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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.

Published in Breakfast Club

There are a multitude of ambitious scholarship programs across the United States that open doors for students to attend the universities of their dreams. From a financial standpoint, some of the best provide renewable opportunities so that worries about ongoing costs are minimized. Others, provide year one funding that greatly enhance the ability to get into a top school. From there students are free to explore both campus and local opportunities for work that will offset costs in years two and beyond. However, an elite group of scholarship providers have thought more broadly about what it takes for young people to succeed in college and beyond. So what does it take?


In January 2014, The Atlantic published an article about what it is like to be the first member of the family to go to college. It discussed the many challenges students encounter in their initial year on campus and pointed to the importance of mentors in terms of their persistence. For many, getting into college is only the first hurdle – getting through college was the bigger obstacle. Mentors help shape the habits, practices and beliefs that help increase the odds that students find success in their journey. At the Tiger Woods Foundation, we provide each of our Earl Woods Scholars with a mentor to help fill this important role. Our mentors meet regularly with their scholar, sometimes serving as emotional supporters, and other times just listening and offering advice. Our students often say their mentor is the best part of our scholarship program – and even more important than the financial support.

Another key component for student success are business internships. In lean economic times, organizations utilized interns to fill important gaps in their companies without having the overhead of hiring a full-time employee. Post-recession data still show that internships can lead to full-time job offers for students post-graduation. Securing an internship is competitive and comes with the same stress and anxiety of finding a full-time job. Students are well advised to put their best foot forward during all phases of an internship so that while their job skills are honed, they are producing quality work that is noticed by organization management.

TWF internship
The Earl Woods Scholarship provides funding, mentoring and internship support to all of our scholars. But it also goes beyond, providing one-on-one assistance to individuals so they may thrive while they are in school and receive support in decision-making for grad school and workforce entry. This guidance includes pointing students to on-campus resources that can address emotional, physical and academic support. Moreover, providing career readiness workshops for resume writing, mock interviews and basic workforce etiquette are other offerings we have found necessary for our scholars' future success.

Lifting the financial burden brings to light a number of disparities faced when students go off to college. Great scholarship program providers take to heart the importance of providing access to resources that will not only protect their investment, but allow students to experience success in college and beyond.

Why wait for the college years to incorporate resources for high school students in these areas? You can begin by building community partnerships that will join you in supporting youth by providing mentors and internships. Start now!

TWF Scholars

For breakfast I had a hazelnut coffee, banana and Greek yogurt. 

Published in Breakfast Club

Over the past five years I've had the pleasure of talking to many adults that mentor youth through their programs. Audiences come from a variety of youth-serving organizations including school and afterschool programs, foundations supporting youth leadership, and even children's choirs and museums! Most of these adults have something in common; they learned philanthropic behaviors (giving and serving) by seeing the actions of an adult in their own lives. Many times that person is a parent or grandparent, a teacher that helped them develop a talent, or a youth pastor that provided constructive service opportunities.

This illustration (A Path to Growing Lifelong Philanthropists) highlights some of the entry points when philanthropic concepts and opportunities can be introduced within a young person's life. They are based on child development concepts, the psychological and emotional changes that occur as a young person progresses from dependency to increasing independence.

Tree and plant Jill Gordon

  • Preschool-age children (3-5) are explorers; they learn caring behaviors and attitudes from the examples of others.
  • School-age youth (6-10) are ready to explore character development and decision-making.
  • In middle childhood (11-13) young people start to think about their place in the world and may dig deeper to express more concern for others.
  • Teens (14-18) express more complex thinking and a deeper capacity for sharing and caring.

Let's take a moment to think about who introduced philanthropic behaviors in your life. Who inspired you to GIVE your time and help others? When did you begin to SERVE those around you? Why are you still ENGAGED in helping youth succeed? Who lit the SPARK in your life and what did they teach you? Mentors open the world up to young people, exposing them ideas and nurturing the unique talents they possess. It's also important for us to help youth explore their values and concerns. One of my favorite activities is writing a "Personal Mission Statement", a summary of the aims and values of an individual. If you are working with younger youth, ask them to think of two items they'd "put in their boat" or rescue if their home was about to be destroyed by flood waters.

To continue this journey of Nurturing Lifelong Philanthropists, here are some ways to empower lifelong serving habits in others and to fuel impactful programming and experiences for young people.

philinthropic photo Jill Gordon

Start Early and Stay Sticky with examples of caring and sharing.

  • Introduce and nurture caring behaviors in your programs. Celebrate the positive emotions that come with helping others. Ask your young people to describe ways they can "care" and "share" in the classroom.
  • Introduce appropriate vocabulary; philanthropy may be a hard word but it's fun to say it this way, "Phil's Aunt Throws Peas!"
  • Seek ways to attach philanthropic labels to desired behaviors: recycle, mentor, vote, share, care, volunteer, serve, give, donate, and lead.

