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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why do adult volunteers need cultural competency?

molly-frendo.jpg"Our community isn't really that diverse. When there are so many important skills for me to learn, why should I focus on diversity?" I've often heard this question as I've worked with adult volunteers in youth development roles.

So often, diversity is reduced to what we can see: race, gender, age, and perhaps ability. But culture is so much more than what we can see -- it includes the experiences, beliefs, and values that give us membership to a certain group.

Individuals belong to multiple identity categories. For instance, I am a White, heterosexual female member of the Millennial generation. I am highly educated, a transplant to Minnesota, and a middle-class single adult. All of these things together (and beyond!) make me who I am. Only a few of these identity categories are apparent by looking at me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Working as a team can be the biggest challenge of all

hui-hui-wang.jpgWhat did young people on the Engineering Design Challenge teams this past year learn from the experience? Notably, one main takeaway for youth was that building a team can be as challenging as building a Rube Goldberg design.

At the end of the first season of our engineering design challenge recently, we asked each member of the 22 teams about the experience. What did they learn? What obstacles did they overcome as they built their Rube Goldberg Machine together?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Youth voice requires online access, literacy

trudy-dunham.jpg2014 marks both the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the creation of the World Wide Web. It wouldn't have occurred to me to connect these two transformational events, but it occurred to Urs Gasser, and I'm glad it did. He reminds us that that the world wide web is a major tool for young people to access and exercise their rights. And that youth voice, their participation in discussions on the key issues of today, is vital.

Gasser acknowledges that even after 25 years, disparities remain in the well-being of children and youth: their ability to exercise their rights, and in their online access and network literacy. These disparities place our children at risk, as well as the health and well-being of our society overall.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cross-age teaching has social and emotional benefits

amber-shanahan.jpgTeens and younger youth both benefit from cross-age teaching. In fact, it may be the most effective way to provide opportunities for positive youth development and encourage youth to avoid delinquent behaviors. Younger children respond enthusiastically to teen behavior modeling, so rapport is established very quickly.

Our center runs the 4-H Youth Teaching Youth program (4-H YTY) in four Minnesota counties. The model includes strong partnerships between county-based 4-H programs and local schools. During the 2013-2014 school year, our staff trained 761 teen teachers, and they in turn taught the 4-H YTY curricula to nearly 10,000 elementary-aged youth in greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area school districts, making it one of the largest 4-H projects in Minnesota.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Professional development is money in the bank for youth-serving organizations

nancy-hegland.jpgHigh-quality youth development programs rely on staff and volunteers to deliver programs that meet an identified need in the community. To do their work well, youth workers need high-quality professional development. But options are sometimes limited by funding, time and availability. We need to overcome these obstacles to ensure that youth workers get the professional development they need to keep programs valuable to the communities they serve.

Research has shown that it pays off in the form of:
  • staff retention
  • improved health and safety
  • reduced stress
  • leadership succession
  • improved program quality
  • reduced hiring and orientation costs
  • improved job satisfaction
  • faster more successful organizational change

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Data injection could be a shot in the arm for your program

betsy-olson.jpgEven the strongest youth program can stagnate. The initial energy can wane over time, leaving you as a program leader wondering why. Data about your program may offer some insights and solutions for re-energizing.

Demographic data and the population characteristics often drive initial program design and creation. Updating our understanding of these data can help us to reinvigorate a program by showing the continued relevance of the program to the community we serve, or to adjust the program by seeing the changed landscape.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Inquiry-based learning for volunteer-led youth programs

josh-rice.jpgDo you learn and remember better when somebody tells you the answer, or when you work through the problem yourself? Chances are you will say "when I figure it out myself". This is the crux of inquiry-based learning, and it's one of the things that 4-H does best.

From the time a 4-H member selects a project area until its completion, 4-H youth are immersed in solving problems hands-on. As you may know, the 4-H program is delivered primarily by volunteers using the resources of a land-grant institution. It's up to us as program leaders to make it possible for volunteers to help young people do hands-on learning in an effective way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Slow down and see cultural resilience

margo-herman.jpg"Cultural resiliency is what we call the competencies acquired through diverse life experiences, which then become the foundation from which students can develop essential 21st century skills: innovation, adaptability, critical analysis, cross-cultural communication, and teamwork." -- E3 - Education, Excellence, Equity

This quote set the context for our Oct. 2 public symposium on social and emotional learning Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz of E3 spent two days with us challenging our thinking about SEL, sharing his talent and his research that bridges academic assessment with culturally responsive teaching.

The cultural resilience content he presented refined my thinking about integrating social emotional learning into my youth development work. One nugget that still has me pondering is defining youth engagement strategies that reflect cultural resilience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When times are bad

Nicole-Pokorney.jpgThis blog post isn't going to be research-filled or one of great insight and wisdom, but one that comes from my heart. As I sit to write this week, I am reminded that ten years ago, a student I worked with passed away in a sudden accident. He was a senior in high school. I was six years into full-time youth ministry and had been in the youth development field for over ten years. I was on a bus full of youth headed back to the church from a service project when I received the call. Nothing had prepared me for having to break the news to the high school students on the bus. When we arrived at the church, youth had started to gather and within two hours, over 200 youth congregated in the basement of the church.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WeConnect: A global youth citizenship curriculum

Jennifer-Skuza.jpgCitizenship is a concept commonly used in the field of youth development. It typically refers to young people being positively engaged in their communities. But what happens when you add global to citizenship?

By adding this word, the scope of youth citizenship grows vastly and helps us re-imagine the arena in which youth live, learn, work and play. Global citizenship has been described as a continuum that ranges from being aware of the interdependent nature of our world, to understanding how local and global issues affect the lives of people around the world, to taking action to create a more equitable world. We see global citizenship as an outlook on life, a belief that people can make a difference, and a way of behaving that follows suit.

Jessica we-connect-cropped.jpgPierson Russo and I have developed a resource for youth-serving organizations and schools entitled WeConnect: A Global Youth Citizenship Curriculum. It's a program model and curriculum designed to show youth that they are participants in a global society, inspiring a sense of understanding and confidence in relating and connecting to other people.

