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Essential elements of youth development that every youth worker should know

By Karyn Santl

It’s back-to-school time, which makes me think about going back to the basics. As a youth worker, that means the basics of youth work and positive youth development theory and practice. And for me that means Gisela Konopka’s work.

In the 1970s, Dr. Konopka conducted her research at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. Her work set the national agenda for promoting the health and well being of young people. She said the effectiveness of youth programs can be judged by the opportunities they offer youth and the credibility they enjoy. Stand-out programs give young people the experience of making choices, making commitments and experimenting with a variety of roles to “try out” the choices and commitment they make.

The Extension Center for Youth Development has identified eight critical elements essential to the healthy development of young people. They are based on Konopka's and Karen Pittman's research. Youth will benefit from experiences providing …
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What’s grit and how can I get it?

By Trisha Sheehan

The author Angela Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. She explains it is the ability to persist, to have direction and commitment to something. Perseverance is the ability to continue to work hard even through challenges or failure.

Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, developed the Grit Scale. She names four assets that people with grit share.
Interest We look to interest first. We develop passion by enjoying what we do. There will be pieces of our work we don’t enjoy as much but for those who have grit they truly love what they do.
Practice Those who have grit intentionally grow their capacity to practice. Perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do work better than we did yesterday or the day before that. We want to improve and not just settle for mediocracy.
Purpose Purpose grows our passion. Knowing and understanding the work we do is important to you but also contributes…

How to normalize speaking up against bias

By Jessica Pierson Russo

We talked, my 10-year-old son and I, sitting on the floor of our kitchen. Tears pooled at our chins as he told me that a group of his peers had been telling each other racist jokes. “And mama, I didn’t do anything to stop it.” Our talk was deep and meaningful. I told him it was indeed wrong of him not to have said anything. But I didn’t condemn him for it.

“The important thing is, what will you do next time?” It was important to me that he didn't attach his inaction to his sense of being, or to that of the others. That kind of behavior is not native to a child. My message: "That is not who you are."

We talked about our country’s history of racism—something I’d been teaching him since age three. We talked about how differently each of us experience racism every day. We talked until I could see he felt himself again, this time armed with an experience he would learn from.

There’s a lot more to that story. I’m telling it now to drive home the importa…

Why do young people volunteer?

By Karen Beranek

What is the best part of youth work? Seeing the young people grow!

When I said that, did a name or face come to mind? Growth in leadership, character, decision-making, maturity, communicating – any and all - are signs that a young person is prepared for their future.

Recently, I saw a strong team of dynamic high school students reflect on their own growth during a volunteer leadership experience.

Penguins, innovation and youth programs

By Margo Bowerman

I admit it. I am a science nerd. And while I thought history didn’t interest me, I’m geeking out on the history of innovation and technology development. Thank you Steven Johnson! I’m wondering how to apply what I’ve learned about technological innovations to the Minnesota 4-H youth development program.

We have an initiative to expand the reach of the program, while increasing its relevance to society and maintaining high program quality. Our Program Director Dorothy McCargo Freeman has challenged us to be innovative and creative.

Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Be curious, be observant and ask questions Freeman refers to the book and video, Our Iceberg is Melting. In this book, a penguin colony faces the potential demise of the iceberg they call home. The story is a metaphor for how to significantly change an organization. In this story, the first penguin to notice there is something wrong was curious beyond typical penguin activities and investigated things that wer…

Three tips for promoting youth and volunteer engagement

By Nancy Hegland

This year’s University of Minnesota employee engagement survey is out. As a program leader I care very much about this subject. So what exactly is employee engagement, you ask?
The University's Office of Human Resources defines it as the extent to which individuals devote time, energy and effort at work. The highest levels of engagement come from facing meaningful challenges while having the support, resources and confidence to address them. Engaged employees are focused, energetic, mentally resilient, committed and involved. They say positive things about their workplace and recommend it to others.

Don’t compete. Connect.

By Joshua Kukowski

Recently, my daughter asked me to run in a local 5K. I asked her why she wanted to do this and she said “I want a medal.” While I was enthused at this new physical challenge with her, I was also concerned as to her reason for doing it.

Vince Lombardi said that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Alfie Kohn describes that one can easily see how childhood is filled with this competitive mindset of winners and losers. College scholarships, beauty contests, one-act play competitions, purple ribbons at county and state fairs, state sports tournaments and college admissions are a few that come to mind and there are many more. Each of these has clearly defined winners and losers.