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Planning a new program or improvements to an existing program usually involves setting objectives, planning activities, and other critical tasks. In the excitement of planning something new, it can seem like a buzzkill to ask, "What could go wrong?"

team meetingSeveral months ago, I started asking this question consistently with staff teams in my division of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We discussed it when we were planning a kick-off meeting for a district-wide initiative, when we were considering a major program change on a tight time frame, and when we were decided whether or not to cancel programs because of a forecasted snow storm. (Yes, I'm writing this in Michigan!)

I've found that staff teams benefit enormously from adding this question to the planning process. Sometimes staff have concerns but don't know exactly how or when to share them. Other times, "nay-say-ers" derail planning by peppering the conversation with all the detailed problems that could arise. Using a neutral discussion framework that's built into the planning process provides assurance to all staff that their concerns will be heard -- of course, it also helps prevent or minimize future problems.

I like using the Potential Problem Analysis (PPA) framework that's available from the non-profit TregoEd. (I work in a school district and have been trained in all four of TregoEd's collaborative decision-making tools.)

Broadly, a PPA helps you prepare for problems that could impact your program's success. It's helpful when you're implementing a new program, planning for a significant event, or making program changes.

Conducting a PPA is simple. All you need is a facilitator, your planning team, and some chart paper for recording responses.

1. First, ask the team "What could go wrong with our plans?" Ask the team to keep their answers succinct -- it's not necessary to go into every detail or repeat answers.

2. List people's answers on the chart paper, leaving space between each answer. The facilitator should let staff generate as many as they want, but don't allow the discussion to get too far out there (i.e. it's unlikely that aliens will land and disrupt the program).

3. Go back to the top of the list. For each potential problem, ask: "How could we prevent this from happening?" The answers often turn into specific action steps.

4. Return to the top of the list. Ask: "If this [potential problem] happens, what will we do to minimize the negative impact?"

5. If you end up with numerous potential problems, the team can prioritize 3-4 that are most important to prevent. Others can be worked on as time/opportunity permits.

6. For each potential problem on the short list, ask "What action steps will occur, Who will do them, and by When?"

rubic cube

I've used this process many times, sometimes as a full-blown process like what is outlined above, and sometimes just talking through the essential questions. The key thing is for the team to know ahead of time that you're going to have this conversation. This assures everyone (naysayers, too!) that there will be time to consider and plan for potential problems.

Using this simple question has improved program and event quality and decreased stress for staff at my organization. Hint: you can use it when making life decisions as well. Happy problem preventing!


For breakfast, I had an egg, turkey bacon, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin.

Published in Breakfast Club

“Everyone thinks change is a great idea, so long as they aren’t the one doing the changing.” I first heard this quote from Michael Funk, the head of California’s Expanded Learning Time Division.

I bet we can each think of a time in our professional life that we thought that everyone else should change: “If only everyone else would start doing the lessons like they are supposed to, then we could really get something done!”

I’ve got some bad news for you: if people aren’t changing, they have a good reason for doing so. And it’s not because they are lazy, or not smart enough, or a jerk. If you really want to catalyze change, you have to identify and address people’s valid concerns. Until you get clear about what those barriers are, and address them well, lasting change isn’t possible.


dec 2 blog pic


The team at XPLANE has developed an awesome way to get clear about the barriers to change – a card deck! The Barriers to Change Cards list 36 common concerns that teams have when considering a change.  Ask team members to pick 2 or 3 cards that best describe their concerns, then flip them over to find which of the main types of barriers you need to address. The 36 concerns fall into six broad categories:


  • Problem Alignment – Do we have a compelling reason to change?
  • Engagement – Is everyone engaged with the thing we’re considering?
  • Interpersonal – How do people’s relationships affect the change?
  • The Unknown – Can we cope with ambiguity?
  • Solution Alignment – Do we agree on what we want to change?
  • Execution – Are we confident we have what we need to make the change stick?


Once you’ve identified the reasons why your team is resistant to change, you can take steps to address these barriers, whether by sharing more information about the plan, making it clear what will be better in the future, or marshaling resources you need.

We’ve used the decks with our own team to identify our team members’ concerns about upcoming changes to our internal company policies. We plan to use the Barriers to Change Cards with our clients to help them troubleshoot new initiatives.


For breakfast, I had a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter. 

Published in Breakfast Club

The third issue of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) has arrived! This spring issue launched at the 2016 BOOST conference and features a conversation about quality programming in afterschool, an article on the role that social emotional learning can play to close the achievement and learning gaps, and an article focusing on the links between professional development and quality STEM learning experiences. You can visit last week's installment about social emotional learning and today, we invite you into a researcher and practitioner conversation.

The expanded learning field continues to bring multiple stakeholders together to advance program quality and research. In this issue of the JELO, we talk to Carol McElvain, J.D. from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Michael Funk from the California Department of Education (CDE) about their ideas on program quality in the expanded learning field. Ms. McElvain is the Managing Technical Assistance Consultant at AIR. She directs AIR's expanded learning work, focusing on providing research-based, high-quality training, and professional development, and disseminating research results and policy reports to diverse audiences in the public education sector throughout the country. Mr. Funk is Director of the After School Division (ASD) at CDE. He led the development of a strategic plan for the ASD, building upon expanded learning to create programs that maximize outcomes for youth, families, school, and communities. This work led to the development and implementation of California's Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in 2014. Prior to his current work at CDE, Mr. Funk was the founder and executive director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco for two decades. He also started Experience Corps and Aspiranet Oakland Afterschool.

Ms. McElvain is representing the researcher perspective and Mr. Funk is representing the practitioner perspective. Following their responses below, both Ms. McElvain and Mr. Funk share their reflections on each other's perspectives, revealing a common vision to move the great work of this field forward.


Many states have developed and adopted quality standards for expanded learning programs. What value do these standards bring to the expanded learning field?

Michael: California's quality standards are the North Star for program quality. They give us a common vision and common language. This is critical if we are to maximize the unique scale of our state's expanded learning ecosystem. The standards make it possible to align the state's system of support, policy decisions, funding process and statewide evaluation. Of course, that alignment requires disciplined intentionality at all levels and is very hard work. That hard work is taking place in California right now. The implementation of the Expanded Learning Strategic Plan is underway, and the first and most critical step was the development of the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning.

California's quality standards go one step further and include the "standards in action" which describe what the standard looks like at the program, student, and staff levels. This makes the standards incredibly accessible and relevant. Since the California standards have been released I have heard countless people state that, "The Quality Standards affirm what we value. The California Department of Education is endorsing what we have always believed quality programs look like."

The context and guidance for how the standards should be used is just as important as what the standards articulate. In California, we have specified that the standards be used for site level continuous quality improvement. They are not to be used as a compliance tool for outsiders to judge the quality of a program, for ranking of programs, or for assessment to determine future funding.

Finally, the Quality Standards tell a story. They are the base of a very important narrative that needs to shift. Since the early 1990's the Expanded Learning (afterschool) "brand" was primarily public safety. "Keep kids safe and off the streets." Gradually, the importance of childcare for low-income families and homework completion became part of the narrative. What we now know is that high-quality expanded learning opportunities are an engaging place of learning that is an integral part of a young person's education, preparing them for college, career and life. We need to position expanded learning programs as a place of learning. To that end, my office has just launched the Expanding Student Success campaign. At the heart of the effort is a direct line of communication between K-12 education leaders in order to tell the story of the power of high-quality expanded learning opportunities. We would not be able to tell that story if we did not have the Expanded Learning Quality Standards in place.

Carol: Only a small handful (less than 10) of states are not in the process of either developing or adopting quality standards. In some cases, states that are not actively working on their own standards have provided a variety of options for programs to assess themselves, such as the NAA core competencies, or the Weikert Center's Youth Program Quality Assessment, just to name a couple, so programs can begin to look actively at their own quality and plan for improvement. While most of the states who have participated in standards adoption have built their own state coalitions to build their programs' values into their standards, a recent crosswalk of existing state standards showed us that there is enough critical overlap in the main areas addressed to state that there is essential agreement on what quality is. These areas include safety, staffing, human relationships and youth development, activities and activity structure, as well as program administration and family engagement. Several states have already undergone revisions or expansions to their standards to include more specific guidance to programs on areas such as social and emotional learning, diversity and equity, sustainability, and program quality standards for older youth.