WeConnect was developed with middle school-aged youth (grades 6-8 and ages 11-14) in mind but can be adapted to suit both younger and older age groups. The program model is designed for nonformal education settings such as after-school programs or clubs. It includes a coordinated series of experiential and interactive exercises that prepare youth to thrive in culturally diverse settings--whether these settings are part of their school day, home life, social life, or workplace--by giving them the opportunity to learn and use culturally responsive skills and knowledge that stem from international education, which is one specific form of cultural education. The curriculum presents lessons that will help guide youth beyond knowing that we are citizens of the globe to an acknowledgement of our responsibilities to each other and the world around us. They help youth examine their everyday lives and move them to take action that leads toward positive change.

The exercises are organized into four phases of building cultural knowledge and skills:
  • Phase 1: Exploring
  • Phase 2: Stretching
  • Phase 3: Challenging
  • Phase 4: Connecting
Youth can and do play an active role in creating a culture of global citizenship, which is a vital aspect of developing a peaceful and prosperous human civilization and nurturing the growth and development of young people.

Our publication, WeConnect: A Global Youth Citizenship Curriculum is for sale on the National 4-H website. Thank you to the Minnesota 4-H Foundation for funding this publication.

-- Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD, assistant dean

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Your source for youth development research

I want you to know about a valuable educational resource. We have a new trove of research papers, presentation recordings, and analysis about youth development research available on our website. These resources are curated by our Extension faculty specialists in youth development, STEM education, program quality, culture and diversity, program evaluation, citizenship and leadership and much more.

It's valuable for:
  • practitioners
  • researchers
  • university of college students
  • supporters and stakeholders
If you are practitioner, you can use this collection in your scholarship, to keep informed about program quality, find seminal works about positive youth development or identify studies that show how youth programs make a difference in young people's lives. This resource may also help support your goal of becoming a more actively engaged scholarly practitioner.

Researchers may use this site to stay abreast of current literature in the field and to see what types of issues practitioners are addressing through their work.

If you are a college or university student, you can use this collection to inform your research base when writing papers, when carrying out scholarly projects or to inform your community work. You will find credible print materials and videos that can be applied to your education.

Youth development supporters or stakeholders may use this collection to stay on top of youth development trends while staying anchored in the research that informs the foundation of our field.
Each page also contains a feed of "What we're reading" - a constantly changing list of news and journal articles that we come across in our daily work, curated by our faculty.

To keep these pages fresh, we welcome your feedback. Please tell us what you think! And feel free to suggest new works to include, by clicking on the feedback button on every page, or contacting our faculty expert, whose name appears on each page.

We hope you enjoy this resource!

-- Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD, assistant dean

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Skills development should not be our primary goal

Joanna-Tzenis.jpgTo what extent does skill development matter for youth and their futures? What else do they need to follow their dreams in education?

In a past blog entry, I used the capabilities approach as a framework to understand the various conditions that may influence whether or not a youth may translate his or her STEM knowledge into a STEM career. I offered that scenario as an example, but this doesn't mean we expect all youth in STEM clubs to pursue STEM professions. If we measured the effectiveness of STEM programs by the number of engineers we produced, we'd be painting an incomplete picture.

When I talk about capabilities, I'm referring to the freedom young people have to make choices to achieve their goals and accomplish something that's important to them. I think it's more important for them to be able to address and overcome obstacles than it is to learn marketable job skills. This is particularly so for youth who face additional constraints on their freedom on account of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc.

Research shows that there are various constraints that keep young people from being able to choose a positive educational trajectory:

Material and physical constraints
Adequate food, access to
youth-working-on-stem-project.jpgpublic transportation, a quiet place to study at home

Sociocultural constraints
Norms about gender and racial equality, lack of support, language barriers

Psychological constraints
Issues of mental health, trauma, feelings of safety and belonging

STEM skills are important academically, but are they truly the primary goal of non-formal STEM programs? I would argue that they are not. For instance, in this case of the Urban 4-H STEM program design, the practice of goal-setting and reflection may or may not lead youth to become engineers. More importantly, it promotes them to reflection and awareness of their capabilities.

My colleague Kate Walker wrote about the importance of developing social and emotional skills, which I believe play a critical role in developing youth capabilities. For example, a youth learning to effectively handle emotions that arise in her STEM projects may help her handle emotions at home. This might be just the skill she needs to be happier in a non-academic context and in present time. It might also free her to pursue opportunities in sports, the arts, or yes, STEM. The capabilities approach allows young people to be full participants in the improvement of their current social life, while also allowing them to aspire to achieve future valued outcomes.

What do you think? To what extent might non-formal STEM education programs create conditions that influence youth's freedoms to choose to follow their dreams? Do they need skills to succeed?

-- Joanna Tzenis, assistant Extension professor, Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR)

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Breaking habits and building creativity

Rebecca-Meyer.jpgCreativity is on the decline in the U.S. I am learning that creativity takes practice--actually, it takes a LOT of practice--and that sharing ideas is a far better strategy than holding ideas close.

In a prior blog post, Mark Haugen challenged us to improve our programs by changing a habit. I'm taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Creative Problem Solving. It's a way to learn more about sparking creativity in our youth, (a 21st century skill) and maybe to become more creative myself.

The notion of change is inherent in the course syllabus. Each week, an assignment calls on us to do something different -- in other words change a habit. These Do Something Different (DSDs) assignments (e.g., talk to someone different, or eat something different) tug at something inside, a deep exploration of my core habits and values. Although relatively simple in design, they push me outside of my comfort zone. While in certain moments it can be very uncomfortable, the experiences are quite profound - especially through the interactions with the thousands of other students in the course.

My interest in creativity is centered around designing STEM programs for youth. I've written a number of blog posts about developing 21st century skills like creativity.

The MOOC has me thinking more about how to change and improve specific program habits to intentionally target creativity and innovation. For instance, my 52,000 fellow students are on every continent, from the largest cities in the world to remote jungles. I wonder what would happen if we could design our STEM youth programs to interconnect so many youth across programs and countries in the rich work of STEM and design, specifically engaging youth globally in practices of creativity doing things different and outside their comforts. Opportunities like Maker Camps hint at the possibilities.

coral-reef.jpgIn his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Steven Johnson focuses on "the space of innovation" and the environments that can spur or curb it. He describes Darwin's paradox of the diversity of life in ocean reefs surrounded by nutrient-poor waters. Like the oasis in the desert, it is rich in innovation and complexity, different from everything around it. What causes an oasis or a reef to form? Could a "creativity reef" be created through our own effort? Could a youth program be such a place?

Methods like the MOOC put us at the frontiers of youth program design and can be a generative space for creativity. It's exciting and will require us to be both courageous and take risks.