Develop philanthropic behaviors and attitudes through giving of time, talent, and treasure.

  • Communicate the benefits of volunteering and serving in your own life.
  • Make philanthropic activities routine in your programs; work with the community to develop relationships. Invite local nonprofits to speak with your youth and pair that with a hands-on service project.
  • Cultivate "good experiences" by incorporating youth's skills and interests, contributions should be empowering!

Expand opportunities for youth service, leadership, and engagement. Conduct a community needs assessment with the youth in your programs.

  • List the top five needs/concerns in their community (or school, program, etc.)
  • Work in small groups to narrow down to top three.
  • Agree on the number one community need and create an action plan/service project!

For more ideas and activities check out the Youth as Philanthropist resource for hands-on activities that help youth explore the time, talent, and treasure they have to share with others. Visit these Helpful Links to learn about programs and resources that will help you integrate concepts of giving and serving (youth philanthropy) into your programs through service-learning and philanthropic education.

Most importantly, remember the spark your mentors lit inside of you and pass that along to the youth in your lives.

Sun  Jill Gordon

For first breakfast, two eggs, a piece of toast with honey, and two cups of coffee. Second breakfast (a meeting) two oat bites (Cherry Almond and Pistachio), a fancy Americano drink that had apple juice and lemon in it, and herbal mint tea!

Published in Breakfast Club

"You look like a clown," my dad said as I got ready for picture day.

Time froze. Tears poured down my face. Elementary school me was devastated.

(Though, to be fair, my outfit matching skills needed a lot of work back then and using a headband for a scrunchie probably wasn't the best picture day choice. Sorry Dad!)

MANY years have passed, and that memory now makes me laugh a little, but the fact is... I still remember it. Every word. Most of the feelings. DEFINITELY the outfit.

This and many other small moments in time have stuck with me. What small (or big) moments have stuck with you?

OR, maybe the better question... what small (or big) moments in time are going to stick with your afterschool kiddos? How are your words impacting them?

Because, YOUR words matter.


In the day to day, I think I forget how important my words are, how much they stay with the kids that I work with. But they take in SO much of what you and I are saying to them!

This week for Teacher's Appreciation Week, my kiddos at site wrote me the sweetest notes. Most of them were fill in the blank letters that included the line "My teacher always says..." Now, there were some very entertaining answers to this question, including "be safe," "walk," and "nothing" (though that last one is probably a bit of wishful thinking). But my very favorite was written by one of our third graders. "My teacher always says...we will figure it out."

Mmmm, cue the warm fuzzies. It makes me so happy to know that my kiddos know that I have their back. That I'm always fighting for them, and that I will walk alongside them as they solve life's problems.

But, this one simple line has caused me to pause and reflect, because I honestly don't remember "we'll figure it out" being one of my go-to lines when working with children (my staff, however, has assured me that it is). So, while I'm glad that "we'll figure it out" is an often used response on my part, I've decided to take an intentional look at words and phrases that I use.

Will I always get it right? Absolutely not. But I can try each day to speak into my kids' lives in a way that's positive and problem-solving.

And, YOU have that same opportunity.

Will you reflect this week (or month) on the words and phrases you commonly use with your kids? What do those words and phrases tell the kids about YOU? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


For breakfast today, I had coffee. Always coffee.

Image Credit

Published in Breakfast Club

Mistakes have gotten a bad rap. Reactions to mistakes can range from mild embarrassment to communications of regret to utter outrage. If we always respond to mistakes negatively it has potential to give our kids the impression that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs.

I am a card-carrying member of the mistakes club. Some days I think about running for president of the mistake club. While I've certainly made mistakes I would rather have not, I appreciate the power of mistakes. I knew I was not alone in my thinking about mistakes when I Googled "Mistake Quotes." There were over 10 pages of links. Goodreads had 715 quotes about mistakes...could that be a mistake?

Some of the quotes that stood out as I scanned the pages were:

• "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
Albert Einstein
• "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."
Mahatma Gandhi
• "We learn from failure, not from success!"
- Bram Stoker, Dracula
• "The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."
Elbert Hubbard

Elbert HubbardAdditionally, I've noticed that many of my Professional Learning conversations with after-school leaders have included rich discussions around the importance of kids being able to make mistakes and feel okay about it. This is also a frequent topic I share with my own children.

