. Given that children's personalities are so beautifully transient, prepare for all types flying at you even if there are consistent patterns that present themselves. Until puberty settles down, accept the roller coaster ride. We've all been there.
One of the great things about The Enneagram is that it expects change and flux, even in adults! Who we are today will not be the people we are in ten years. Knowing this, accepting the faster and tighter personality development in children becomes not only acceptable, but far more manageable.
3. Take the time to learn about the Enneagram and how the different types communicate. Even with the rapid changes children go through, it can be a beneficial tool to understand how Type 4s communicate and try to respond in kind. Your child may or may not be a Type 4, but if you land on a communication style that your child responds to, that's a huge relationship booster unto itself. Putting aside typing any child, it is beneficial for you as the adult to know the many different ways we all communicate and why. Armed with these understandings, we can respond in more effective and loving ways.
4. Walk your talk, friends. Allow children to see and hear you and your vulnerabilities on an age-appropriate level. For example, if you as an after-school caregiver withdraws from a specific child after the child perhaps demands a lot of time and space, the child will be puzzled and want to know why. You, yourself, might understand that you're a Type 5, and 5s not only want but absolutely must have alone time. Not only that, but their reserves of affection are limited.
Obviously, the child does not need to know all of this, especially if they're quite young. However you can explain to them that you honour their need for your time and attention; when you are with them, you can commit to being fully present. Gauge carefully why the child is demanding your attention. If it's your attention solely that they're demanding, tread cautiously so as not to break trust. However, if you can sense that this child simply loves attention and interaction, commit to the child that you'll introduce them to other people they might find interesting. That way, the child's needs for interaction are fulfilled but these needs aren't weighing on your shoulders alone. Type 5s will know this well already, but Type 2s might want to shrug off the suggestion and be the child's sole helper!
We could talk endlessly about the ethics and dynamics of having children placed on The Enneagram. My thoughts are pretty basic: as long as you're committed to relating to kids as kids first and foremost, using The Enneagram as a tool can be a good thing. Refrain from the temptation to type kids – or anyone – and remember that personalities are continually changing and forming. Use The Enneagram yourself to learn different communication styles. This is key! Imagine discovering the communication style of a particularly difficult child in your classroom, your respond to that need, and suddenly the tension in the room drops dramatically. It won't be a problem solver, but rather create a new beginning and the potential for a healthier relationship.
For breakfast, I had a bowl of Optimum Blueberry Cinnamon Cereal, an apple, and a glass of water.
Today is Election Day and while we have read, watched, discussed and likely studied candidates, policies, and perspectives, our civic education shouldn't slow down after this important date. As educators, we have the opportunity to creatively teach and engage young people in civic education. Heather Loewecke, Senior Program Manager, Afterschool and Youth Leadership Initiatives at Asia Society has written a timely piece, Civics Education is the Foundation for Global Citizenship, that we highly encourage you to read and take hold of the resources provided within the article.
Here are a few stats that emerge from this piece:
• Despite the mission to promote a thriving democracy, American public schools are inadequately preparing students for participation in civic life. Only 24 percent of high school seniors scored proficient or higher on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam.
• Only about 20 percent of young adults aged 18-29 voted in the 2014 elections, the lowest turnout for that demographic ever recorded for a federal election.
• A 2016 Annenberg Public Policy poll reflected that American adults know very little about the US government, with the majority of respondents unable to answer basic questions.
In response to these staggering statistics, Heather shares the benefits of civic education, what's being done in education settings, and additional resources. Visit Asia Society's Center for Global Education website to read this piece.
In addition to this article, Asia Society has also created a companion unit plan overview sheet for afterschool workers. Be sure to visit their site to access this valuable resource. Let us know what your program is doing to engage youth in civic education!
Here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we're less than two weeks from the last day of school and the launch of 11 weeks of summer day camps. My division of the Ann Arbor Public School district – Community Education and Recreation – is busy preparing for over 100 camps, dozens of staff, and thousands of campers. Through our popular High school Volunteer Program, 160 teens will build skills and provide assistance at our summer camps.