So, how can we do a better job of interconnecting youth in our programs to become the rich "reefs" where innovation is truly developed?

-- Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator, educational design & development

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Increase reflection to strengthen program quality

anne-stevenson.jpgReflection is essential for learning. Creating opportunities for young people to reflect on their experiences is a critical component to strengthening program quality, yet is often the most challenging to implement.

So why is it so hard to do in our programs?

We fall into the trap of thinking of reflection as something that can only be done at the end of a program session, and we often run short of time to finish an activity, let alone reflection. Most of us are not taught to be reflective learners nor are young people offered much opportunity to pause and reflect as part of their typical day or out-of-school program schedule.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who is getting outdoors? Mainly the white and well-off

Cathy-Jordan.jpgHave you been to a national park lately? If so, then chances are, you're white and have a relatively high income.

Recently I've attended several events about children, families and outdoor play and learning. I noticed that, whether it was a professional event held in a conference room or a family event in a park, most of the attendees looked like me. This observation is borne out by research. Though some advances in gender diversity have been made within the "green workforce", racial diversity lags far behind.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found that visitors to parks in Minnesota are more likely to be white and non-Hispanic and have higher incomes than the Minnesota population overall. In 2007, 98% of park users were white. Some creative strategies on the part of the DNR have begun to shift the balance, though. Focus group information gathered by the Metropolitan Council suggests that various cultural groups use parks more or less frequently, use the parks differently, have different needs, and hold different perceptions about parks, such as how safe they are.
Disparities in who has access to and who uses outdoor recreation andKids-looking-at-stream.jpg learning environments matters. We know that time spent in nature provides a host of health, mental health, educational and developmental benefits, especially for children and youth. Getting kids and families of color and immigrant children and families out into nature is increasingly important as our state's demographics diversify.
We might be more successful in getting people into nature if the adults -- the park rangers, trail guides, naturalists, youth workers, and environmental educators -- reflected our state's increasing diversity. In part, this is the work of Wilderness Inquiry's Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA). UWCA is also connecting thousands of urban youth to nature through learning adventures in parks, lakes and rivers in our urban environment with the aim of improving health and engagement with learning. Maybe these young people will engage with nature enough to pursue careers or avocation in the parks as adults.
These disparities in access and use are the focus of a Nov. 5 all-day event in Maplewood, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Children and Nature Connection. "Connecting Diverse Communities to the Outdoors: Addressing Culture, Equity and Access." The issues will be framed by Ryan O'Connor, Ramsey County policy and planning director, informed by the research of Yingling Fan at the University of Minnesota and Raintry Salk of the Metropolitan Council, as well as panelists highlighting local, state and national perspectives. Attendees will get involved in designing initiatives to address culture, equity and access. The event will end on a fun note, with an informal reception and pecha kucha style talks. Consider yourself invited!

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cultural resilience: A framework for promoting assets

kate-walker.jpgMinnesota's educational achievement gap between whites and students of color has been narrowing, but remains one of the highest in the nation. To more fully address youth's learning and gaps in academic performance, we need to redefine educational excellence in a global society.

To be successful in school now and ready for college and careers later, young people need to develop a range of skills that extends beyond traditional academics. Content knowledge and academic skills are important, but it is also critical that youth learn how to work well with others, persevere when faced with challenges, and recognize when a new strategy is needed to solve a problem. These social and emotional factors are critical to young people's success, and they can be developed through diverse life experiences and overcoming hardships or struggles.

On Oct. 2, Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz will share a framework for creating a rigorous inclusive environment with a diverse community and reframe the concept of equity issues from a deficit approach to an asset-based approach by identifying the skills young people gain from their diverse life experiences and translating them into success within and beyond the classroom. For those who want to dig deeper, on Oct. 3 Dr. Arauz will facilitate a training for those working directly with young people. You can register for either event or both on our website. This symposium and training is part of our series dedicated to understanding social and emotional learning and its contribution to closing the achievement and opportunity gaps.

Dr. Arauz' work on cultural resilience outlines five competencies derived from life experiences that can be correlated to 21st century skills:
  1. Acculturation - The ability to survive one's environment by analyzing two or more cultural contexts that show various perspectives, observations, and experiences.
  2. Navigation of borders - The ability to survive and navigate a continually changing environment.
  3. Inter/Intra cultural communication - The ability to effectively communicate with an individual from a different cultural background.
  4. Teamwork - The ability to place a priority on the needs of the group by effectively influencing and being influenced, while collaborating with others to accomplish a group task.
  5. Creative Self-Expression - The ability to solve problems creatively that do not necessarily have a solution.
What critical skills do you see young people developing from their diverse life experiences? What life experiences may result in the development of cultural resilience competencies? As someone working with and on behalf of young people, how might you prepare them to thrive in a global society?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Working hard or working smart?

Samantha-Grant.jpg"How could we know as much as we do, spend as much as we do, care as much as we say we do and accomplish so little for so many kids over so long a period of time?"

That is one powerful statement by Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. For anyone interested in the achievement gap, I encourage you to listen to his speech during this year's Ready by 21 National meeting. You will ride the wave of deep sadness to hope all in this 30-minute presentation. He had me at the first line, but the whole speech is thought provoking.

No one who understands the reality of education and youth work would say that educators don't care deeply and work hard. But I wonder- are we working smart? Smith talks about how in programs we will hold dearly to one that has a specific outcome for a specific population. Often times we know that this program doesn't have lasting power and it certainly isn't sustainable if scaled up. Sound familiar?

So here's where I argue with myself when it comes to the goal of programs:
  1. The youth program part of me says that we should develop responsive programs to the needs of audiences. In fact, that's what Extension is all about. Sometimes getting a handful of kids to master a new skill or grow in their social emotional learning is at the core of what youth work is really about. It doesn't have to be a "one size fits all" model.

  2. On the other hand, the evaluator side of me says it's important to have programs with demonstrated positive outcomes. Without testing our programs to see the impact that they have on our target populations, we are cheating our main audience - the young people themselves.
What I have seen in the education and youth work field in response to this tension is an emphasis on collective impact. Strategic consulting firm FSG says collective impact occurs "when organizations from different sectors agree to solve a specific social problem using a common agenda, aligning their efforts, and using common measures of success."

I love the idea of communities coming together to support young people. With this mindset, organizations can focus on what they do well and then work with other agencies to help to fully support youth in all areas of development.