The value of adopting, promoting, and training to quality standards is first and foremost that high quality standards in action provide the best possible afterschool and summer learning programs for youth of all ages. There are many other elements, as well. In training, I often ask whether anyone was given the job of running an afterschool program as part of several other responsibilities they had at the time, without much more guidance than that. I am surprised each time at the number of hands raised in answer to that question. Program quality standards help any afterschool or summer learning program (regardless of funding source) provide the baseline for understanding what a good program should look like. They help build common understanding, a language for staff and other programs to talk with and help each other, and provide a pathway for improvement and professional development.

Standards bring other benefits such as informing key decision makers like policy makers and families of the elements they should be either funding or looking for when looking at available programs.

What does a quality after school or summer program look like to you?

Michael: Notwithstanding my listing all of the standards in action to answer this question, what I look for first is youth and staff who are engaged. When you walk into a room you can feel it. It is palpable. What creates engagement? I'll take this moment to plug the Learning In Afterschool and Summer's five elements. Learning that is active, collaborative, has meaning, supports mastery, and expands horizons. These five elements constitute the foundation on which the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning were designed. They are also easily understandable and relatively easy to observe. I also look for passion. Does the leader of the program have a passion for helping staff and students find their life's calling? Is it just a j-o-b or is it an opportunity to impact other humans in a way that is almost sacred?

Carol: I could go through a litany of elements of high quality programs but let's talk the essentials. When it comes to the critical part of a quality afterschool or summer school program, I look for programs that engage and respect youth and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills, interests, confidence, and provides encouragement for their growth and development. It's not a matter of the type of program or even the focus—it could involve recreation, STEM, arts, language or career development or really anything--it almost doesn't matter what focus the program has, as long as the basics of providing children and youth with the building blocks they need for success in life is present, the program is focusing on quality.

What do you think it costs to run a quality program?

Michael: The cost of quality is impacted by so many variables including the program's emphasis, the area's cost of living, staff to participant ratio and many others. The Wallace Foundation has developed a cost calculator that accounts for all these variables. 

I plugged the following variables into the calculator. The program had 100 slots, run by a community-based organization, located at a school, and operating five days per week for three hours during the school year. The staff ratio was 15:1 because that is the lowest ratio that they have data for. Then, selecting a city for cost of living the calculator gave me the following information on the cost per participating student per day to run a quality program.

JELO Article 2

There are more studies looking at the true cost of quality. One thing we know for sure is that the current California rate of $7.50 per day per student is well below what is necessary and, sadly, has not increased since 2006.

Carol: I wish I could give you a straight dollar amount, but it's going to vary based on local factors such as the goals, services, and structure of the program, average area salaries, what kind of staffing structure is involved in the program (volunteers, aides, certified teaching staff, youth development staff, etc.), the number of children participating and the ages, and whether transportation is a large factor in the budget, among other factors. Depending on the location and safety, for example, the budget line item for transportation might be the smallest or largest part of the budget with perfect justification.

A couple of things I think are highly important in developing a quality program are attention to who is responsible for running the program and whether time is built in adequately for program preparation and staff development. Over and over we have seen the value of a full-time program director focused on the development of and attention to quality in the program. While that's not to say that programs that do not have a full-time leader can't be of high quality, it certainly makes the job harder, because quality takes observation, planning, and development. Providing opportunities for staff to reflect on how the program is doing and get guidance on improving practices helps build a path toward quality, wherever your program is.

Think of the programs you visit. Do you feel the programs you see are quality programs? Why or why not?

Michael: If I am invited to a site visit, it is usually going to be a program that a school district or community-based organization considers high quality. It is probably the case that quality will vary from program to program in the same district or city and that quality can vary at different times of the year (or even the day) in the same program. The principle of continuous quality improvement means that regardless of how high quality the program appears, the work of improving things for our students and staff is never over. If I walk into a program that is obviously high quality, or into a program that is struggling, I am always going to ask the same questions: "How are you being intentional about improving the quality of your program?" "What influenced you to choose the area of focus you did?" and "What is your plan for improving the quality in that area of focus?" I am always more impressed by depth rather than breadth; therefore, any program choosing more than three standards to improve is not necessarily working harder at quality improvement.

Carol: I would say that for the most part, we see programs that offer a safe place and are run with good intentions by people who care about the youth and families in their programs. I know that sounds like I'm damning programs with faint praise, but I'm not. When I look at bullying, violence, and safety statistics for youth—particularly in the out of school time hours, keeping our children safe should be our number one priority. There are still too many children in this country who face going home alone every day.

That said, I also think rigid academic requirements or improved test scores that many schools and programs look for as markers of success have a tendency to make programs too uncreative and boring for too large a number of kids, particularly in higher poverty areas or in struggling schools. Adherence to program funding requirements without enough resources to adequately meet children's needs generally tends to lead to a rote program. Programs in that mode tend to be overly directive and rule-driven, and may not take families' needs into account. I really think this is because this is the best a lot of programs can do with the resources they are provided.

However, that is not to say that any community or program regardless of the level of poverty—urban, rural, sub- or exurban can't pull together to provide high quality programs for youth and their families. Some of the best programs we see are ones that honestly assess their resources and assets and provide support through youth and adult programming, job training, professional development time for staff, and a strong link to the school day. Focusing on the critical element of paying attention to youth and supporting them as they develop their interests, confidence, and skills goes a long way toward helping youth come to (and stay in) school, and where they can get more support to develop their academic skills.

What do we need to do to ensure programs run at that quality level? 

a. What do practitioners need to do?

Michael: Practitioners need to implement the continuous quality improvement process as outlined in the California Department of Education web page.

Then, practitioners need to seek resources to help them with quality improvement. California has a robust system of support for quality. Don't go at it alone! Bring in a fresh set of eyes to help you see what you might overlook.

Carol: Practitioners need to study quality standards and really make a concerted effort to look honestly at their programs to determine where their strengths and weaknesses are, then look at paths they can take to work on improving their program. Looking to each other as peers to support each other (either through peer assessment or regular professional development) creates a stronger understanding of what quality in afterschool is and how programs can get there.

In trainings, I often tell practitioners that if they are going to pay attention to one thing, it should be attendance from day to day. This is not primarily because I think programs should be keeping track of this statistic for its own sake, but because I think daily attendance and its fluctuations can tell a program so much about how it is doing. The highest quality programs I've seen have a system in place where they follow up with youth and/or their families if attendance is off for more than two days. Often, these programs find out the real reason for not attending the program is something they can help with or help get the right people to assist. For example, a family may have lost its housing, or a local employer has changed its scheduling so that the program hours may need to be adjusted. Looking at attendance trends over time, a program might find that there is unchecked behavior or bullying issues in an activity, or just maybe that they need to shake up staffing or the activities that are offered to keep children engaged.

b. What do researchers need to do?

Michael: We need more researchers to tailor their work to inform quality improvement. We also need research for publishing and documenting the impact of the programs. Research should inform quality improvement.

Carol: We are thrilled with the recent focus on developing closer interim measures of youth success other than test scores in both school- and out-of-school time. Providing a research base for more effective models of this success would give policymakers and practitioners more options for how they structure their programs to be more engaging and creative, not just an extension of the school day.

As someone who works to apply research to the practice of running a high quality program, I would also welcome further dialogue about how to put research into practice in programs. For example, researchers could ask, "Where have we seen programs improve significantly from the process of going through quality assessment and continuous improvement planning?"

c. What do policy makers need to do?

Michael: In some cases, get out of the way! Policy makers and government agencies are starting to focus more on performance management than simple compliance. This shift is taking root across the country. We must help programs successfully meet the compliance requirements. If programs feel supported around compliance the leadership can more easily focus on other aspects of quality.

Carol: Policy makers at all levels need to take a much more holistic approach to what children need to be successful and provide funding for programs with those goals. Although saying "more money" tends to make policymakers roll their eyes, we also need to be frank that most mid- to upper-income range families who can afford to do so participate in the type of afterschool and summer activities that lower income communities need to "prove" increased achievement. Asking afterschool and related programs to directly affect test scores is too long term and depends on too many other factors to be the measure of success for programs. Are the children happy? Healthy? Made to feel like they (and their voice) matter? Are children provided with a variety of engaging activities to better develop their interests? Do they have access to activities in which their family's circumstances might not allow them to participate? These are important elements that funded programs can address that I think are an investment well made in our youth that our policy makers can encourage (and fund).

d. What does the community need to do?