When kids are taught to avoid mistakes, or worse, are not given the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them they are denied a great deal of learning. It's not surprising that children are taught not to make mistakes. We don't embrace mistakes as adults. I lose sleep over the mistakes I make. When I am talking to after school leaders about working with kids and giving them opportunities to get out of the box and solve problems...I often use the example, "Someone didn't wake up one morning and invent a cure for cancer. Solutions to problems take time and learning from mistakes and trying again. In fact, it often takes many people sharing their mistakes to arrive at the right answer." I also share what a scientist once said to me. She said, "Science is about making mistakes and kids need to be comfortable with this to succeed." When I share this with after-school leaders a light bulb often goes off.

Join (and Start) a Mistakes Club
At the conclusion of a recent training I led on good teaching practices I asked folks what they were taking from our time together and one young man said, "I am going to go back to my site and start a Mistakes Club!" He got a round of applause and I felt like I had reached my goal that day. This was after a day focused not on making mistakes, but on good teaching.

If you're ready to start a Mistakes Club of your own, GREAT! There's no secret handshake (or a membership card—but you can create them). All you have to do is invite kids in and encourage them to view their mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

Ways to help you kids build their mistake muscle

1. Let. Them. Fail. (First Attempt In Learning) it's easy to step in when you're afraid a child is about to feel the sting of failure. Often we design experiences so that we can be sure the children will be successful. But if they are safe from bodily harm, it's okay to let them fail and try again. Don't focus on the mistake but the next step. Say, "How would you like to try that this time?" or "What else might you try? ?"
2. Celebrate mistakes. Instead of consoling kids or getting upset...treat the mistake as a normal or inevitable thing that happens to everyone. To err is human after all.
3. Make mistakes the call out for a next step. When a child makes a mistake, let it be the beginning or the process for getting it right. Prompt them by asking, "What did you learn from that? How can we change it?"
4. Support them in the discomfort-but don't alleviate it. There's a lot of research around the merits of productive struggle. When a child is frustrated or disappointed by an outcome, know that the struggle feeds directly into their future academic and personal success. Nudge them along with encouraging words like, "I know this doesn't feel great, but how can me make it right?" "Let's try!"
5. Work together. We all know more brains are better than one. Collaboration encourages kids to get help from others, builds community, teaches important social skills, and helps children learn there are many ways to approach a problem.
6. Give help with out giving the answer. You don't have to know all the answers. Instead of telling kids how to arrive at the desired result, ask "How could you do that a different way?"
7. Make mistakes a part of the culture. When debriefing an activity, have kids share mistakes they made and what they learned from them. If mistakes are an accepted part of your culture, kids won't be afraid to make them. You can even share some mistakes you have made.

Exercising Your Mistake Muscle
The best thing about these mistake exercises is that they work for adults too. I invite you to join the Mistakes Club. Give yourself some breathing room. Fail (or succeed) spectacularly, but take some risks, learn, and grow. Share your reflections on mistakes in the comments. We can have a virtual Mistakes Club meeting! Share ideas for changing your practice with your kids and in your own learning. You might also read these helpful articles from Edutopia and BrightHorizons about the importance of mistakes and failure.


If I am not mistaken I had Trader Joe's Corn Flakes this morning and a banana for breakfast.

Published in Breakfast Club

This blog was originally posted on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Out-of-School Time Blog.

The Best Out-of-School Time (BOOST) Conference is coming up, and this year I'm honored to once again co-present with Bruno Marchesi, Chief Operating Officer at the Center for Collaborative Solutions. We will be discussing Local, State, and National Perspectives on the Healthy Afterschool Movement.

Prior to his role as COO, Bruno served as Project Manager for the Healthy Behaviors and My Brother's Keeper statewide initiatives. Bruno has also previously served as Program Director of the UC Davis School of Education and the California AfterSchool Network. Additionally, both Bruno and I are bloggers with the BOOST Breakfast Club!


First question: Why did you choose to work in the out-of-school time (OST) space? Why do you think OST essential for the success of children?

I began my journey in after school working as a line staff in an after school program in 1997. I did not realize until much later in my career that after school programs not only provide a safe and supportive space for young people, but it exposes them to academic enrichment opportunities that they otherwise may not have. Afterschool provides young people an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with their peers and caring adults, while at the same time giving them an opportunity to develop their voice and leadership skills.

dhblogbruno1Second question: What are some experiences you've had working in OST that have helped you develop as a professional?

As I developed my own skills in after school and got an opportunity to be promoted into other positions within the OST field, I cannot say enough about the blessing that I have received to be surrounded by such great coaches throughout my career. These folks really invested their time, energy and expertise to help me develop my skills while showing me personal and professional friendship and helping me aspire towards and develop career goals. This really has been the key to success for my development in the field. I can only hope to do my part and pass along the knowledge and experience that I have gained to others in the field.

Third question: What do you feel like is missing when it comes to training OST professionals?