For many of our teen camp volunteers, this is a first job-related experience. Of course, we provide training on safety, working with children, assisting lead counselors, communicating with parents, and so on. But we also want to engage teens to think of themselves instrumental in setting a positive camp culture.
How do you build teen volunteers' awareness of and capacity to contribute to a positive camp culture? Here are Ann Arbor Rec & Ed's top 5 training activities for teen volunteers.
1. Ideally, experienced teen volunteers will be your partners in developing and leading your training agenda for new volunteers. According to the Youth Driven Spaces Initiative, developing youth leadership and voice can happen through Youth Advisory Councils and other program structures, with the overall goal of increasing engagement and skill of older youth.
2. Share your organization's vision and mission for summer camps. Why do you provide summer camps? In what ways do you strive be a positive force in children's lives? Use aspirational language to explain your organization's purpose. Invite your teen volunteers to react and add to this vision, sharing their own experiences where applicable.
3. Conduct a quick self-assessment. A quick review of a core set of skills for working with children can be really helpful to teens, especially those in this role for the first time. We like this basic list of 5 skills and qualities for those who want to work with children: patience; the ability to hide frustration and annoyance; keeping calm in an emergency; communication; and enthusiasm. We ask our teen volunteers to talk about their areas of greatest strengths and weakness in this skill set.
4. Help teen volunteers understand their unique contributions to a positive camp culture. High school students are likely to relate the idea of "camp culture" best in relation to their own lives at school.
○ Large group brainstorm: Think about your favorite high school class, one where you're really engaged and enjoy learning. How would you describe the classroom culture? Generate a list of the aspects of the class they like, including relationships, traditions, attitudes, and activities.
○ Reviewing the list, ask if another person were to walk into your favorite classroom, what would he or she observe? (Examples: Smiling faces? Would students be active and engaged in their learning? Are students showing respect to each other?)
○ Help them "crosswalk" their answers from their favorite classroom to what a favorite summer day camp might look like. What characteristics would be the same, what would be different? What would they add to make it even better?
○ Finally, have them take a 2-3 quiet minutes to think about what they believe their unique contributions to a child's favorite camp would look like. They can share with a partner or the whole group.
5. Monitor, support, coach - When observing teen volunteers at camps, be sure to notice and give feedback when you see them contributing to a positive camp culture.
Teen volunteers can be an essential part of any day camp. Help them understand their role as a mentor and change-maker in the lives of younger children -- they and their campers will reap the rewards.
For breakfast this morning, I had a bowl of cereal and a banana. (And coffee, of course.)
My two driving passions are youth development and access to fresh food, so the idea of incorporating gardening into youth programs gets me very fired up. There are a lot of great garden resources out there including this previous Breakfast Club Blog: Garden-Based Learning. Truth be told I could chat about gardening plans and show you pictures of my little urban garden all day. But first we should talk about how gardening fits in to your bigger, grander program plan. Because gardening fits into every program plan.
A garden is the ideal spot to grow your program, regardless of the ages you serve, regardless of your focus, regardless of the amount of space you have. I believe every youth program can and should have a garden. Maybe it will just be some pots of lettuce grown on a shady balcony, an old kiddie pool transformed into a butterfly garden, or maybe it will be a grand space that engages the whole community. Either way, a garden will make your program stronger.
Let's dig in to this idea a bit, shall we? (Sorry no more garden puns, I promise.) Here are my top tips on how to connect your garden and other program components.
Art and Gardening – Admit it, gardens are beautiful! Why not use them as a point of inspiration?
Tip 1: Decorate your garden with hand crafted crop markers, pinwheels and sculptures.
Tip 2: Use produce scraps and seconds to create natural tie-dye.
Tip 3: Pick a medium, (sketching, watercolors, digital photography, etc.) and then create images of the garden during different seasons.
Tip 4: Let kids re-decorate old pots (ask for donations from your neighborhood home improvement store) and then take a small part of the garden home. Better yet, take the finished pots filled with flowers to a local nursing home.
Basic Skills and Gardening – For some of our kids reading and/or math are brutally hard and the thought of enrichment can and does result in frustration. Gardening can provide a peaceful space to subtly work on these skills.
Tip 1: Ask students to read seed package instructions out loud.