Michael: Our communities need to come together to build partnerships that bring supports and opportunities to kids. The power of partnerships is often lost because people confuse attending meetings or community input with true engagement and collaboration. We need communities to build true partnerships and for each institution in the community to also commit to a cycle of quality improvement.

Carol: The best thing a community can do is come together and leverage all of its resources together and work toward a common goal—it can be as simple as raising healthy and happy children or as lofty as everyone in the community has access to a path to higher education. This is not to dismiss that bringing everyone together is easy: it's not. It is often difficult to get people to put aside their own interests toward that larger goal. It is possible, however. Whether it's a commitment to providing safe transportation to students so they can actually attend programs, or training a cadre of volunteers in mentoring or tutoring skills so regular program staff can pursue improvement and development activities, or providing language classes to parents who are new to the country to help them feel welcome—every effort a community makes demonstrates commitment to the children of that community.

Researcher and Practitioner Reflections

Michael: I really didn't know what to expect when sharing my responses and then viewing Carol's. How near or how far apart would our perspectives be? I knew how closely Carol has worked with the Afterschool Networks across the country so it does not surprise me that her comments are informed by wisdom and a clear passion for what is good for kids. I discovered so many similarities in our perspectives.

I loved that when describing quality Carol emphasized the importance of engagement and respectful opportunities for youth to develop their skills, interests, and confidence. We are so on the same page. She went on to state that the design and focus of the program are in fact less important than these kinds of opportunities.

Carol also emphasized that program staff must have the capacity to reflect on their program and get guidance on improving practice to build a path towards quality. This is certainly in alignment with California's Senate Bill 1221 that dropped a lot of old accountability language and now requires programs to engage in a data driven cycle of continuous improvement.

Here is one of my favorite quotes. "... I also think rigid academic requirements or improved test scores that many schools and programs look for as markers of success have a tendency to make programs too uncreative and boring for too large a number of kids." Amen.

Carol: When I responded to a series of questions thinking deeply about the afterschool and expanded learning field and quality programs, I had a moment of panic the moment when I shared my responses. Although I am very passionate about the field and our work, was I too critical? Too far removed from day-to-day work? What would a practitioner think about these responses? However, I felt instantly calm once I read Michael Funk's responses to the same questions.

I feel as though we are strongly reiterating one another from different angles. We both value quality and believe it is possible, with appropriate development and planning. Being intentional in that planning—that is, knowing your ultimate goals and aligning your decisions toward meeting them—is essential. It was great to learn more about how California emphasizes "standards in action," to provide additional guidance to move toward quality, and to reiterate how quality improvement is a process that is never done.

It was good to see the calculations of costs for a program based on location, and the reference to Wallace's excellent cost calculator. Even more potent is the recognition that current funding levels are not adequate for our children. I hope that can build a call to action for the field to bring to policymakers to invest in our children's participation in expanded learning activities because they know it contributes to a child's successful development.

What most impressed me, though, is that the respected leader of the largest state-funded afterschool and expanded learning programs in the country clearly stated, essentially, that engagement is key for students. He didn't say "finishing their homework" or "increasing their test scores on phonemic awareness:" Instead, he said he looks for whether a leader has passion for helping their staff and students "find their life's calling" and a path toward it in engaging and meaningful ways. That is extraordinarily powerful and it makes me glad to be part of a field that emphasizes students' pursuit of happiness.


For breakfast, Carol usually swaps between a big protein fruit smoothie to last me all morning, and Noosa yogurt with granola and fruit. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

For Michael, every morning it is a Peanut Crunch Cliff Bar. Boring eh? But on a special day it is eggs over easy, shredded hash browns and Tabasco.  Plenty of strong coffee and some crisp bacon.


In 2107, The JELO will publish two issues: a special issue in Spring and a regular issue in the Fall. At this time, they welcome the submission of papers for both the Spring 2017 special and Fall 2017 regular issue. Please visit the blog post from yesterday to learn about the call for papers for more details. The deadline to submit is August 29, 2016. You can also visit Central Valley Afterschool Foundation for more information. 

Published in Breakfast Club

The third issue of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) has arrived! This spring issue launched at the 2016 BOOST conference and features a conversation about quality programming in afterschool, an article on the role that social emotional learning can play to close the achievement and learning gaps, and an article focusing on the links between professional development and quality STEM learning experiences.

The JELO serves as an important resource for the expanded learning field as well as makes the connection between research and practice for afterschool program providers and increases public awareness of the expansive work taking place in afterschool programs. This blog features one of the articles in the current issue titled, "Filling in the Gaps: How Developmental Theory Supports Social Emotional Learning in Afterschool Programs" authored by Andrea Canzano, Kenneth A. Anthony II, Ed.D., Elise Scott, M.S. All are with the Connecticut AfterSchool Network.


This paper examines studies, census reports, and afterschool data to shed light on how afterschool programs can help close the opportunity, achievement, and learning gap found in traditional education. The theories of Bronfenbrenner and Gardner can inform programming during out-of-school time, improving the ability of programs to craft curriculum that can close the education gap through social emotional development. Census and afterschool data show that minority and/or impoverished children are most in need of social emotional and academic support, but are given the least access to high quality afterschool programs. Research shows that, while brain-building often stops with early childhood interventions, it is essential for school-age children as well. The paper closes with recommendations for SAFE (sequenced, active, focused, explicit) programming and best practices for implementation.

Keywords: social emotional learning, afterschool, promising practices, program implementation

Filling in the Gaps:
How Developmental Theory Supports Social Emotional Learning in Afterschool Programs

Many of the institutionalized inequalities of the education system hinder the ability to reach learners of every race, socioeconomic standing, and family background equally. Formal public education systems are primarily locally funded, abide by strict curriculum guidelines and standardized assessments, and attempt to decrease the opportunity, achievement, and learning gaps for minorities (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Afterschool programs have a similar structure, however are unrestricted by curriculum guidelines, standardized accountability, and, for the most part, state and federal mandates. They have the ability to support academic success and social emotional competence through individualization to students' needs and background.

School curricula are developed with the hope of achieving student success, yet become impeded by challenges within the traditional classroom and the bureaucracy of education. In Smith and Kovac's (2011) survey, teachers saw preparing students for standardized tests as "reducing the quality of instruction they are able to provide students" (p. 210). Quality instruction cultivates success by connecting students' social emotional and academic skills. Afterschool programs can facilitate real-life application of academic content through collaboration with teachers and families (Afterschool Alliance, 2011). This article explores ways Afterschool programs can promote and encourage social emotional learning for students who are failing academically or behaviorally within the public education system.

Environmental Contexts

Children's social emotional development is affected by economic conditions, beliefs, and educational family structures. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), 68.2% of single mothers, 81.2% of single fathers, and 59.1% two-parent households are in the workforce. Low-income children are limited by their comparative lack of access to resources and experiences (Bandura, 2001). In addition, high stress levels can affect brain development in regions associated with language and reading (Noble et al., 2015). The United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights found that "the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed" (U.S. Department of Education, 2014, para. 4). Because of their ability to understand the environments in which their students develop, afterschool programs can help support success for all students.

Bronfenbrenner's Biological Model of Human Development examines the environmental contexts in which children live (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Bronfenbrenner focuses on the events a child experiences, or Proximal Processes. The characteristics of the developing Person, the Context of the environment, and the historical Time are all factors in the Proximal Process. Within these processes are systems of influence. The smallest systems have direct contact with the child and the largest systems consist of societal norms that indirectly shape the environment. Afterschool programs are found in the two smallest systems that hold direct influence over the child, the microsystem and mesosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

Each microsystem consists of people and places that are frequent in the developing child's life (e.g., home, grandma's house, school, afterschool, etc.). Through their microsystems, the child develops tools they will use "to accomplish the tasks and goals that give meaning, direction, and satisfaction to their lives" (Bandura, 2001, p. 4).

Influencers in each microsystem provide basic necessities and maintain consistent structure. In environments which do not provide these prerequisites, social emotional development is focused on avoiding dysfunction rather than advancing competence. Students are likely to develop traits that best fulfill the behavioral expectations to which they are exposed (Thompson, 2014). For students from an unstable home microsystem, social expectations in structured environments such as school or afterschool may cause challenging behavior. These environments have expectations that are often unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

For this reason, learning about the social norms and behavioral expectations in each child's home environment microsystem is our first recommendation. This is one step that can help reduce the achievement gap.