What do you think? Should programs be responsive to needs or scalable? Should we focus on the success of individual programs or the collective impact of many?

Does any of this matter? Yes. If we know that many children are not getting what they need, it does matter. In fact, it matters a lot.

-- Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cook-offs promote healthy eating for life

carrie-ann-olson.jpgWill you try an unidentified "healthy" food item because someone tells you it's good for you? Most likely not. The same is true for young people. But if you involve youth in preparing a menu item using some not-so-familiar "healthy" food ingredients, they'll probably taste it. They may even learn to like it!

Engaging youth in cooking can get them interested in trying healthy foods they might otherwise disdain, according to Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (Magee, 2014).

We know that eating habits are established early in life. Studies tell us that youth who are involved in meal preparation and cooking are better at making healthy food choices. In fact youth engaged in a higher frequency of helping prepare and cook food are associated with a higher self-efficacy for selecting and eating healthy foods. Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children.

Chef for a Day is a 4-H nutrition and food preparation event now in its third year at the Minnesota State Fair. With all the interest in TV cooking shows and competitions, this growing program fetches high marks from participants. The Minnesota 4-H version at the state fair includes a food safety and knife skills session with professional chefs (recruited from a partnership with the Cooking Matters program).

Self - Reported in end of event 2014 evaluations; girls-with-veggie-basket.jpg
  • 95% - reported they learned how to make healthy food choices
  • 94% - reported they learned how to use knives correctly & safely and that they learned how to prepare meat as a protein source
  • 40% of the participants reported learning to season with herbs was new to them.
During the cookoff, teams of 4-H'ers develop a recipe and prepare an assigned food item from a common pantry. Cooking in teams is new for many youth and requires team decision-making to agree on a recipe and how to prepare it. The team approach encourages youth to try new ingredients -- a positive form of peer-encouraged risk taking.

Cooking with youth is the gift that keeps on giving; it has both short-term and long-term payoffs. In the short-term, youth:
  • Try healthy foods
  • Feel like they are accomplishing something and contributing
  • Are more likely to sit down to a meal when they helped prepare it
  • Aren't spending time in front of the TV or computer while they're cooking
  • Generally aren't eating junk food when they're cooking a meal at home
In the long term, they:
  • Learn a life-long skill
  • Learn to eat well
  • Build self-confidence

How are you able to engage youth in making healthy food choices within your programming? Are you able to involve them in the food preparation? Can you provide ingredient options and have youth complete the final steps in making a snack? Can you host a local cook-off competition with youth maybe partnering with adults or challenging local adult celebrities?

Some excellent resources can be found on the USDA website.

-- Carrie Ann Olson
Extension educator & associate Extension professor

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

SEL and children's mental health - What can we teach each other?

cari-michaels.jpgWhat does children's mental health (CMH) have to do with social and emotional learning (SEL)? How can we draw connections between these two areas of work so that children learn better and are healthier?

Viewing children's mental health as a public health issue brings common ground to this conversation. Public health encourages us to look beyond a child and a specific diagnosis toward dynamic, ecological systems in which both CMH and SEL are influenced.

A child's mental health status is influenced by her internal state, but also by experiences within her family, school or community. A child's mental health at a given time may be affected as much by parental conflict or community violence as by a diagnosed condition.

The public health approach emphasizes optimal mental health for everyone, not just those who are sick. We all have a state of mental health that changes throughout our lives - sometimes it may include a diagnosis and sometimes not. The idea of mental health promotion underscores the importance of motivating and supporting all children in striving toward their own version of optimal health.

Sometimes "mental health" is confused with "mental illness", but these two are not the same, nor are they opposite ends of one spectrum. The figure below, published in Promoting Youth Mental Health through the Transition from High School, illustrates two dimensions creating four quadrants - children can experience good mental health with a diagnosis, and poor mental health without a diagnosis. And, importantly for the work of SEL and CMH practitioners, children both with and without illness can reach an optimal level of mental health.optimal-mental-health.jpgIn her blog post "Essential ingredients of social and emotional learning", Kate Walker illustrates the five core SEL competencies of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework in a nutrition chart - one "serving" of a youth program includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision-making. Clearly these core competencies are essential to good mental health.

A public health practitioner would view these "ingredients" as protective factors - they help children maintain good mental health during ordinary days, and also when they experience adversity. Children with mental illness don't necessarily lack these competencies -- in fact, managing their illness may require advanced skills in areas such as self-awareness and self-management.

To some, teaching SEL concepts aims to maximize learning, but to many, including Dr. Gil Noam in his May, 2014 presentation Social and Emotional Learning: Assess It to Address It, SEL is used more and more in broad ways to improve health. Both SEL and CMH practitioners are interested in promoting healthy relationships, responsible decision-making, and good citizenship. These skills can be taught in many realms of that ecological setting - after-school programs, community centers, clinics, etc.

So how can we shift both our perspective of mental illness and our approaches to social and emotional learning and mental health service delivery to better serve kids? Does a public health framework help us get there? What might be our next steps?

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Going from teaching veteran to expert teacher

Nicole-Pokorney.jpgThe more I research and study the facets of teaching, the more I am aware that we as educators don't always apply the same methods of reflection on ourselves as we do to the youth we serve. Do we study to be scholarly teachers? Do we understand the scholarship of teaching as it pertains to our professional development and promotion? Do we take the time to dive deep into reflection to become experts in our teaching?

Over the last few years, I have been studying the art of teaching and reflective practice as a nonformal educator. In his book, Becoming a Reflective Teacher, Robert J. Marzano and his team from the Marzano Research Laboratory compare the development of an expert teacher to that of an athlete. "Just as athletes wanting to improve their skills must identify personal strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and engage in focused practice to meet those goals, teachers must also examine their practices, set growth goals, and use focused practice and feedback to achieve those goals. These reflective practices are essential to the development of expertise in teaching."

Bowden describes the scholarship of teaching as "centered on student learning" and an "act of excellent teaching." Glassick defines scholarship of teaching further to include that the work must be public, available for peer review and critique, and must be able to be reproduced and used by other educators (p. 879). Kreber describes, "The scholarship of teaching and learning, or professionalism in teaching, therefore, needs to be conceptualized broadly and integrate the notion of professionalism..."

