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Reflections on my first year in out-of-school time

By Joshua Kukowski

As a classroom history teacher, it was my perception that what happened out of school was not my problem. After one year as an Extension educator, I see that, and a few other things, differently.

Anniversaries are always moments of reflection and I am hoping to share some of the key "ah ha's" that I have experienced, learned, and rediscovered as I embarked in the out-of-school youth development realm. In the past year, I have experienced, learned or rediscovered many things. I want to share a few of them with you and get your reaction -- either as a veteran or a fellow newcomer.

Out-of-school time is vital

Our work is important. The perception that out-of-school time is "not my problem" is wrong and counter-productive. Youth spend more time out of school than they do in school and those critical after-school times and activities have a deep impact on how our young people develop. Young people who have positive out-of-school-time experiences develop healthier relationships and are more involved in their communities than those who do not. In addition, these experiences support formal learning. It is now my goal to make out-of-school time have equal parity in all educators' voices and actions.

Make our experiences relevant

As a classroom history teacher, I taught dates, places, and all the things that make people successful on "Jeopardy." However, the most important thing I tried to do was instill historical thinking skills such as:
  • Dealing with conflicting evidence
  • Subtext
  • Analyzing primary sources
  • Making an effective argument

Can you think of ways that out-of-school time supports these types of skills that transcend the historical realm and are infused into everyday life? One basic example is when a young person receives conflicting messages on Facebook. Or how they argue their case with their friends or family.
How to identify and elevate our work and move from a content piece to a real-life situation? Out-of-school-time programs like 4-H do this in countless ways! In fact, this applicability is what hooks young people and generates that curiosity that we consistently see in our STEM projects and clubs, our service-learning projects, and in the learning that occurs at our showcase events, to name a few.

I have learned a few other things in my first year, but these lessons stand out. Whether you are a veteran or a newbie like me, what reflective advice would you like to share about your first-year on the job?

-- Joshua Kukowski, Extension educator

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  1. A reflection that I would share is that you don't have to be an expert. We do not expect perfection from the youth we serve nor do most expect it of us. Share the fact that you are learning about the topic they care about. Ask them if they know more. Honor the youth for what they know...not what they don't.
    Also....Smile. Let the kids see your enjoyment.

  2. I like the mention of applicability as what hooks young people. Great observation. Sometimes we stress the fun without giving young people credit for wanting skills that they can apply in all parts of their lives. We want to have fun too at the same time letting young people in on the end game (skill building) can strengthen outcomes and be the "hook" that gets them through the door. Thanks Josh for your observations.
    Also thank you for sharing the historical thinking skills. That is a new way of thinking about problem solving for me and I am excited to start integrating them into my work.

  3. Thanks for sharing your reflections on out of school time and thoughts from the first year in a new position. I appreciate your sharing the historical thinking skills, as it shares a new way to view essential life skills.
    In my career, I have had many opportunities to have new roles (even within the same organization and without a title change). I believe one of the most important aspects of starting a new role is to build effective relationships and get to know key individuals. I remember when I first started teaching, I was advised to make sure I got to know the custodian, who has a very vital role in a school building. He was one of the very important individuals who I connected with and knew was there to support me. We all need individuals to talk things through with during our careers and it will much easier if you can identify some of them early on within the first year.
    Thanks for a great article!

  4. Mark, thank you for your point. When I think about it, some of my greater successes as a teacher were when we learned together as a journey, rather than me dumping info into them as an expert...How do we measure humility?

  5. Betsy,
    The historical facts are interesting, but don't make us interesting people. I often refer to Margo Bowerman when thinking about science as curiosity about the world around us and she inspired me to think that history is a curiosity about the people around us.

  6. Nancy,
    To me, the mission of Extension is about building those relationships. I think as a history teacher, I spent a lot of time teaching youth to know dates, places, but I fell short on the relationships piece. I remember seeing the kids walk the halls and not know the custodian or other people in the building because they were A) too busy with my homework or B) didn't see the point - both of which I own as a shortcoming in education. Thank you for sharing how we need to build up relationships with all our colleagues.

  7. I like how Joshua has subtly gotten us (or at least me!) to do some reflection, a key component of youth development that is a tremendous aid in developing critical thinking, but unfortunately one that is often not well planned and hurried through at the end.
    As I reflect on Joshua's thoughts and my first year in Minnesota Extension, I find that we in education (non-formal, informal, and formal) face a daunting task in competing for our young people's time. It often feels like we're spinning our wheels in the mundane paperwork, the checks and balances, the reports and requirements, only to have our youth choose those programs which offer the immediate gratification our society desires. I still have a pipe dream that when youth and families choose which extra curricular activities to participate in, they look critically at which activities offer real youth development. Its a big and lofty dream, and I haven't figured out how to make it a SMART goal yet, so, to stay positive and to keep from getting burned out with all of the mundane, I look for those special projects which get me giddy and excited, and eager to share and apply that enthusiasm towards 4-H youth development.

  8. Margo, Thank you for your comments. Parents face a myriad of choices when looking for the best programs for their children. Quality programs are the ones that often require both a parent/youth to participate together, rather than drop off...promoting the quality of that experience is important and I am not sure we do a great job of showing that what we do well. Let's make that a SMART goal of ours to share.

  9. Hi Joshua. I would love to hear more about your thoughts on historical thinking skills. Could you share an example of how you have applied that skill development with youth or adults in an OST setting? Or describe your approach a little more?
    Like you, I have an interest in sharpening thinking skills. I have used a global or international lens for "thinking". I see some overlap between historical thinking and international thinking. Very interesting. Thanks.

  10. Hi Joshua and others,
    I also see an overlap between historical thinking, international/intercultural thinking, scientific literacy and thinking, and even consumer decision-making - all as forms of critical thinking. Seems like this is a key place to invest in our youth and their education, no matter what the area of interest or venue.
    Good stuff!

  11. Hello Jennifer,
    Thank you for your comment. My approach has been to not guard my previous discipline as exclusive. Consistently finding proactive ways to use what they learn in the classroom to out of school. This has made me a better reflective educator.
    With my work with the State Ambassadors with my colleagues, we are constantly finding ways for youth to apply those skills. For example, when they are faced with having to make a difficult decision on programming - the state ambassadors are currently making those decisions with the best possible information, rather than with "hunches". I have seen that this past weekend at BLU numerous times and makes me very proud to see our youth.


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