Afterschool Context

If an afterschool program's behavioral expectation varies drastically from those in other environments, afterschool program educators must understand how to work within both systems to further students' social emotional competence. Durlak and Weissberg (2007) proved that when afterschool programs implemented sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (SAFE) curriculum, it enhanced students' social emotional development. This helped close the gap in supports, resources, and interactions that low-income children experience.

For example, Paul and Sally have similar socioeconomic status, family structure, and live in a similar neighborhood but have different experiences growing up (see Table 1). At age 3 Sally experiences a major social change at home, and has challenging behaviors due to the bilateral nature of social and emotional development (Lerner, Bowers, Geldhof, Gestsdóttir, & DeSouza, 2012). From ages 5-15, Sally adapts as she receives guidance around these behaviors, and develops greater social emotional competence, with stronger relationships and improved communication. As Paul develops, he only learns the limited communication skills he's accustomed to at home, causing him complications in other environments where communication is open. During the final and greatest variance between their environments, Sally's family becomes financially unstable, limiting their necessities such as the food budget. Sally's academic success and communication skills began to suffer. Her home and afterschool program microsystems may be able to hypothesize that hunger or stress is the cause of the undesirable behaviors and academic trouble, and collaborate to find a solution.

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Bronfenbrenner and Morris (2006) assert that when dealing with a destabilized home environment there is "greater impact in reducing dysfunction rather than in enhancing [a child's] knowledge about and skill in dealing with the external environment" (p. 803). Understanding this position can help afterschool professionals move towards constructive behavior management techniques instead of disciplining behaviors. Over time, the child and their environment (the proximal processes) change, and behavior management and social emotional development goals at home and in the afterschool program need to adapt together to support the child.

These philosophies can apply to students who are in severely disadvantaged situations, where preventing dysfunction is the goal. Disadvantaged situations may include challenges in one or all of the following elements: family structure, socioeconomic standing, neighborhood, parent or guardian education level, instability, and lack of necessities. In these situations, afterschool programs can "improve the quality of the environment" by being a part of the solution, and in turn "increase the developmental power of promising processes" (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006, p. 808). If the family context is unable to intervene, the child's other microsystems (such as an afterschool program) have the responsibility of intervening.

Children often look to peers for guidance. Within the afterschool program, a student's peer group is a central component of the microsystem. Peer groups encourage developmentally generative or developmentally disruptive characteristics dependent on their dispositions. Peers can set in motion proximal processes that strengthen or hinder outcomes. In afterschool programs, advancing students' social emotional development through building developmentally generative characteristics within peer groups is essential.

The contexts of family, school, afterschool, and peer groups have the opportunity to work together towards encouraging positive outcomes, understanding each student's needs, and making resources accessible. A student's brain-building, through the use of enriching experiences, is extremely prevalent in early childhood interventions (Shonkoff, Boyce, & McEwen, 2009; Lenroot & Giedd, 2006).

By age 5, the brain has reached 90% of its adult size, but is continuously undergoing transformation. Between ages 4 to 18, the part of the brain controlling emotions, memory, and language changes dramatically. The area that regulates communication across parts of the brain and links brain function to behaviors and feelings continues to change and mature at a rapid rate beyond the age of 40. This means that brain-building must continue through school-age and beyond (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006; Lenroot & Giedd, 2006; Nagy, Westerberg, & Klingberg, 2004; Paus et al., 2001). Figure 1 illustrates numerous ways that afterschool programs stimulate continued brain development in school-age youth. Afterschool programs have the potential to facilitate development in nearly every area of the brain through their unique blending of academic, social-emotional, physical, and 21st century learning experiences (Shernoff, 2010; Beets, Beighle, Erwin, & Huberty, 2009; Silva, 2008; Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006; Zeif, Louver, & Maynard, 2006; Posner & Vandell, 1999) ( see Figure 1).

Figure 1 JELO

Figure 1. How Afterschool Impacts Brain Development. Reprinted from Brain-Building in Afterschool by E. Scott, 2016, Hartford, CT: Connecticut After School Network. Retrieved from ‎Copyright 2016 by the Connecticut After School Network. Reprinted with permission.

Afterschool programs which have an understanding of the unique contexts that influence each child work to close gaps in the ability of the home and other microsystems to advance development. Programs can identify what is missing for a child to have the social emotional skills to be successful in all contexts. Equipped with an awareness of the gaps, programs can help children develop skills in areas that are lacking.

Reaching all Learners through SAFE Curriculum

Reaching all learners is an overwhelming task. Yet the need is high. According to Baker (2014), the average Caucasian student at age 13 reads at the same level as an African-American student at 17. In addition, 61% of African-Americans and 50% of Latinos living in low-income situations would enroll their students in structured and focused afterschool programs if they were available (Afterschool Alliance, 2009). Each student has a unique social emotional skill set and individual learning style. The Campaign for Educational Equity emphasized that increasing access to high-quality afterschool programs is essential to achieving educational equity (Afterschool Alliance, 2013).

Vandell, Reisner, and Pierce (2007) demonstrated the potential of afterschool programs to increase academic scores through application of personal skills and talents. Programs can partner with traditional education to build complimentary learning. Afterschool activities can encourage 21st Century Skills such as problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking (Hart, 2008). Though these skills may be addressed in the traditional classroom, a meta-analysis conducted by Durlak, Weissberg, and Pachan (2010) illustrated that when students participate in the skills being taught, such as by the Active element of SAFE curriculum, acquisition of knowledge occurs in a more effective and efficient manner.

The ability to continually reach and encourage academic growth in afterschool programs requires an understanding of progression in academic knowledge, environmental influences, and learning styles. Understanding these characteristics enables afterschool programs to create engaging activities while promoting academic growth. It is essential that learning builds on the background knowledge students receive from the school curriculum, social emotional capabilities, and school philosophies. Once there is an understanding of a student's social emotional development, thoughtfully structured curriculum is a key to their success. Afterschool programs which integrate Sequenced, Active, Focused, and Explicit (SAFE) curriculum have shown positive social emotional development gains (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010). This includes structuring behavioral expectations similar to the school district students attend, collaboration with teachers to expand on curriculum, and developing partnerships that facilitate joint training between school and afterschool program personnel in current teaching techniques. For this reason thoughtful implementation of SAFE curriculum is a tool to be utilized when introducing social emotional curriculum within afterschool programs.

Considering Student Ability and Interest in SAFE Curriculum

Student interest and talents should drive the afterschool program curriculum, and be based on SAFE components. When incorporating explicit activities, students must comprehend the skills they are practicing in order to make improvement (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010). In afterschool, it is important for staff to avoid the mistake of providing students with simplistic activities.

Gardner's Seven Multiple Intelligences provide afterschool programs the tools to implement SAFE activities. Current criticisms of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences include lack of empirical support and flaws in some of the research supporting the theory (McConnell, 2015). However Armstrong (2009) asserted that the Multiple Intelligence model is conducive to the needs of after school professionals when developing complex instruction which encourages confidence and trust in oneself and others.

The process of participating in activities not only teaches students how to complete the task (e.g, build with Legos) but also teaches social strategies (e.g., building with Legos with a partner). Gardner and Hatch (1989) assert that individuals have multiple ways of showing intelligence. The intelligences are Logical-Mathematical, Linguistic, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. Afterschool program staff can gather information on students' learning styles from teachers, guardians, and their own observations.

These intelligences are listed individually, however Gardner found that they rarely act independently (Brualdi, 1996; Gardner & Hatch, 1989). This is something for afterschool programs to consider. Due to the large number of students a program can serve daily, it would be nearly impossible to consider each student's environmental history, social emotional zone of development, and individual interests when creating activities. However, Gardner states that to have a functional society all seven intelligences must be present. For education, this means that focusing solely on Language Arts and Math skills is actually a hindrance to intelligences outside of logic and verbal (Gardner & Hatch, 1989; Brualdi, 1996). Afterschool programs can encourage student interest and talents by focusing on activities that reinforce traditional education skills and foster success through many or all intelligences. Reflecting on a student's abilities (intelligences) and their contribution to an activity can prevent a student with low self-efficacy from having a negative experience and reacting with challenging behaviors. Figures 2 and 3 feature example activities which illustrate this. 