Through this literature review, I summarized a list of indicators for scholarship of teaching that are within the reach of all nonformal educators:
  • Develop a teaching philosophy compass.jpg
  • Continually question everything we do in the learning environment
  • Ask for peer review of educational materials
  • Use course evaluations
  • Watch others teach
  • Participate in a curriculum review committee
  • Take part in philosophical discussions on student learning
  • Read scholarly works related to teaching pedagogy
  • Attend teaching conferences
  • Share information with colleagues
  • Transform learning through critical reflection from evaluations and teaching journal
  • Create a teaching portfolio
After each teaching opportunity, I now use my teaching experience, as well as participant data, to reflect on the session and meticulously make revisions to program content and methods of presentation, as well as prepare for my next teaching opportunity. I developed a personal teaching diary, solicit participant feedback, developed my teaching philosophy, and pursue opportunities to gain new knowledge of teaching techniques.

Do you consider yourself a scholarly teacher? What are the techniques you use to improve your skills as an educator?
-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Did you ask a good question today?

"Inquisitive minds are the safeguards of our democracy, now and forever." - John Barell

John Barell, in his book Developing More Curious Minds, tells stories of how the adults in his life nurtured curiosity: his mother, who at the close of a day always asked him not "What did you learn at school today?" but rather: "Did you ask a good question today?" His grandfather often began a sentence with the words: "Johnny, have you ever wondered..."

Barell states that the questions of young people are the attainment of the highest thinking skills; questions signal thought processing. As adults, listening to questions and thoughtfully responding and guiding young people to discover their own answers takes time and skill.

Asking questions and defining problems is, in fact, the first practice of the eight practices of science and engineering, as defined in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. The framework identifies the key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school. As adults who work with young people in a wide variety of settings, we can help build this practice, a critical component of scientific literacy.

Most importantly, model the asking of open-ended questions and wondering out loud. Foster an atmosphere in your program that honors the importance of posing questions. Make observations and pose "I wonder..." questions aloud.

Digging deeper, the framework offers progressions for each practice. Use it to consider how we can help young people engage in this practice, regardless of the content area.

In grades K-2, guide young people to:

  • Ask questions based on observations to find more information about the natural and/or designed world(s).
  • Ask and/or identify questions that can be answered by an investigation.
  • Define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

With 3rd-5th graders:

  • Ask questions about what would happen if a variable is changed.
  • Identify scientific (testable) and non-scientific (non-testable) questions.
  • Ask questions that can be investigated and predict reasonable outcomes based on patterns, such as cause and effect relationships.

With 6th-8th graders:

  • Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.
  • Ask questions to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables and relationships in models.
  • Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of your program setting with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis.

For additional detail, as well as progressions for 9-12th grade, refer to the practice matrix.

While this is just a quick trek into the first of the eight practices, I hope you will be curious to discover more about building the practices into your programming! Try this: Think of a favorite project or activity in your setting (maybe it's the tried and true volcano experiment, a bridge-building challenge, a cooking activity, or an outdoor exploration). What are one or two ideas you have for encouraging young people to ask and explore their own questions? What's an "I wonder..." question you have about this project? What might you investigate?

I'd love to hear your ideas for implementing this first practice in your program!

Albert Einstein would remind us: "The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Anne Stevenson, Extension educator and Extension professor

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Essential ingredients of social and emotional learning

kate-walker.jpgRather than delivering a separate SEL curriculum, a recent issue of Social Policy Report proposes that schools integrate the teaching and reinforcement of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills into educators' daily interactions and practices.

Using a food metaphor, the authors describe this as a shift "from a focus on packaged, branded product (curriculum) to the essential ingredients like vitamins and minerals (essential and beneficial strategies)." I think a strategies approach is more in sync with how SEL ought to be framed in out-of-school settings as well.

Blending techniques

So what are some of the "essential ingredients" for promoting SEL? The report outlines four strategies for integrating SEL into daily practice:
  • Routines - Routines that promote SEL skills like emotional regulation (e.g., "Stop and Stay Cool," a three-step process for staying in control of emotions) and conflict resolution (e.g., the "Peace Path," a process in which both parties state their feelings and come to a mutually agreeable solution).
  • Training and Support for Staff - Help staff interact positively with youth, react effectively to emotional and social challenges, communicate clear expectations, and set up conditions for positive climates.
  • Support for Adults' Own SEL Skills - Not all staff naturally possess SEL competencies themselves; They need ongoing discussion and reflection. This edutopia blog post offers five suggestions for how adult staff can build their own SEL skills.
  • SEL Standards - Benchmarks provide guidance on the kinds of SEL skills that need to be fostered in everyday practice. They also play a role in guiding assessment and the use of data to improve practice.

Flavor enhancers

Another way to frame "essential ingredients" is with the S.A.F.E. practices found to effectively enhance social and emotional competencies (Durlak & Weissberg, 2013):
  • S - Sequenced - A planned set of activities to develop SEL skills in a step-by-step fashion.
  • A - Active - Active forms of learning where youth practice SEL skills.
  • F - Focused - Sufficient time and attention devoted exclusively to SEL skill development.
  • E - Explicit - Specific SEL skills are defined and targeted.

Active ingredient

Developmental relationships have been characterized as the "active ingredient" - the critical component responsible for producing desired outcomes in programs. Developmental relationships are interactions with the following features:
  • Connection - Interacting with mutually positive or appropriate emotions; Being in-tune.
  • Reciprocity - Balancing youth-adult roles and power.
  • Progression- Presenting incremental challenge matched with appropriate support; Scaffolding.
  • Participation - Inviting and involving all youth; Belonging.
What do you think of this shift from curricula to strategies and practices? What "essential ingredients" do you use to promote social and emotional learning in your program setting? Do you agree that developmental relationships are the "active ingredient" of effective programs?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Online learning and Rube Goldberg

hui-hui-wang.jpgThis summer, we are very excited to have 16 teams of young people from across the state competing in our engineering design challenge, "Build a Rube Goldberg Machine." These third to eighth graders work together and learn the principles of physics to build a working machine that they can take to their county fairs.