I believe that as a field, we have grown to be more sophisticated about the professional development offerings that we provide our staff. I think we need to do a better job with mentorship, focusing not only on outcome based skills but soft skills when it comes to leadership development, core values, and transferring of knowledge between colleagues.

Let's keep going: What's one of the best pieces of advice someone has given you while working in the OST field?

One of my former mentors always emphasized the value of prioritizing what is really important based on your own core values, only then will we have the time to do what is needed and what we deem important in life. It is the difference between doing things right... and doing the right things.

One more: With high turnover and lower pay, how do you think young professionals can be recruited and retained to work in OST?

I truly believe that each person has to make their own decisions about staying, however, having an intentional vision and an organizational culture that fosters trust is key to building community engagement, both internally with our staff, and externally with those whom we serve. It's about creating systems to treat our staff in the same way that our organization intends to serve our community.


Thanks Bruno! Who are the coaches and mentors in your life? Who do you have the ability to inspire? Take time this week as you plan activities and schedules to reflect and reconnect with the core values that drive you and your commitment to out-of-school time.

For breakfast I had a coffee and scrambled eggs.

Published in Breakfast Club

Recently, a friend and colleague posted this message that got my thoughts spinning. (Thanks Jenn for letting me share your post!)

March 17 at 10:09am • Instagram •

I hope that everyone has people. People who send flowers when you're having a rough week. People who will call and warn you of potential bad meetings so you can avoid the mess. People who will pray for you. I just hope that you all have people. Because I have people. And they rock. =)

instagram flowers

What I know about Jenn is that she deserves flowers like this everyday. She wears more hats than I can count and does it with grace and humility. It made my day to know that one of her people brightened her day and reminded her that she is not alone. Jenn's post got me thing thinking about my people.

There are my people who just know when I need an adult beverage, a new coloring book and/or a new pair of fabulously sarcastic socks. There are my people who send me snapchat me pictures of their babies (human and furry), pictures of their lunch, and pictures of their own fabulous socks, all just to say, "hey, this made me think of you." Then there are my people who hold me accountable, who won't take any of my excuses, but who will walk with me when I need to answer gigantic questions. I didn't invite any of these people to be my people. They didn't submit applications, nor did they screen me before accepting me. They just are my people.

That's the thing about having people, they just appear for you when you need them most. Often, they show up before you ask and stay longer than you would ever expect. They don't ask for anything in return. They aren't documenting their gifts or their time on a scorecard, which will later be returned to you. They are just there to listen, to cheer, to scream at the world if need be, to make you feel a little less alone.

I've got people and it is a very good thing. You see, not long ago I found myself stuck professionally, not a little bit stuck either. I was all the way, I don't know if youth work is for me anymore, 110% STUCK! And that's when my people showed up. They didn't fix things for me, they didn't give me the answers. They just were there. They listened, they pointed out my strengths, and a few even yelled at the world with me. They were there and I knew that I wasn't alone. Little, by little, I became less stuck. It was hard, grueling some days, but on those days, my people would pull me closer and cheer a little louder.

Slowly, I understood that the only way I would become unstuck was to take an epic leap of faith. Knowing this felt like standing on the edge of a canyon. I could see the other side. I knew I wanted to be on the other side; but, the thought of jumping was paralyzing. I stayed on the safe side of the canyon a little longer, contemplating the leap. I asked some of my people, Should I leap?, Do you think I'm ready? Would you leap? . . . but, my people didn't answer my questions. My people just waited and then, on the day that I (finally) leaped across that canyon, my people cheered!

That's enough about my people though, I wanted to talk about you and your people. Let's start with the fact that you are undoubtedly someone's person. You could not and would not be doing this kind work if you weren't. I have no doubt that you stay beyond your schedule hours when a kid is hurting, that you care for coworkers like family, and that you are mentoring the next generation of leaders. However, I hope that while you are busy being someone's person that you never forget that you have people too.

As helpers and youth workers, we are not always our own champions or advocates, and that is why we each need to have people. I hope you have people who listen without giving you the answers. I hope you have people love and acknowledge all your talents, quirks and super powers, especially on days when you can't/don't see them. I hope you have people who will scream at the world with you, but also who will whisper kind, encouraging things to you when you stuck. I hope you have people who will cheer when you take your own leap of faith and who will stay with your as new adventures unfold.

I hope you have people because you deserve the same amazing level of support and encouragement that you so willing give to others.