 Figure 2 JELO    Figure 2. Activity with Skill-Level Adjustments, Broken Square Example


Figure 3 JELO
                                             Figure 3. Activity with Skill-Level Adjustments, Copy Cat Example                                                                      

Case Studies

The New Hampshire Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) targets at risk students and promotes success through student interest. One teacher learned that potential high school dropouts enjoyed rap, but struggled with traditional English classes. The teacher worked collaboratively with students to develop curriculum which challenges them to display confidence in their own abilities, and reflect on the experience. Through following interest, the curriculum incorporated musical intelligence and specific developmental needs allowing the students to experience academic success and the highest level of cognition. These students were able to develop individualized learning portfolios, reaching a knowledge level of metacognition and cognitive level of creation (Heer, 2012) versus failing English.

This model demonstrates what partnerships between school and community providers can accomplish. By understanding student needs in adverse developmental situations this teacher was able to show success while applying the highest level of thinking skills. In the hierarchy of cognitive processes, many high order skills require social emotional abilities, such as working in inter- and intrapersonal settings, reflection, direct purpose, confidence, and the ability to respond constructively to environmental influences. Using multiple intelligences and social emotional abilities can encourage positive experiences for students. Incorporating daily strategies that build on students' interests and needs is a good starting point for afterschool programs to implement social emotional curriculum (as shown in Appendix A).

An excellent example of this is the California Afterschool Outcome Measures Project (CAOMP), which tracks data based on student input, school staff academic and behavioral data, as well as afterschool professionals' interaction quality and availability of level appropriate activities. CAOMP's focus within social emotional growth surveys afterschool professionals' and classroom teachers' observations of student social behavior, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and work habits. CAOMP incorporates student surveys initiating self-reflection of students' social emotional development regarding interactions with afterschool professionals, interactions with peers, and interest and engagement in activities. Due to programs participating in persistent data collection such as CAOMP, there is evidence that social emotional curriculum supports closing achievement gaps (Vandell, 2013).

A recent case study by Humans of New York story cited a teacher at the Mott Hall Bridges Academy who used to run an afterschool program for 5-12 year olds. One activity he created was a group building challenge (using manila folders, tape, and straws). The first attempt at implementation was unsuccessful. The next day, however, he bought yellow hard hats, and found "they transformed the kids. The hats made them feel like builders. . . . Other kids saw them through the window and asked to join, until all the hats were gone" (Stanton, 2015, para. 1). This one simple act encouraged social emotional gains, high levels of cognitive functioning, and academic skills.

Ramapo for Children is an organization which offers programs for youth who have academic, social, or emotional special needs. Their mission, to "help young people learn to align their behaviors with their aspirations," mirrors the intention of the building challenge (Ramapo for Children, About Us, n.d., para. 2). The children's social emotional toolbox develops through a four-tiered pyramid: (a) relationships and role models, (b) implementation of clear expectations, (c) structures and routines, adapting to individual needs, and (c) responding, reflecting, and repairing. Similar to SAFE programs, this pyramid is sequenced, responds actively to the needs of individuals, focuses on data driven practices and provides explicit structure for participants. The success of their toolbox is exemplified through their partnerships with Urban Assembly, which is "dedicated to empowering underserved youth by providing them with the academic and life skills necessary for postsecondary success" (The Urban Assembly, Our Mission, n.d., para. 1).

The parallel missions allowed Ramapo and Urban Assembly to provide teachers and students with trainings to develop social and emotional needs demonstrated through their partnership with the New Technology School located in a Harlem, NY public housing project. Jeff Chetriko, principal of New Tech in Harlem, stated the trainings, "gave students an opportunity to see a world outside of Harlem and helped prove to them that they are worth something," creating a school atmosphere that students and staff were proud of due to the new ability to talk about issues versus the previous norm of resorting to violence (Ramapo for Children, Our Impact, n.d., para. 6). The school previously was unsafe, unwelcoming, and ultimately counterproductive in providing students with quality education; however, there was a 33% reduction in suspensions and 40% reduction in behavioral incidents after the installation of a social emotional curriculum (Ramapo for Children, Our Impact, n.d., para. 3).

Conclusion: Filling in the Gaps with SAFE Afterschool

Youth in adverse environments are more likely to be unsupervised in the hours after school then youth in more advantageous environments (Afterschool Alliance, 2014). Likewise, parents reported that programs in their area often did not include challenging and enriching environments (Afterschool Alliance, 2014). This seems to suggest that students most in need of social emotional development are the least likely to receive the necessary support. Understanding students' social emotional processes, personal interest, and abilities in these communities can help develop SAFE afterschool programs and begin to close the opportunity, learning, and achievement gaps. There is need for SAFE and purposefully designed activities in afterschool programs where the factors of low socioeconomic standing, unstable environments, and low educational funding are pervasive. The ability to function productively, understand and thrive in institutionalized social systems, and achieve social emotional competence is required to succeed in today's societal structure (Bandura, 2001).

SAFE afterschool programs have been found to improve students' self-efficacy and academic performance, while decreasing developmentally disruptive characteristics. Durlak and Weissberg (2007) conducted a meta-analysis of 69 different programs which served children ages 5-18 across the country. Programs which continuously used SAFE structure and simultaneously aligned with the school day improved students standardized test scores, improved social behaviors, and reduced problem behaviors compared to programs without consistent social emotional curriculum (Bennett, 2015; Durlak & Weissberg, 2013; Vandell, Reisner, & Pierce, 2007) (see Figure 4). Afterschool programs which connect social emotionally centered curriculum and student interest can utilize the toolboxes provided through the example of Ramapo for Children and the California Afterschool Outcome Measures Project.

Success develops from a student's ability to use cognitive and social emotional skills collectively (Farnham, Fernando, Perigo, Brosman, & Tough, 2015). Developing these competencies is the first step to help students succeed in traditional education. Afterschool programs are in a position to make change and impact the closing of the opportunity, learning, and achievement gaps in education.

Figure 4 JELO

Figure 4. Average percentile gains on selected outcomes for participants in SAFE vs. other afterschool programs. Reprinted from Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer (p. 196), by T. K. Peterson (Ed.), 2013, Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Copyright 2013 by Collaborative Communications Group. Reprinted with permission.

Recommendations for Practitioners

Afterschool programs and educators, particularly those who serve children from low-income or at-risk families, are encouraged to consider the following steps. First, consider the contexts or microsystems that each child in your program has been exposed to. Are any unmet needs impacting the child's behavior or performance? What skills has the child developed as a result? What skills are missing or need to be developed more fully?

Second, keeping this insight in mind, consider how your afterschool program can be a support. Can you help families find or access resources to address unmet needs? How can your behavior management strategies encourage a positive behavior that builds a social emotional skill (like communication or self-regulation) rather than just halting an unwanted behavior? How can you build up self-esteem in areas where it may be lacking?

Third, build and implement a SAFE curriculum. Sequence your activities, so that each activity builds on the ideas and skills explored in the activities that came before. Start by thinking in week-long units, with new ideas appearing at the start of the week, and building knowledge and skills as the week progresses. Make your activities Active, so that students participate in fun, hands-on learning, practice new skills, and in activities which are related to their interests. Focus your activities, devoting specific, regularly scheduled time to developing the social emotional and academic skills your students need most. Be Explicit, defining what skills the students are learning and practicing. Tell students before the activity what they will be learning, and afterwards, check in to see if they learned what you were hoping and how they felt about the experience. For more specific ideas and a glossary of terms, explore Appendix A and Appendix B to jumpstart the process of integrating SAFE curriculum to promote social-emotional and academic success in the children you serve.


In 2107, The JELO will publish two issues: a special issue in Spring and a regular issue in the Fall. At this time, they welcome the submission of papers for both the Spring 2017 special and Fall 2017 regular issue. Please visit the blog post from yesterday to learn about the call for papers for more details. The deadline to submit is August 29, 2016. You can also visit Central Valley Afterschool Foundation for more information. 



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Durlak, J., & Weissberg, R. (2013). Afterschool programs that follow evidence-based practices to promote social and emotional development are effective. In T. K. Peterson (Ed.), Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success, (pp.194-198).Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group.

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Farnham, L., Fernando, G., Perigo, M., Brosman, C., & Tough, P. (2015). Rethinking how students succeed. Stanford Social Innovation Review Retrieved from

Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 4-10.

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McConnell, M. (2015) Reflections of the impact of individualized instruction. National Teacher Education Journal. (53-56).