When planning this challenge, I really wanted to know, "What role can an out-of-school, project-based contest play in building and transferring STEM knowledge and skills?

boy-with-rube-goldberg-mach.jpgTo address this, our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) team has integrated a number of strategies. These teams of 3-10 youth in 10 counties have formed, adopted team names, and each has one or two adult volunteer leaders. Along with building the machine at face-to-face club meetings, the teams use online learning spaces -- team journals, a portfolio, and an "ask an expert" chat -- to support their learning. From these online records, we can also study their learning experiences. I am hoping these online activities will provide data and evidence for us to explore how the engineering design process helps students construct and transfer STEM knowledge and skills in an out-of-school, project-based contest.
Evaluation of this online learning idea is key. Minnesota 4-H is a statewide organization, so STEM teams meet online more often than they meet face to face. Asking youth to do a STEM project that uses a digital tool can move 4-H STEM club activities into the digital age. It can enable them to be mentored from a distance, access resources, interact with other youth, and many other benefits.

To help us understand online learning better, we'll be evaluating these questions: What do youth need in an online learning environment to best support their learning? How do they interact with the online learning tool? What kinds of supports do adult volunteers need to do best facilitate youth learning?

-- Hui-Hui Wang, assistant professor and Extension educator, STEM education

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is program design an art or a science?

On the one hand, there's data. On the other hand, there's your gut. As I branch out and begin to truly understand the programs I work for and grasp their impact and begin to plant some of my own programmatic seeds, I am thinking about youth development program design. In a recent experience, I had a positive outcome that sparked me to ask this question: Is what we do an art or a science?

My answer? I think there's a healthy tension between the two that goes unnoticed. I am finding tools for program design that bring out both sides.

Many youth workers, teachers, and volunteers don't have time to gold-laptop-figures-shake-h.jpgcritically analyze each lesson or activity on a daily basis. We often rely on quick improvements on quality, feedback, and our own "guts" to improve our practice. In my previous role as a teacher, I remember making quick modifications before class, making notes for next year on what worked, and often-times throwing out the entire lesson plan because I felt it didn't work. This is the art of experience-informed improvisation.

On the other hand, school administrators and program leaders often rely on data (or create the data) to drive programs and program needs. As I improvised in the classroom, part of what drove my decisions was data -- the science side of education.

The healthy, positive tension between art and science in our program design or improvement often goes unrecognized or unappreciated in all education levels as we strive through for the same goal of making the best for our youth.

In some recent work with a small sub-group of the Minnesota State 4-H Ambassadors who were tasked with planning the service-learning project at their annual state leadership conference, a little bit of data mixed with the untouched canvas of ideas. We asked young people to design a program. They held dual roles by wearing the administrator hat (equipped with data) and teacher hat (armed with their passion). We armed them with elements of a technique called smallify in which they made "small bets" on their ideas, merging art with science.

Smallify is similar to another familiar program design improvement technique called Cloud-Bursting. Both of these techniques involve thinking about data and doing exercises to promote creativity in planning. These techniques create a space that promote the highest levels of youth engagement.
The outcome was important (and successful), but the process was equally weighted between art and science. I believe that equal weighting is key to this discussion.

Smallify and Cloud-Bursting are two simple exercises that can help expose the art and science in your program design. I am certain there are many more. How do you create the space that permits this healthy tension? Can you share some examples of how you champion the art of teaching with the logical aspects of science?

-- Joshua Kukowski, Extension educator

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rethinking youth program sustainability

Joanna-Tzenis.jpgIs program sustainability all about money?

Grants can offer new resources and opportunities to youth programs and the communities in which they take place. The Minnesota Sustainable Community Project (MN SCP), funded by the USDA from 2008 to 2013, helped us to create eight new youth programs throughout the state. In these programs, youth developed leadership skills, gained new mastery and expertise in a subject area and made plans to meet their long-term goals in education.

We knew the benefits to these communities could not be fleeting. To sustain them beyond the life of the grant, we worked within a research-backed conceptual framework.

Mancini and Marek's research says that sustainability is not synonymous with securing more funds. Rather, it refers to the capacity of a program to sustain the benefits it provides. They identified seven factors critical to program sustainability: bug.jpg
  • Leadership competence
  • Effective collaboration
  • Understanding the community
  • Demonstrating program results
  • Strategic funding
  • Staff involvement and integration
  • Program responsivity
Using this framework, the MN SCP project staff began planning for sustainability in year one. One of my colleagues explains, "We were able to have those conversations about sustainability really early on and being realistic about 'money's not going to last forever."

One factor critical to the success of our program at an American Indian Magnet School was effective collaboration, which refers to building a broad base of support of community stakeholders. In this case, the school administration, teachers leading the program, community elders and the 4-H youth development program actively supported the program's goals and guiding principles. Each stakeholder was committed to continuing the programs worked together strategically to secure a promise fellow to lead the delivery of program of the program within the school's after school program, while the program still is supported by the larger 4-H organization.

Another critical sustainability element was program responsivity. This refers to ability of a project to adapt programming and meet changing community needs. This essentially means that the program needs to be flexible and not be married to sustaining the precise program activities. For example, we had three programs in Willmar Middle School. However, once the grant ended, there were no longer enough funds to pay for three different program deliverers, so the three groups consolidated, led by one 4-H program coordinator, who now has been able to include this program into her plan of work.

Sustainability is a dynamic concept the goes beyond the mere securement of more funds. What do your sustainability efforts looks like?

-- Joanna Tzenis, assistant Extension professor, Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR)

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

21st century learning stories

Pamela-Nippolt.jpgWhat lessons do you take from a story about two best friends graduating from Stillwater High School this week -- one of them an artist with autism who seldom speaks, the other headed for a local community college? Their steady and unwavering lifelong friendship across their differences bridged them through childhood to their walk across the graduation stage this month.

This story by Mary Divine of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press centers on two young men who formed a bond that has seen them through the years and over many successful "outcomes".