For breakfast, I had oatmeal with cinnamon apples and hazelnuts along with lots of fair trade coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

When I was a kid, back in the late 1970's and 80's, we had two telephones in my house. One was upstairs and was a tabletop rotary phone, the other was a wall-mounted rotary phone with a super-long cord that you could get all tangled up in as you talked and walked as far as it would allow you to go before it would pull back at you just enough to remind you that you were about to pull the phone off the wall. Telephones then had just one function: voice calls. There were no fancy screens, or built-in cameras, no weather apps or social network apps, no maps or GPS, no TEXT messaging, just a headset and a rotary that you stuck a finger in one of the holes that had the corresponding numbers that you needed to dial in order to complete the call. It was magical, really. You would dial this number, the phone would ring in the home of whomever you were calling, they'd pick up the receiver and you'd get to talk to whomever you were trying to speak with, well, most of the time.

Back in those days, the days before text messages, if you wanted to call the girl or boy you were crushing on, and you happened to get ahold of their digits, once you finally worked up the courage to call them, you still ran the risk of speaking to a parent, or a sibling, or some other gatekeeper of some sort. Today, while we still call these things "Phones", and while you can still talk on them, they have so many other functions that it seems that a new name may be in order. They are still designed to connect with people and now we do that in so many different ways; texting, social networks, video chatting, and the like, and yet while we use these devices to connect with people, we can also be so connected to the device that we sometimes fail to connect with the people right in front of us!

This was also before the days of "Caller ID", the function that allows you to know who the caller is so you can decide whether you wish to answer the phone or not. Anyway, the point is, once you dialed the number and it magically rang (if it wasn't a busy signal!) in the house of the person you were calling, and someone would pick it up and there you were, connected to someone over whatever distance it was, and you were able to talk with them almost as if they were right there with you.

Fast forward thirty or so years to an Experiential Education conference where a workshop leader posed a question to the group; discuss something we were really great at in our youth. Most people recalled a sport they excelled at or a musical instrument, or hobby. I was a good athlete and a creative and musical kid with lots of hobbies, but, back in those days before Caller ID, I used to crank call people like it was my job. And I wasn't the quick hitter, getting someone on the other end and saying things like, "Is your refrigerator running? Well you better go and catch it!" and quick one-liners like that, no, I was all about keeping people on the phone as long as possible. I would create a character and situation and then adapt the story to engage the person on the other end of the line in my storyline and literally just improvise, trying to keep them on the call for as long as I could. It was great and was mostly harmless fun, albeit at the expense of the poor unsuspecting person on the other end of the call.


The second part of the workshop facilitator's question was what spurred my thinking, both in the workshop, and to write this blog post now, about twelve years later. He asked, "How has, whatever you've identified as your skill that you excelled at, contributed to and helped shape what you do now in your life/work?" At first I thought, oh good job Justin, your desire to go out of the box with your answer has made it impossible to answer the second part. However, after sitting with it for a moment, I realized that my crank calling days really did help shape what I am good at in my work today as a group facilitator and teacher. Because I was one who wanted to keep people on the phone as long as possible, I needed to be able to think quickly on my feet and be willing to go where that person would take me if I wanted to continue the call. In order to do that, I needed to have a quick ability to tap into the other person and try to read them. These skills are paramount to my success with groups. I often go into a group with a plan in mind, but upon meeting the group and seeing their affect, body, and behavior, I may just improvise and switch gears entirely, in order to give the group what they need and in a way that they need it.

As out of school time educators and professionals it is so very important to reflect; to take time to reexamine ourselves in order to bring our best selves to the groups with which we are working. We are creating learning moments and opportunities all the time that are the things the youth we work with will look back on as adults and potentially identify as skills that contributed to their effectiveness and successes as adults. What was something you were awesome at, and truly enjoyed as a youth, and how has that shaped how you lead or work today? How do you bring those passions from childhood, those things you were great at then, that are so important and have become part of the blueprints of who you are now, into your work and daily life?


For breakfast this morning I enjoyed a whole grain English muffin with crunchy peanut butter and guava jelly and a big cup of delicious French Roast coffee, black.

Published in Breakfast Club

It's about this time of year when the cold starts setting in, holiday lights start going up and everyone is busy making their plans for the big holiday that I find myself drifting off to a warmer, sunnier destination – Palm Springs, CA. Even amongst the frenzy of gift shopping and air full of holiday cheer, I just can't help from picturing those tall green palms waving in the sunshine. The bright blue sky draping over the desert peaks. And of course, those long green fairways lining the Palm Valley. It's funny how something so far away can feel so close. Perhaps it's because the Palm Desert never really leaves my heart. Even when it's more than 300 miles, 5 months and a full season away, Palm Springs, and the Best of Out-of-School Time Conference, never does really leave my heart.