Tip 2: Have rules and tape measures on hand so students can properly space plants for maximum harvest
Tip 3: Install a rain gauge and have students track the water changes over time.
Tip 4: Have a garden-based spelling bee or poetry contest. Host it in your garden and serve your harvest as snacks.
Tip 5: Add a writing corner/ bench/table in the garden and encourage kids to take a break and reflect on their gardening experience in a journal.
Character Development and Gardening – Successful gardens require many of the same soft skills that kids need to be successful in school and work.
Tip 1: Create a garden chore chart and ensure that every kid experiences all the tasks.
Tip 2: Establish group agreements/garden rules as a team and post them so everyone can enjoy the garden.
Tip 3: ALWAYS clean your garden tools after each use and store them appropriately.
Tip 4: Allow for some quite time in the garden every week and teach kids ways to meditate, reflect and recharge internally.
Nutrition and Gardening – Ok, so these seems like a no-brainer. Let's be honest, what is the use of having fresh food if kids don't eat it?
Tip 1: Instead of asking if kids like the taste of vegetables, ask them to describe the taste. Is it crunchy, bitter, sour, squishy or snappy? Would it taste better with a dash of salt, a pinch of pepper or maybe a tiny squirt of honey?
Tip 2: Pair fruits and veggies together (spinach and strawberry salad, oranges and roasted beets) to increase appeal and expand the healthiness of the dish.
Tip 3: Try it with them. Yep, if you want kids to try a bite of watermelon radish, you need to try it too. (Oh and watermelon radishes are soooo good, by the way!)
Tip 4: Conduct a taste test of different varieties of the same fruit or veggie. Let kids rank the items. Keep track of the kids' favorites too and you will have an easier time selecting varieties for next year.
STEM and Gardening – Another no brainer, perhaps. Yet, a lot of STEM activities fail to include agriculture. Whether you want to explore biology by watching a seed transform into a plant or you want to use technology to create a crop rotation plan, a garden can be your own personal STEM lab.
Tip 1: Include your garden plans into STEM funding requests.
Tip 2: Engage food scientists, farmers and processors as volunteers and speakers. (I still hear from students about the time that a tomato processor explained how spaghetti sauce was made)
Tip 3: Have students explore the impact of droughts, climate change, temperature fluctuation on harvests.
Tip 4: Let students design and build unique raised beds to maximize space and/or improve growing conditions.
For breakfast this morning I had a banana, peanut butter toast and lavender tea.
Have you ever looked into a child's eyes and been able to see their pain? As people who work with youth, we want to do everything we can to help that child and make that pain go away. But what is that pain? How can we help?
Emotional pain is typical for children and youth as they develop and mature. These various types of emotional pain can range from anxiety about a big test at school to sadness because of the passing of a beloved pet. These emotional struggles are in line with typical adolescent development and maturity so they tend to be short lived and transient in nature. However, when the pain persists, it may be time to seek professional help.
While most kids and teens are physically and emotional healthy, one in every five youth ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). So what does mental illness in children and teens look like?
May is the perfect month for us to be thinking about the mental health of children and teens as May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been reaching millions of people through local events and media to help breakdown the stigma of mental health, provide training and education opportunities, as well as, connecting those in need of mental health services to appropriate help.
Do you feel confident in yourself to be able to identify the warning signs of depression, suicide, or the onset of other mental illnesses? As youth workers and educators we are required to take on a number of different rolls while working with youth, I would strongly encourage you to seek out training opportunities in your area to learn more about youth mental health. But in the meantime, here are some standard warning signs for children and teens provided by NAMI:
Being aware of the warning signs above is a tremendous help, I challenge you to go a step further and complete some kind of mental health or suicide training as you might be the one to help save the life of a child. Here are my recommendations:
For breakfast this morning I enjoyed an apple, egg and cheese wrap, and my daily cup of coffee!
If you are an educator responsible for providing a high quality summer program for children and youth in your community, you are probably busy right now with planning for summer and making sure you finish the school year strong. It is easy to fall into the routine of this busy time. Take just a moment to consider some of the proactive things you can do to take your summer program to the next level.