Youth-serving professionals wanting to make a difference by advancing "21st century learning" can take a lesson directly from young people like these boys. According to Robert Sternberg of Cornell University,
"Successful individuals are those who have "creative skills to produce a vision for how they intend to make the world a better place for everyone; analytical intellectual skills, to assess their vision and those of others; practical intellectual skills, to carry out their vision and persuade people of its value; and wisdom, to ensure that their vision is not a selfish one."
What can we as youth development cat-and-duck-best-friends.jpgprofessionals learn from these two young men? No single achievement or benchmark of success distinguishes either boy's life to this point. Neither mentions a program or experience or mentor that helped carve their path .... except, perhaps, the other. They both have parents who had the vision for that first play date. But even so, there was a second play date, and a twentieth, and so on. Perhaps this is a path that could be taken by any young person, provided someone has the vision to see it.
What place do youth programs play in supporting youth to make choices to commit their time and hearts for true collaboration and a commitment to others? In youth development buzzwords, the ability to navigate in one's family, community and, yes, the world is known as a collection of "21st century learning skills." We measure them with survey items like "I can make positive choices." Or "I am able to communicate my ideas to others."
But are we missing something essential in our understanding about what leads young people to be prepared? To be capable of changing the world? Our current "collective impact" largesse and our "soft skill" narrowing of what the world most needs for and from our youngest members may just have set the bar too low.
Take time to read this story if you want a gentle reminder of what youth are doing to change the world. Every young person has the potential and right to be remarkable and to do amazing things.
These stories make the buzzwords real. Do you have a story of 21st century learning in your program? I want to hear it!
-- Pamela Larson Nippolt, evaluation and research specialist

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Play is important work for learning

Cathy-Jordan.jpgLast month a New York elementary school cancelled its annual kindergarten spring play because the kids needed to continue working to be college and career ready. Really?

I was saddened and frustrated to read about this. I have fond memories of kindergarten. I remember the academic part - learning to count to 100, memorizing colors, learning sound-letter combinations, learning to print letters and numbers, etc. I also remember the "fun" stuff - songs, games, story time, playing dress up, creating skits, and playing "house" and other role-playing games in the maze of boulders and trees along the edge of the playground. Those "fun" activities were seen as critical parts of our school day.

These activities were not just enjoyable. They were chock full of learning opportunities - learning to listen, work collaboratively as well as independently, communicate, share, problem solve, and create. Sometimes these fun activities tapped our early reading, writing and numeracy skills as well - creating dialogue for a short program, writing invitations to our parents, counting how many rows of chairs we might need to seat all of our parents at the holiday program. What fertile opportunities to educate the whole child.

The note from Harley Avenue Primary School administrators to parents said they were preparing "children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills." The note went on to say "we can do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers." I agree that those lifelong skills are critical for college and career readiness. I completely disagree that children needed "seat time" in order to achieve those goals.

The importance of non-academic endeavors, including play and social interaction, to learning and development has been documented and addressed by numerous authorities, from the American Academy of Pediatrics to legendary education researchers and theorists, such as Dewey, Vygotsky and Kohn.

I believe this New York school lost a great opportunity to engage these youngest of students in a fun learning task that could have offered rich opportunities to work on those life-long skills of literacy, writing, collaboration and problem solving. Students might have worked in teams to come up with the show's theme. Teachers could have helped students reflect on how their collaborative process facilitated or created barriers to their learning. Disagreements and social dynamics could have provided the context for working on problem-solving, conflict management, communication, and sharing. Leadership and followship skills would have emerged.

With teacher help, students could have written (or at least dictated) their script. Learning their lines would have helped students practice sight reading. Costume and prop design and creation might have promoted visual motor development and art skills and offered outlets for artistic expression. And not to be underestimated -- children might have taken pride in their effort and their ability to work with each other to achieve their goals and they would have experienced the validation of their proud parents' and teachers' applause and praise.

Perhaps this was exactly what teachers engaged the children in doing in preparation for the kindergarten show. If so, it's unfortunate that someone did not recognize the educational value of this beloved tradition.

How does this extend to upper grades? What might "fun" learning activities look like in the upper elementary grades? In middle school? In high school? In youth programs? How do you make fun activities, or "recreational" activities, educational? What lifelong skills are you attempting to address in the process? If you were an educator and faced with a similar situation, what decision would you have made?

-- Cathy Jordan, director and associate professor

University of Minnesota Extension's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

To improve your program, change your habits

Mark-Haugen.jpgMuch of our everyday life is done by habit. In 2006 a Duke researcher found that more than 40% of our everyday actions are habits, not decisions. How can we use knowledge about our work habits to make programs and organizations better?

We are what we do. Our programs are what we as leaders do. A habit is fairly easy to understand with a few minutes of reflection; we all have them! I challenge you, the champions of youth programs; use your habits to make your program better.

hopscotch-board.jpgYouth programs throughout Minnesota have champions that strive to provide high-quality experiences for our learners. We are succeeding and we also have room to become better. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, said, "Champions don't do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking...They follow the habits they've learned."

Duhigg's description of how a habit works is a great place to start learning about their power. Maintaining a habit is easy (especially the bad ones), but changing a habit or creating a new one can be hard. A habit begins with a trigger that causes an action. The action is our routine, our automatic way of doing something. We recognize the trigger and complete the action because of the final component; the reward.

Mark Twain suggested that a habit "... should be coaxed downstairs a step at a time." If you want to be a champion you can use the following strategies to make your program better. When you identify a few items that you want to change remember to focus only on one or two at a time. Small intentional changes will help your program mature to the highest quality possible.

Remember that changing a habit is easier than quitting one!

Before you set out to develop new habits or quit old ones, reflect on the habits you currently have. Can you adapt any of your habits to result in an improved program? It is much easier to use the same trigger and reward while changing only a routine.
  • Do you want to increase the use of reflective questions in a youth program? It's easier to incorporate this if your group gathers together at some regular time in your program. When your group is together, ask a few reflective questions. Make that your routine!

Invite an outsider to take a look at your program

We often fail to notice our own everyday actions, so invite someone to observe and share their observations. The University of Minnesota provides a deeper review using the Youth Program Quality Assessment tool. You too can use the process. For deeper information, check out the Weikert Center. The process we use to assess, plan and improve is valuable!
  • Informal observations: I know it can be awkward to hear about things that need to be improved. It can also be affirming to hear about your program's strengths! At times we need to remind ourselves that we don't know what we don't know. Ask your learners, their parents or others connected to your program to share their thoughts. Ask for specifics.
  • Formal observations: The YPQA provides a clear process, supports and specific examples of how safe environments, supportive environments, interaction and engagement can be improved in your program. This proven tool will help identify points where you can develop your strengths further or address an area where you would like to improve.
Do you have a habit you want to change? How could changing only a routine of one of your other habits help you improve your program?

I challenge you to reflect, plan and share one strategy of how you can use habits to improve your program. Bonus points go to all of you who can tell a story of how they have done this already!