boost conference blog 2

It was 2008 and I was just over a year in my new job. This was the new chapter I had needed but was beginning to second-guess other opportunities I passed up. Two years ago I was living what I thought was my dream job, working for a progressive, grass-roots youth development organization and on my way to saving the world. And then the contracts went south, and unfortunately, so did I. At least with the company anyway. It was then, in that scary hour, that one of those unexpected, unforeseen blessings rang my cell phone. And a year and half later as the Program Manager of After School Programs for Visalia Unified School District, I was heading to my first BOOST Conference in Palm Springs. I was just two years in to my job and knew very few people. It was a familiar drive though. In my previous work with Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Programs, we attended an annual conference in Palm Springs as well. That said, I can't say that I was overly excited or even particularly interested in attending. After all, we had just launched our programs a year earlier and there was so much yet to do. In fact, this is where I was beginning to second-guess accepting this job as referenced above. It just seemed never-ending, overly-complex and incredibly labor-intensive. Thinking back, this trip was exactly what I needed at the time!

Driving into the Palm Valley with the windmills spinning and the desert glistening, I looked forward to a few days away and an opportunity to do some thinking about the future. Day one was inspirational but it was on day two that I began to put names (and voices) with faces and after an invitation to dinner with some new colleagues I now call life-long friends, BOOST was beginning to show its magic. By year one's end, I was driving back looking over my shoulder and already beginning to count the days to next year. And yes, the serene valley of sand and palms had shined brightly that week but it was the people that began to capture my heart in Palm Springs. From one heart-pouring conversation to another about what and how after school can change education forever I couldn't stop thinking about the things I wanted to do when I got back to my programs. I was moved.

After year one at BOOST, late April just couldn't come soon enough. Even though my travels and connections within the field expanded rapidly, there was something different about the conversations and experiences that took place at BOOST. I mean, it was the same people having the conversations and usually around the same topics, but in Palm Springs and under the magic of the BOOST spirit, it just felt different. It felt more alive! Here are few of my favorite moments I thought I'd share with you from my eight years of attending the BOOST Conference:

Year 1: Somehow, someway (thank you, Diego Arancibia and Tia Quinn), I got to present on one of my favorite topics, youth cultural competence. And in one of the big rooms, even. Diego said I was laying down a sermon. Guess that's why my Twitter handle became @ASPevangelist!

But the highlight of my first BOOST Conference had to be keynote Jonathan Mooney and a little after-hour conversation I had with an after school legend, in my opinion anyway. After listening to Jonathan break down the research on why teens and apathy go together like PB&J, a pretty awesome woman broke me down by reminding me that if I stuck with after school long enough I would realize that it will be "the hardest job I'll ever love." And still is. I'll never forget that, CynDee Zandes!

Year 2: Co-training with my BWF, Richard "Rico" Peralta, outside because we were overrun with conference participants and the room could not hold us all. Fortunately, we were next to the pool area that was fenced off and we took our Engage. Recruit. Retain. (ERR) workshop poolside. To this day, some of the best evaluations we've ever gotten! And oh, thank you Seth Merhten, for dressing up like a Stanford tree to help participants find our room.

boost conference blog pic 1

Year 3: End of day one and no calls from staff. End of day two and no calls from staff. What the heck was going on!? Later that evening in a conversation with Bob Cabeza, the youth development guru himself, he shared with me the reason. "Frank, you've worked so hard to build the capacities of your Coordinators to do their job that they no longer need you like they once did. So rather than panic, enjoy it because you deserve it!" Thanks Bob, I still am.

Year 4: Sick as a dog! Spent most of the conference locked away in my room three blocks away from the action but managed to pick myself up to see Taylor Mali and man I'm glad I did. Powerful story and an inspirational to all!

Year 5: Sir Ken Robinson, Site Lead Initiative conversation poolside – need I say more? For me these two moments really kicked up some dirt for the field. Sir Ken inspired the many in the general session and a few inspired me out by the pool. We gathered several leaders in the field to talk about a conscious effort to increasing the support and development for the few, the proud, the Site Coordinators. Wow, how things have kicked up since then for our Site Coordinators. Thank you all!!

Year 6: Might have just been the best line-up of speakers for BOOST all-time. First, Paul Tough, next Christopher Emdin and finally Jonathan Mooney (back again). Can you say right hook, left hook, knockout? Tough was thought-provoking, Emdin was entertaining and Jonathan Mooney was both!

However, it was little trip to the airport with my friends Rico and Diego to pick up Chris Emdin that had me thinking long after BOOST was over. Not a deep conversation but one that included some reflection on the fact that we three were no longer considered emerging-leaders in our field and now needed to begin cultivating the next generation to follow. Which by the way, is currently in progress.

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Year 7: Night one of the conference, ASAP Connect pulled together a few incredible hearts and minds to talk about a pretty important initiative: My Brother's Keeper. The Obama-led initiative was resonating with some of our after school men and they took it upon themselves to gather a group to talk about how after school can support the cause. Much has happened since that night that is still making a difference with both boys and girls of color.