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Appendix A

Jumpstart Social Emotional Learning: Activities to Understand Your Students' Interests and Experiences and to Build Personalized Social Emotional Learning

Thumb Up, Thumb Flat, Thumb Down

  • When students arrive and throughout the program, have them show "Thumb Up" if they are having a good day, "Thumb Flat" if they are having an okay day, or "Thumb Down" if they are having a difficult day. Incorporate this into the staff's routine with the students, having staff show how their day is going with their thumbs as well. It is a simple tool to check in with the students and for students to check in with staff, leading to a safe, understanding atmosphere.

One Word Share

  • Upon arrival, have students and staff members individually choose one word that describes them right now. Go around in the large group or in small groups sharing the word. No discussion of the word anyone chose is allowed, which creates the safety to be honest. They can share an emotion they are having, an interest of theirs, or even something silly; the intent is to promote authenticity and build knowledge of each person over time, not simply in the moment of sharing.

Silent Cheers

  • Have each staff member and student go around and say something they enjoy (e.g., tacos, soccer, painting, math). If it is something that you like as well, silently wave your hands in the air as if you were cheering. This will help staff and students cultivate relationships based on common interests and learn what students are interested in, to support interest-based activity development.

Commonality Line

  • In an area that students and staff can stand and step forward, create two lines facing each other. Have one person say a statement that applies to them. (e.g., "I have two sisters," "I am 10 years old," escalating to personal statements, "I am in foster care," "I have two moms," etc.) Everyone that the statement applies to silently steps forward for a brief moment, looking around, and then returns to the original line. As the activity progresses, the hope is to learn more about the students and staff's home-life and encourage understanding that we have similar and different experiences but we are all still standing together.

Safe Box

  • Create a box in which students and staff can put writings or drawings anonymously. On a predetermined time randomly choose a writing or drawing from the box to share. The box should be safe and have no instructions other than you are not allowed to bring others down. You may vent about anything but cannot specifically mention names or reference specific people (e.g., "I am frustrated with the way Johnny bothers me during homework club" is not allowed, but "I am frustrated when people distract me during homework club" is fine). This activity is designed to build discussion and empathy, and should be implemented once a safe atmosphere has been created among the staff and students.

Appendix B

Glossary of key terms

Achievement Gap: refers to any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students, such as white students and minorities, for example, or students from higher-income and lower-income households.

Assistance Assumption: skills that students are able to accomplish with assistance from a more competent peer or adult (their instructional level).

Bloom's Taxonomy: a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition (i.e., thinking, learning, and understanding).

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: the ability to use one's mental abilities to coordinate one's own bodily movements. This intelligence challenges the popular belief that mental and physical activity are unrelated.

Chronosystem: encompasses change or consistency over time not only in the characteristics of the person but also of the environment in which that person lives (e.g., changes over the life course in family structure, socioeconomic status, employment, place of residence, or the degree of chaos and ability in everyday life).

Cognitive Process Dimension: represents a continuum of increasing cognitive complexity — from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills.

Complex Instruction: Cooperative learning is a form of classroom instruction that structures collaborative interactions among learners to achieve the teacher's learning goals. This includes assigning competencies, multiple abilities, heterogeneous grouping, and equalization of academic status.

Context: a series of nested systems that affect the developing person ranging from micro to macro.

Developmental Competence: demonstrated acquisition and further development of knowledge and skills — whether intellectual, physical, social emotional, or a combination of them.

Developmentally Disruptive: includes such characteristics as impulsiveness, explosiveness, distractibility, inability to defer gratification, or, in a more extreme form, ready resort to aggression and violence; in short, difficulties in maintaining control over emotions and behavior. At the opposite pole are such Person attributes as apathy, inattentiveness, unresponsiveness, lack of interest in the surroundings, feelings of insecurity, shyness, or a general tendency to avoid or withdraw from activity.

Developmental Dysfunction: refers to the recurrent manifestation of difficulties on the part of the developing person in maintaining control and integration of behavior across situations.

Developmentally Generative: involves such active orientations as curiosity, tendency to initiate and engage in activity alone or with others, responsiveness to initiatives by others, and readiness to defer immediate gratification to pursue long-term goals.

Exosystem: comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings, at least one of which does not contain the developing person, but in which events occur that indirectly influence processes within the immediate setting in which the developing person lives (e.g., for a child, the relation between home and the parent's workplace; for a parent, the relation between the school and the neighborhood group).

Generality Assumption: skills that students are able to accomplish without assistance (their independence level).

Intelligence (Gardner): the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting.

Knowledge Dimension: classifies four types of knowledge that learners may be expected to acquire or contract —ranging from concrete to abstract.

Learning Gap: the difference between what a student has learned (i.e., the academic progress he or she has made) and what the student was expected to learn at a certain point in his or her education, such as a particular age or grade level. A learning gap can be relatively minor—the failure to acquire a specific skill or meet a particular learning standard, for example—or it can be significant and educationally consequential, as in the case of students who have missed large amounts of schooling.

Linguistic Intelligence: involves having a mastery of language. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively manipulate language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically. It also allows one to use language as a means to remember information.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: consists of the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

Macrosystem: consists of the overarching pattern of micro-, meso-, and ecosystems characteristic of a given culture or subculture, with particular reference to the belief systems, bodies of knowledge, material resources, customs, life-styles, opportunity structures, hazards, and life course options that are embedded in each of these broader systems.

Mesosystem: comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings containing the developing person (e.g., the relations between home and school, school and workplace, etc.).
Microsystem: a pattern of activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person in a given face-to-face setting with particular physical, social, and symbolic features that invite, permit, or inhibit engagement in sustained, progressively more complex interaction with, and activity in, the immediate environment. Examples include such settings as family, school, peer group, and workplace.

Musical Intelligence: encompasses the capability to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. (Auditory functions are required for a person to develop this intelligence in relation to pitch and tone, but not needed for the knowledge of rhythm.).

Opportunity Gap: refers to the ways in which race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, community wealth, familial situations, or other factors contribute to or perpetuate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain groups of students.

Person: describing the developing person distinguished most by three types of characteristics that are most influential in shaping the course of future development through the capacity to affect the direction and power of proximal processes through the life course: dispositions that set proximal processes in motion and sustain their operation, resources of ability, experience, knowledge, and skill, demand characteristics that invite or discourage reactions from social environment that can foster or disrupt the operation of proximal processes.

Personal Intelligences: includes interpersonal feelings and intentions of others--and intrapersonal intelligence--the ability to understand one's own feelings and motivations. These two intelligences are separate from each other. Nevertheless, because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together.

Potential Assumption: skills that are within a student's potential (their challenge level).

Proximal Process: particular forms of interaction between organism and environment that operate over time and are posited as the primary mechanisms producing human development.

Spatial Intelligence: gives one the ability to manipulate and create mental images in order to solve problems. This intelligence is not limited to visual domains--Gardner notes that spatial intelligence is also formed in blind children.

Time: broken into three successive levels: microtime refers to continuity versus discontinuity in ongoing episodes of proximal processes, mesotime is the periodicity of these episodes across broader time intervals, such as days and weeks, macrotime focuses on the changing expectations and events in larger society, both within and across generations, as they affect and are affected by processes and outcomes of human development over the life course.

Zone of Proximal Development: the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.


Published in Breakfast Club

summer mattersIf you are an educator responsible for providing a high quality summer program for children and youth in your community, you are probably busy right now with planning for summer and making sure you finish the school year strong. It is easy to fall into the routine of this busy time. Take just a moment to consider some of the proactive things you can do to take your summer program to the next level.

1. Brainstorm ideas for your unique program culture
High quality summer learning programs feel more like camp than school. If your program is school based consider decorating and re-branding classrooms and other learning spaces. With the right theme, you can transform a classroom into a cabin or a cafeteria into a mess hall. Or go with a space theme and turn the office into mission control. The opportunities are endless.

2. Sharpen your plan for professional development
Begin with the end in mind. What are your goals for the training? How will you achieve them? Consider what other support is available for summer program staff. Who will provide coaching? Focus on continuous improvement. Review the feedback you received on the training you provided last year. Are there changes you can make?

summer pic3. Find creative ways to give youth a voice
Public Profit developed a great resource, Creative Ways to Solicit Youth Input, that has many non-traditional ways to solicit input from youth, including interviews, collages, and song and dance routines.

4. Plan an event for National Summer Learning Day
Summer Learning Day is July 14, 2016! Summer Learning Day is an annual national advocacy day led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer.