-- Mark Haugen, Extension educator, regional 4-H youth development programs

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our brains are wired for social learning

Psychologist Louis Cozolino describes the brain as a "social organ," saying there is no such thing as an individual human being, because we are so fundamentally shaped and co-created by our relationships. He explains that human relationships actually sculpt brain tissue: Our positive relationships trigger our brain chemistry to be more plastic, enabling us to learn more easily. Traumatic experiences, on the other hand, negatively alter the brain and can shut down learning. Our brains and bodies are constantly being shaped at a cellular and genetic level by our environments as we live. Our brains are constantly evolving through our interactions with each other.

Neurophilosopher Patricia Smith Churchland says "I am who I am because my brain is what it is," perfectly describing the rapidly developing realm of neuroscience and the insights it holds for youth development.

Our brains evolved in a tribal context, where learning was done through relationships and oral tradition. Modern education generally disregards this -- leaving young people hungry for it, and therefore vulnerable to groups like gangs that do incorporate these elements. But relationships help to engage the social networks in the brain that enable learning.

During the past two days, as I attended our center's social and emotional learning symposium, "Assess it to Address It," I was reminded of the need to incorporate this knowledge into youth programs.

As we work with adolescents, rather than resisting these aspects of their development, we need to make space for them to bring their full selves to the program. We can harness the social motivation to learn, which is a highly effective learning strategy. The more that learning is couched in social networks and connections, the better our retention.

Practical ways to apply this approach in youth development

  • Introduce new content through stories as much as possible.
  • For things that are challenging to teach with stories, encourage youth to learn it "so that they could teach it to someone else"--this engages the social motivation to learn and social networks in the brain (Leiberman). Our Youth Teaching Youth programs are a great example of the effectiveness of this approach to learning.
  • Consciously cultivate what Cozolino calls a "tribal environment" through the use of small groups, cooperative learning, cultivating attachment, encouraging play and story telling, fostering equality and democratic participation, and making a safe space for vulnerability and uncertainty.

By combining the insights of neuroscience with the developing realm of social and emotional learning, how can we better equip young people to develop and thrive?

-- Kathryn Sharpe, Extension educator

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Transforming traditional youth programs for today

4-H is changing. A couple of weeks ago at our annual staff development conference, the theme was "Building on traditions and inviting transformation." A few short months from now, we will host the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) National Conference, where the theme will be "Tradition and Transformation".

Do you see a pattern? Transformation! Tradition has been the foundation to the 4-H educational model. The model includes youth-adult partnerships, the development of 21st century skills and a pathway to higher education. Today we are transforming our traditions for the 21st century.

How do we go about this? How do we make sure transformation feels right at home now that we've invited her in? My mom used to say "a good education starts at home." I would add that transformation starts at home, too.

Two recent experiences made me reflect on how both our staff and our programs are being transformed. I have been part of a Shared Learning Diversity and Inclusion Cohort, and in our most recent gathering, we looked at intercultural guidelines and skills that can be useful when trying to be transformative from within and with communities. These skills include things like:
  • staying curious
  • listening
  • asking clarifying questions
  • being open to new ideas and perspectives
  • authenticity
  • mindfulness
  • observation
  • empathy
  • listening to internal messages
  • giving feedback
  • acknowledging failure
  • acknowledging not knowing
  • mutual adaptation

Our group worked through practice dilemmas that we face in our diversity and inclusion work. We used intercultural skills to address the dilemma at hand and to learn from it. It was such a rich and empowering experience. For example, one county program is explore ways to engage the Latino community working on dairy farms in their region.

This cohort example demonstrates how transformation is happening among our staff and we want to continue the process throughout the organization so our programs mirror the transformative nature of our world. We also wish for all young people to take part in programs where they transform themselves and their communities for the better.

Another example is from our urban 4-H program. Take a look at how it is being transformed by African culture. Minnesota's population is diversifying rapidly. A significant number of Minnesota 4-H members are new African immigrants. We are not letting go of what traditions have given us but we are transforming the educational experiences we offer to suit the young people living in our communities today.

Have you used intercultural guidelines and skills to transform traditions? How could we use them to transform youth development into the 21st century? What diversity and inclusion practices have help you to transform youth programs? Share your examples with me and let's learn together!

-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Countering youth-oriented hate speech

Viral Peace. Can you imagine peace going viral as quickly as the latest online video? Can you imagine peace and tolerance overcoming hate speech?

This fantastic concept is the name of a non-government initiative whose purpose is to build capacity to counter hate speech. Small cadres of credible community leaders in eight or so countries have been trained to effectively respond to hate speech in social media and online communities. Considered counterterrorism, the leaders 'trolled' online sites relying on strategies such as logic and humor to undercut the power of the extremist rhetoric.

Is the Viral Peace model an effective strategy to spread peace and tolerance in the world? To reduce the prevalence and acceptability of hate speech? I don't know, but this past week Harvard announced the formation of a network which builds on the Viral Peace model to counter online youth-oriented hate speech. I find the announcement hopeful and the approach compelling on several levels.

We live in a world of citizen journalists and bloggers. Everyone has an opinion and is an expert. There are no controls on who publishes, and little controls on what is said, or who accesses. Media literacy is an essential survival skill in our 21st century - the ability to analyze and evaluate media. It is the ability to understand the embedded message, the spin, the faulty logic, the parts of the story that are missing - to know when you are being played. Building media literacy skills should aid our recognition of hate-speech, and the rhetoric leading us into it, for what it is. Well crafted comments added to hate speech can aid our seeing the spin and provide the missing parts to the story.

We also live in a world of clickactivism - youth are comfortable clicking a 'like' or donate button, writing a brief comment to endorse or ridicule an issue, and sharing their view with others. These common behaviors don't need to be taught. But how to best craft an effective message is a skill worth building, as is the ability to recognize microagressions as early indicators of hate-speech and intolerance.

This work might also compel us to examine the ethical values underpinning our society. As Durkheim and Haidt have pointed out, all cultures have norms to protect against harm, and most also endorse the values of justice and fairness. Other commonly endorsed values are loyalty to one's own group, authority and respect for elders and leaders, and sanctity. These last three values can build strong connections within a group, but are also related to intolerance of those not of our group, or who hold different opinions. The essential elements of good youth work, especially Belonging and Generosity, can provide balance for these values to counter any tendency toward extremism and intolerance.

I am encouraged by this effort to address youth-oriented hate speech using commonly available tools, and to build capacity in the youth and caring adults of our society to use our own voices to address the issue. Will your organization be joining The Berkman Center at Harvard in this new initiative? What is your organization already doing to address hate speech?

-- Trudy Dunham, research fellow

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