1. Brainstorm ideas for your unique program culture
High quality summer learning programs feel more like camp than school. If your program is school based consider decorating and re-branding classrooms and other learning spaces. With the right theme, you can transform a classroom into a cabin or a cafeteria into a mess hall. Or go with a space theme and turn the office into mission control. The opportunities are endless.
2. Sharpen your plan for professional development
Begin with the end in mind. What are your goals for the training? How will you achieve them? Consider what other support is available for summer program staff. Who will provide coaching? Focus on continuous improvement. Review the feedback you received on the training you provided last year. Are there changes you can make?
3. Find creative ways to give youth a voice
Public Profit developed a great resource, Creative Ways to Solicit Youth Input, that has many non-traditional ways to solicit input from youth, including interviews, collages, and song and dance routines.
4. Plan an event for National Summer Learning Day
Summer Learning Day is July 14, 2016! Summer Learning Day is an annual national advocacy day led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer.
5. Engage a local leader as your Summer Matters Champion
Have your superintendent or other local leaders sign on publicly to say that summer matters in your community. You can also host a site visit with local stakeholders such as superintendents, school board members, and community members to highlight your summer program.
What are you doing differently to get ready for summer this year? Tell us in the comments below.
This past month, our iTHINKBIG.ORG school assembly team completed 50, thirty-minute interviews, with High School and Middle School students across San Diego. Participants crossed economic and racial backgrounds. The question was, "What's trending now?" This is what we found out. Hang on, the results are surprising:
• R&B, Pop, Hip Hop, Rap - 40%
• Country - 16%
• Alternative Rock/Indie/Rock - 8%
• Other - 36% (They are listening to: One Direction, Fetty Wap, 21Pilots, Drake, 1975, Weekend, Bieber, Beyoncé, Sam Hunt, Taylor Swift)
• Notebook - 6%
• Longest Ride - 6%
• Other 88% (Almost no front runner, but everyone with different opinions.)
Top Movies in Theatres
• Deadpool - 40%
• Other - 60%
Read outside of school?
• Yes - 64%
• No - 36%
• Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Bible, Harry Potter, Hunger Games (All with 6%.)
Movies or Books?
• Movies - 70%
• Books - 20%
• None - 10%
Do you care about celebrities?
• No - 58%
• Yes - 42% (Mainly Kardashians, Jenners, Bieber, and One Direction.)
What do you do in your free time?
• Hang with friends - 40%
• Sports - 16%
• Watch TV/Netflix/Gaming - 38%
• Nothing - 6%
• "Watch Netflix and Chill" (This is actually intended to be funny - No one actually responded with this answer. This phrase means to "hook up" with a sexual partner. Keep reading and learning!)
What do you not have that you need?
• Money - 34%
• Nothing - 30%
• Car - 16%
• Boyfriend/Girlfriend - 12%
• Good Grades - 8%
Do you try hard at things?
• No - 48%
• Yes - 30%
• Depends/Sometimes - 16%
Are you sad a lot?
• Yes - 52%
• No - 48%
Do you use drugs?
• Yes - 34%
• No - 66%
Is weed good or bad?
• Bad - 68%
• Good - 32%
Do you smoke weed?
• Yes - 40%
• No - 60%
• Yes - 86% (mostly to get married, have kids, make a lot of money)
• No - 14%
Who encourages you most?
• Parents - 40%
• Siblings - 32%
• Friends - 28%
Who are you closest to? Mom or Dad?
• Mom - 40%
• Dad - 36%
• Neither - 24%
Who discourages you most?
• People at school - 56%
• Friends - 24%
• Parents - 20%
5 Ways to Use "What's Trending Now?" To Your Advantage
First, know how to talk with your students. Know what they are "into." Second, regarding your events, this can help you choose the "feel," music you play, and help shape your giveaways. Third, teaching methods. Don't shy away from a quote from a song, reference to a movie, or anything like that when it drives home your point. Fourth, know the family and home dynamics. Most of your student's time is spent away from school. Where are they coming from practically and personally? Lastly, understand your influence as a leader. You got this! Do you remember your favorite teacher? Well, you carry that kind of influence with them. Don't forget it!
For breakfast I had an Almond Perfect Bar.
Image Credit: Flickr