Year 7 at BOOST also marked a milestone in the after school field. Led by our fearless leader, Michael Funk, the After School Division in collaboration with the field, capped off a year-long strategic planning process with a report via town hall meeting. I was fortunate to have a front row seat to the action and was honored to serve. Thank you, Michael.

Last Year: Recent memory is best for me, particularly after getting less sleep than I did in college due to my two boys - Ashton, 4, and Carter, 2. Love my guys...any parents in the house! Simon Sinek, Simon Sinek, Simon Sinek. Oh, did I say Simon Sinek!? Tia, BOOST Leadership, you must be proud of yourselves for that one. Not just a big name but a big game to go with. How his words of wisdom have really helped shape our field and how so many of us are leading through the power of our "Why." Can't say enough!

Also...can't forget a little golf game with BOOST keynoter, Roberto Rivera and friends. Inspired by his powerful work with high-risk youth as well as his chipping and putting if I recall correctly.

Finally, last year capped off with a little presentation to a few power-punchers in the field about an idea that's still in the incubator. Many of you know what I'm talking about. The California Afterschool Radio Network (CARN) – Podcast style. Keep you all posted on this one. Let's make it happen, Bruno Marchesi!

So, what to expect this year at BOOST? Stimulating conversations? Innovative thinking? Inspiring speakers? Amazing workshops? New connections and partnerships? Next-level programming? Beautiful weather? Palm trees and bright green fairways? Absolutely. All of that and more! For BOOST is the place where people like you and I go to reconnect, reenergize, reboot and reflect on what we've accomplished and what's left to do. And whether you're an after school veteran or rookie, manager or frontline staffer, BOOST brings us all together in one place at one time to celebrate what we mean to this world. So, I hope to see you there and make sure to share your BOOST memories with all of us so we can keep BOOST Conference Dreamin'.

See you in April!

Register now for the BOOST Conference!

For breakfast, I had old fashion oatmeal with apples and brown sugar, wheat toast and water.

By Guest Blogger Frank Escobar.  Frank serves as the Program Manager of After School Programs for Visalia Unified School District.

Published in Breakfast Club

I run a leadership program at a company aptly called The Leadership Program. My colleagues and I run training and coaching every year for more than 150 people, our team of Leadership Trainers, who go into more than 100 schools every year to work with youth and teachers. We continually proclaim that we are committed to creating experiences that inspire people to step into their leadership and make positive change in their lives and the lives of others.

Yet, I am never sure we really do it. We really do the work, of course we do, but how can you ever prove leadership? How as a teacher do you check yourself? We explain to the students that leadership always begins with yourself and how you are choosing to lead your life instead of allowing your life or circumstances to lead you. Stepping into your leadership is the act of stepping into your full self in the moment. I want to share a lesson on leadership that's happening in my house right now, and offer ten tips to help kids to step into their leadership.

Last night, my normally outgoing and exuberant eight-year-old daughter worked herself up into hysterics claiming stage fright and anything else she could grab onto to share her fears with me about performing in her class African Dance show next week. She was adamant that she will fail. That she will be embarrassed, that everyone will look at her and say, "She doesn't know what she is doing—we see her up on that big stage. She can't hide from us."

Nothing I said to reassure her was working, including reminding her that her much shyer older brother did it last year and actually enjoyed it. She was having none of it. I also said the stage wasn't that big and that in all of the years of the third graders at PS 107 doing this performance no one has ever failed—it was impossible. All she had to do was get up on stage and do her best and maybe try to enjoy it. To which she replied, "Oh, someone is about to fail for the first time ever." I offered to have her practice the dance with me, I told her I would learn it and we could do it every night before bed—nope. She said she could not even remember one move because all she can think about is the failure.

She wants me to somehow get her excused from this performance. She wants me to tell her teachers that she can't possibly do this—it is too difficult for her. After two straight hours of watching her work herself up and listening to all her deepest fears, I would be lying if I said I didn't contemplate it. Maybe it is too much for her. Maybe I need to honor her feelings.

I kissed her goodnight and told her I believed in her and that we could talk about it tomorrow and see how she feels.

Later I started thinking about how difficult stepping into one's leadership really is. About how especially challenging it is for children and adolescents. How sometimes we expect the same from them as if they were just shorter adults. Then I started thinking about what Emma will learn from this experience if she is brave enough to go through with it. How the fear is the very thing that creates an opportunity for her to witness her own courage emerging. I am proud of her school and teachers for providing this opportunity for Emma to look at herself and hopefully to cross the threshold. What will she learn in that moment when she walks on the stage? When the drums begin? When she moves side by side with her classmates on a stage looking out at flashing iPhones and cheering parents? I don't know what she will learn. I can speculate based on my own experiences, but I do not know what it will be for her. I don't know if it will be positive or negative. It will be her story, another piece of fabric that she will weave into her development as a person. I do know that she is already a richer person for going through this.