5. Engage a local leader as your Summer Matters Champion
Have your superintendent or other local leaders sign on publicly to say that summer matters in your community. You can also host a site visit with local stakeholders such as superintendents, school board members, and community members to highlight your summer program.
What are you doing differently to get ready for summer this year? Tell us in the comments below.

Published in Breakfast Club

This is the second installment of our two-part blog series focused on practical student recruitment strategies. You can read the first part blog here


#6: Think socially

Create opportunities for participants to bring their friends. It's not always about your students coming to their class everyday. Create events or opportunities for registered students to go through a little bit of your program's experience. It could be team building games at lunch, or a scavenger hunt after school, or a Bring-A-Friend Field Trip.

By the way, start naming things other than what they are. For example, call your field trips "vacations" or some of your dances "clubs," "grooves," "turn-up," etc.

Have classroom challenges between your classrooms. Create contests by where students join their program leader in growing the size of the class! Create incentives to where if someone brings their friend to program for five straight days, there's something in it for both of them. Remember that coming to program is about the win-win for students. Middle school students are not known for being altruistic. At least not in the beginning.

#7: Call it what it is...DATA!

Someone has to be committed to tracking the numbers. It's a cold-hearted breakdown and you have to be OK with it. This person, most likely you as the Program Manager or Site Coordinator, have to look how attendance is fluctuating and pinpoint some of the reasons why. For examples...

  • Basketball numbers went down because our usual coach is hurt right now and the kids don't like the current coach.
  • Our cooking program is not doing too well because there's only 6th graders in that class and our 7th and 8th graders won't touch it!
  • Our dance class is not pulling numbers because the group of students in that class are clique-ish and no one else wants to join. Maybe we have some "mean girls" in there that are keeping people out.

You get the point. Someone has to push for meaning. What's behind the data? These challenges require some thoughtful "Plan B's" if you will.

#8: Understand that there is a "tipping point"

You know the old adage, "If you want to have 50 people at your party, invite 200 of them!"

If you really want to see your numbers increase, you have to go for volume. I know we can start thinking about making a difference for one child at a time. You can still do that, but we know our pursuit is impact. You will have to reconcile in your mind that you will start making a difference for a small group of kids. Say about 20-30. It's how you work with that small cohort that makes all the difference. This group is your base. Your believers. You know have to take that political capital and grow that number of students that you are serving.

In my mind, there are two populations of students:

  • The group(s) that we are reaching out to
  • The kids we are actually serving

We can reach out to kids all year long, while maintaining a focus on serving those that are coming to program everyday. The greater the number you reach out to, the better your chances that you will increase the number of youth you serve throughout the school year! For this, culminating events, showcases, shows and performances are HUGE! These events build your brand, which then draws in more kids you're outreaching to, which ultimately may lead to them being served by you for the rest of the school year!

#9: Understand the family dynamic

Over the past few years, I have witnessed more and more siblings joining us either with their oldest brother/sister, or coming to the program shortly after the oldest moves on to high school. Talk to your students about their little brother or sister coming to program. I have often witnessed that older siblings coming back and frequenting the programs if their little brother, sister, niece, nephew or cousin are participating. Sometimes, these same students become staff that can reach out and connect with youth better than most. The responsibility of having a family member in the program elevates the level of ownership for our alums.

#10 : Adopt the mindset that recruitment is a year-round endeavor.

One of the most important components of school site leadership, it for site coordinator to not let off the recruitment "pedal". As you establish all the habits and strategies listed above, it is imperative that you and your team continue to push ahead and continue reaching out to the student body throughout the school year.

  • Pre-program recruitment in May and June. Visiting local feeder schools.
  • Communication and applications go home for the next school year prior to summer. Enroll kids for the next school year while you have them in June!
  • Summer outreach during summer bridge programs in July and August.
  • Outreach during the first week of school. Rush week! This means September and in some instances, October. Allow students to drop in and observe program as a guest.
  • Staff turnover in the early fall months keeps your head on a swivel. One or two staff members leaving in October could be a 20-40 student swing! Be ready for that.
  • Keeping numbers high in November and December through holiday events, showcases, family dinners, acts of giving back to the community, etc.
  • Getting students back into the swing of things in January. It's almost like starting the school year all over again!
  • Spring break and testing periods in March/April can reduce your numbers if you don't have a strategy for the testing season.
  • And you're back to May!

When you approach your student recruitment plan, follow this logic:

  • Recruitment at the classroom level – Program Leaders are your first line of defense
  • Recruitment at the site level – Site Coordinators need to lead courageously and creatively in establishing site events that draws in new students
  • Recruitment through referrals – Teachers know who you are, what you offer, and are able to refer their students
  • Recruitment through buy-in from school leadership – Your school principal has the ability to activate resources and services at our school to support your ongoing recruitment
  • Recruitment through offsite partners – The right program partner will boost your cred and give you a whole new crop of students that you may not have been able to serve before

student recruitment



For breakfast, I had a bacon, cheddar, and egg sandwich from Starbucks and an iced coffee.


Published in Breakfast Club

This is a two-part blog series focused on practical student recruitment strategies. This first installment features five tips and five more tips will be shared on Friday. 


Here are some common strategies when dealing with recruiting students for your program. Remember, you HAVE to be comfortable with the idea of the numbers game if you are going to succeed in achieving your attendance goals. Great programs worry about quality AND quantity.

The New Yorker wrote an article shortly after the 2008 presidential campaign entitled "Battle Plans." It more or less dissected how then Senator Barack Obama won the Presidency. In the quote below, we see that behind the great campaign message of "HOPE," there were entire teams dedicated to looking at hard data, the "numbers," that would ultimately make the difference.

"You can have the most inspirational candidate, you can have the best organizing philosophy in the world, but if you can't organize your data to take advantage of it and get lists in front of the canvassers and take these volunteers and use it in a smart way and figure out who it is we're going to talk to—I mean, the rest of it is all pointless."
-John Carson, Field Director / The Obama Campaign of '08

#1: It's all about your staff

So choose wisely. There is no shortcut to this. You must do everything in your power to find the right people. This means that you are meeting and talking to people throughout the year. Talk to your best program leaders and ask if they have friends that want to make a difference. Think ahead and get a handle as to when your local universities finish the school year. Most semester schools finish in May, so you should be visiting career centers during Spring Break to make your pitch and post flyers in college career centers.

I know it is difficult to talk to someone in March-April about a part-time job in August-September. You can always visit some of the local summer camps to talk to camp directors about hiring their staff once the summer camp season is over. I always say that the "math is in the relationships." Great staff connect with students, which then keeps them coming, which in turn keeps your dosage healthy and attendance steady climbing!

Added bonus: Great staff also create great, positive energy. They are a centrifugal force that draws people in. Also remember that great energy does not necessarily mean someone is hype all the time. It just means that their mind and body are engaged and self-aware of the influence they have.

girl - wonder

#2: Design after the consumer needs/requests

Your program design must match the true interests of your student body. As a matter of fact, that should be driving the type of people you hire. There have been a number of times that I observe staff struggling with numbers and would then ask them, "Are you offering what your kids are looking for?" The first comeback is, "I would, but I don't know where or how to hire someone like that." Your classes must reflect student interests. This might sound blasphemous, but kids don't come to program because of our national initiatives (I'm looking around as I say that!). But, the reality is that our national priorities are the benefits of our program, not the features. I've seen students run up to staff asking for a certain type of class to be offered. The answer has often times been, "If you want that class, give me 10 more students and I promise I will find someone or someway to teach it!"

#3: Build it up and then break it down to its smallest element

When it comes to numbers, you CANNOT get around the issue of establishing a goal for whatever number you agree on. If it's 120 students per day, don't quit on that number. Don't back down and say that it's demoralizing because your team will never hit it. Set that target and then ask each individual program leader on your campus to contribute to that number. Here is an example:

  • You have five program leaders.
  • Each commits to having 10 students sign up for their class during sign up or "rush week."
  • That's 50 students to start the session. You can build great culture with 10!
  • I always say that 10 students is about where you want to be. There's something about double digits. If you have a program leader that is content with 6-7 students coming every week, you have hired and have chosen to retain the wrong person!

The goal here is ownership. The site coordinator or program manager cannot be the only ones that feel the pressure of numbers. Your group of program leaders should talk every week about how they plan to add 1-2 students per week over an 8 to 10-week session. Sounds reasonable to me. Remember, do not quit on the big number. Keep building towards it. Have a campaign. Make t-shirts that show the number in a creative way.

#4: Be shameless and fearless

ABC! Always be closing with everyone. If you're a site coordinator, you're trying to ask teachers for referrals to your program. You are looking for additional activities that take place on campus that you could provide support with or piggy back on. Let people know you are on the campus and are willing and able to be the solution. The shy or reluctant leader does not do well in these situations. If you are insecure about the value of your program, get some help and get some perspective. I worked in the public relations industry for many years. As a junior account executive, I always felt that I was begging journalists to write about my clients, products, or services. My boss always used to say, "Journalists have 24 hours of news and stories they need to fill. They need you more than you need them." Think about that in regards to your program.

red school door

#5: Hire or train someone to design your marketing materials

I cannot overstate how critical this is! This was literally our bread and butter. You need eye catching design to draw in your students. If Nike needs to do that to stay ahead of the game, imagine you and me? There are so many resources online now that you can create eye-popping promotional materials in no time.

Look especially at the style of your class selection forms. This is the document that usually has all the classes that your kids can choose. That is the doorway into the program. If that doesn't excite you as a student. If the design does not entice kids to take a peek at your program, you are not going to have success with the rest!


Be sure to visit the blog on Friday for five more tips on student recruitment for out-of-school time and expanded learning programs. 

Published in Breakfast Club

I don't know about you, but as the sun streams in through the windows on this magnificent fall day, I am shocked to look at my calendar and see that we are almost mid-way through November. Where did the year go? Although it seems like the fourth of July was just here, it is now time to start making holiday plans and wrapping up end-of-year activities.

As a compulsive list maker, it is natural that I start making lists for what needs to get done for work, the holidays, and 2016 goals. For those who may need some inspiration, here is a sample list of things to consider as you wrap up 2015 with your staff, youth in your program, and your personal lives.

To Do's:

1. Focus on what absolutely must be done before the end of year. If it is curriculum to cover, spend some time planning on when you will get those lessons implemented. A little planning and scheduling now will reduce last minute panic and stress.

to do list2. Create time for recreation for staff, youth, and yourself. Because this time of year can be hectic, it is essential that everyone take some time to relax and recharge. Setting aside time for social activities allows everyone some time to enjoy being in the moment.

3. Let those important in your life know how much you appreciate you them. Encourage the students and youth you work with on a daily basis to do the same. Make sure you also tell them that you appreciate them.

4. On a practical level, organize and clean out your work and personal space. Over the holidays is a great time to clean out so you can start fresh in the new year. There in nothing like coming back to the office (or home in the evening) to a non-cluttered space.

5. Reflect on 2015. What were the really great moments? What were things that you would do differently, if given the chance? How can these lessons be applied to 2016?

What does your year end "to do" list look like? It may not include any of the above, but if you start to plan and think about your priorities for the next few weeks, it is likely to be less stressful and more enjoyable!

For breakfast today, I had yogurt, cinnamon burst muffin, and coffee.

Photo Credit: Photo Pin

Published in Breakfast Club

As funders, partners, and education departments require out-of-school time programs do some type of quality assessment, I thought it would be timely to discuss successful strategies for implementing a quality assessment process. The last thing we want is to do the work to conduct an assessment and then have the results just sit on a shelf until a report is due...but we all know that can happen if we don't have a plan for how to use the information to inform practice. Below are some approaches that have been effective for us over the years in bringing assessment to life in our programs.

Determine a Process. There is a lot of information available on the different types of assessment tools, along with comparative analyses that allow you to see how comprehensively each tool addresses the standards. In my opinion, most of these tools provide a similar service. It is more about how you use the tool and the process you create around its use than the tool itself. If it is something you do just once and don't spend much time following up, it will have little positive impact on your program. It is the creation of a timeline for both the initial process and waypoints to monitor implementation of next steps that drives the improvement process.

Be Inclusive. When you invite people from a diverse cross-section of your program to participate, it increases buy-in and produces the most useful information. This means having all levels of the program participate in the assessment process (managers, line staff, fiscal staff, principals, and other stakeholders). It can be enlightening to see the differences in perception depending on someone's role in the program and can point to specific areas that may warrant additional dialog and role-specific training.

ed evaluation

Create Focus. Sometimes the assessments can feel very daunting in their length and scope. They are generally lengthy in order to be comprehensive but so much data can lead to inertia by overwhelm. Use the assessment to select one or two key areas to really focus on. This doesn't mean the other areas aren't important but it can be demoralizing to attempt to tackle too much all at once. This strategy will enable you to develop a long term plan that divides up the work into manageable chunks.

Align Your Tools. One approach that has worked well is aligning program surveys and rubrics (observation forms, evaluations, teacher/parent surveys, student focus groups, etc.) to use the language of the assessment. This gives you a built-in ongoing measure of progress across constituent groups and further invites program staff and stakeholders to work together on issue areas identified in the assessment.

Start a New Language. With your entire staff and stakeholders involved in the assessment process, you can begin to create your own language of improvement. To get there, you have to spend time discussing your definition of the quality elements and the action steps that are agreed upon to achieve improvement. Improvement can be more rapid and comprehensive if everyone is moving towards a common goal, helping each other and holding each other accountable along the way.


For breakfast I had a burrito and coffee this morning.

Published in Breakfast Club

If you're a mid-career professional like me, you've participated in a lot of strategic planning processes. I've found that the good ones are inspiring, create a shared sense of purpose and momentum, and result in measurable outcomes. The bad ones, well, don't.

After leading a department-wide reorganization process in 2014, I knew two things: we needed to do some strategic planning and execution, but staff were tired from the grueling months of meetings. I had to find something different from the typical lengthy strategic planning process – something that would energize staff and make a difference in the short and long term.

Staff in our Lifelong Learning (LLL) Division, which provides enrichment and recreational opportunities for youth and adults in our community of Ann Arbor, Michigan, agreed to be the first in our organization to try a new method. Using the book "The Four Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals" as a guide, the team developed a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) they'd work on as a team for the fall semester.

"A Wildly Important Goal is a tactical goal with a limited time frame," note authors Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. "It allows a team to focus and achieve 1-2 process or outcome changes that are critical for the division's success in the short and long terms."

The LLL team started by discussing these critical questions:

● If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?
● Is this a change that connects to the heart of our mission?
● What type of change (process, programmatic, etc.) will make all the difference to our short and long term success?

Conversations around these questions were a perfect opportunity for new and veteran members of the LLL team to analyze their programs, brainstorm and come to consensus.

The result was this Wildly Important Goal:
90% of the 466 youth and adult classes the LLL division offers will "run" in the fall 2015 semester.

Put in the opposite way, the division will decrease the class cancellation rate from 20-25% to 10%. Cancelled classes result in unhappy participants and instructors, not to mention a loss of revenue.

Many factors impact whether a class runs or is canceled, including how well we're meeting community needs; how successful our marketing efforts are; instructor quality; and if we're hitting the right balance of repeat versus new classes.


Ann Arbor Rec & Ed Lifelong Learning Division staff stand in front of their calendar of action steps for achieving their Wildly Important Goal.

After agreeing on the Wildly Important Goal, the LLL team identified the action steps ("lead measures") most likely to achieve the WIG. First, they wrote a calendar with these action steps on newsprint that's posted on the wall of their hallway. Next, the team created a highly visible "dashboard" to monitor progress.

Rather than a screen- or paper-based dashboard, LLL staff chose a more fun way to measure progress: marbles! Each marble in the bowl represents a class that's offered. Every time a team member is certain that a class will run, she or he moves a marble from the bowl of marbles to a tall vase. As the photo shows, the vase is marked with milestones toward achieving the WIG.

marbles 2

The team meets briefly each week standing in front of the calendar and marble containers. During this lively 20-30 minute check-in, staff talk about what went well or didn't go well in the previous week and their plans for the upcoming week. They identify no more than two tasks each will accomplish in the next seven days.

The LLL staff team is "Invested but not overwhelmed," says LLL manager Sally Searls. "This process has strengthened how we work as a team and is already showing results."

We adapted aspects of the Four Disciplines process (originally intended for the business community) to meet the needs of our school district department. The ideas it's based on – team identification of 1-2 critical goals and weekly meetings at a common dashboard to monitor progress and make course corrections – can be beneficial for any type of organization.

Based on the energy and dedication the LLL team is showing, I'm certain that by the end of October, the vase will be filled with more than 90% of 466 marbles.


For breakfast, I had a Morning Glory muffin from Espresso Royale in Ann Arbor.

Published in Breakfast Club
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