This third grade New York City public school social studies class is studying Africa. What better way than by bringing in an African Dance teaching artist for six weeks to teach every third grade class a different African dance? The classes will also take a field trip to a South African restaurant to taste a bit of Africa. All the time they are covering the Common Core, and learning all the geography that we had to learn when we were their age. The school is committed to providing experiences where students can love learning and step into their leadership. This is one way that they do it. How do you do it? How do we ensure we are doing it at The Leadership Program?

I may not have the answers, but I am committed to the quest.

I know that it would be easier to just teach the kids the African Dance and not expect them to come together on stage with costumes and live music and an audience of parents and school administrators. The kids would still learn about Africa, they would still have a learning experience related to dance and collaboration. They would not, however, be asked to cross that threshold to see what they are made of when the stakes are raised, when the spotlight hits. What opportunity do we lose in not asking that of the kids or ourselves? That is why I am committed to asking myself, my staff, and our students to step into the spotlight—even if it means learning from failure.

 student leaders


Ten Tips for Helping Kids Step Into Their Leadership

1. Talk about leadership. Introduce the word early on, even with younger kids, and use it often. Give them examples in daily life and make sure your examples are personal and relatable. In the early and middle grades children often recognize parents and teachers as leaders more than they do presidents and sports stars. With older students, allow time during lessons or activities for them to process their own leadership opportunities and experiences, so that they begin to see leadership as a journey, not a destination. Provide an opportunity for them to reflect on the learning that leadership is providing them. This discussion provides time for them to see that failure is not so bad if we learn from it, lowering the risk level.

2. Know their style of leadership and learning. Not all people learn in the same way and they certainly don't lead in the same way. Know the students you are working with and watch their styles. How can you make sure introverted kids are having opportunities to lead, even if looks different from the extrovert? Buddy programs where older kids work with younger kids one on one allow for shy kids to blossom.

3. Make it social. Often older kids think of leadership as a solo endeavor—something that puts one on a pedestal above it all and therefore they stay away from it, as they do with anything that singles them out during those self-conscious adolescent years. Combat that by making leadership a way to connect with others and a social opportunity, such as planning a dance or student lounge or other social event. If that is too ambitious for your group, practice group dynamics exercises where students have a chance to interact with each other in a new and different way.

4. Get an easy win. This is just as important for you as it is for them. It will give you all more confidence as you grow the level of your leadership practice. Student leadership does not always look like a student government or a functioning peer mediation program. Those things are great but not always achievable right off the bat. A simple community service endeavor requires very little set up and can pack a big punch, like having the class visit a senior center and perform poetry or read to the seniors. If reading is too difficult, bring art supplies and have them make a project together such as a picture frame where they share stories.

5. Catch them in the act. Point out moments of leadership in everyday interactions and classes so they see how they already have these skills and that they can draw on these same qualities when the project begins.

6. Plan for success. The more you plan as the classroom leader, the more smoothly projects will go. Even if you are asking the students to plan an event as their project, it still means you need a plan for the lessons to support those student conversations. You will be in charge of follow up. You are a role model for them; they will be looking at you constantly, even when you don't realize it. Are you prepared for class? Could you create a checklist for them to help organize their discussion? Do you need to get other teachers involved? Other community members? Do you need to make sure the gym is free on certain days? If they're creating an art gallery of their work, have you thought about how to frame the work, how much time it will take to set up the gallery?

7. Be the grown up. Be there to help mediate conflict, change course, or problem solve when young people need it. They are students of leadership and your guidance at the right times is just as good a lesson on leadership as anything else.

8. Add the glitter. When you are preparing for a final project or performance with your kids, ask yourself what you can do to add a little more "specialness" to this? Where can you throw some glitter and heighten this above the everyday? Sometimes it means having the kids simply all wear black and put their poetry in matching binders for a spoken word event. Sometimes it means getting microphones and a better sound system to bring a vocal performance to the next level. Where is your glitter?

9. Expect it. If the students think you expect it and you believe they can do it, then on some level they start to believe it. You may have to help them cross the finish line but they will get there and their self-confidence will grow incrementally from action more than from any self-esteem exercise you could ever come up with.

10. Make it Fun! What we enjoy, we want to do again. Remember with all the hard work to keep the joy. Smiles are a great metric for this—your own included. If you stop smiling, they will stop smiling.

Written by: Christine Courtney, President of The Leadership Program, Inc.

Photo Credit

Published in Breakfast Club
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