These last few days have not been normal. I have spent my morning breaking up political fights. Not in Washington, not in my community or at a protest, but in my K-5 before and after school program. And that breaks my heart.
The day after the election, my kids were either devastated or elated as they walked through my door, with only a few falling somewhere in between. On one side, this in itself makes me proud. Proud that we are encouraging our kids, no matter the age, to be a part of the political process. But the other side of me, the larger side, is heartbroken that this election has not only divided us, this beautiful country that I love, but our kids as well.
As I thought through my morning and the many similar mornings and afternoons to come, this is what I shared with my staff. It is my hope that we take this opportunity to grow our little learners and instill in them values that they can use in the years to come:
The coming days are going to be interesting days at Adventure Club. Just as you are all probably wrestling through a variety of emotions as you process the results of the Presidential Election, our kids are as well. We're asking them to grasp some pretty big ideas with some still growing brains... some concepts that are hard for even us to work through. This morning, I was struck by the amount of students affected in some way by the election, with very few of them coming in without an opinion.
As I've thought through how to best handle the coming days, these are the thoughts I am left with. I appreciate in advance your ability to set aside your personal opinions for the good of the group. May we learn these lessons alongside our kids, as we continue to move forward through our year and the years to come.
Our kids are going to have questions. And that's ok. Let's teach them how to ask them respectfully, how to seek solutions to the issues they see as ongoing problems, and how to advocate for what they believe in.
Our kids are going to have fears. And that's ok. Let's take this time to reassure them that school is a safe place for them to be the unique individuals that they are. That we will continue to support them as they go through life.
(Some of) our kids are going to be sad or upset. That's ok. Emotions are always valid and ok to feel. Let's share with our kids that the Presidential Election was actually one of many elections that took place. That we have a system of checks and balances in our government that doesn't allow for any one person to have ultimate control.
(Some of) our kids are going to be happy. That's ok. Let's teach them to win gracefully, to understand that not everyone has the same views, and that the right to disagree is a good thing – it can challenge and grow us to hear things from a different perspective.
Our kids are going to say things that you disagree with. Let's show them the value in calm responses, and how it looks to respectfully disagree without trying to change their minds. Let's engage in forward-thinking conversations as we set the example for what we want their conversations with each other to look like.
Today is going to be an interesting day at Adventure Club. But interesting is not always bad. Feel free to send kids my way if you reach a point where the conversation turns in a way that makes you uncomfortable or is something that you don't know how to handle. I can't guarantee that I have all the answers, but I can guarantee that I'll listen, and that's sometimes all that a person needs.
Here's to our Adventure Club community growing closer despite the divisive ideals our kiddos may walk in with. Here's to our community respecting and valuing the opinions of others even if they are different than our own. And here's to us, the adults, remembering that if we don't have it all together, there's no way our kids will.
For breakfast, I had coffee with a donut.
Treat your staff like children.
Do you disagree with this statement? Is this notion shocking to you?
We give children quality supervision and boundaries. We empower them to make decisions, and hold them accountable for their choices. We help them develop their skills. We give them feedback on their performance. We do the same with our staff. It comes from a place of love. Leadership is not about love – it is love. We love our staff like we love our children. We genuinely care about them. We want them to be happy. We love them enough to accept them where they are when we hire them, and help them get better. We facilitate their positive development.
Today, I am writing to give you some tips about giving feedback to your staff. This is not about "positive and negative" feedback. It is about FACILITATIVE feedback. Facilitative feedback makes it easier for your followers to continually improve and develop their skills. It is all about creating a culture of positivity, boundaries, and continuous improvement. It is all about learning lessons from our mistakes. It is about creating a culture where accountability for our behavior allows us to empower our people to act and drives continuous quality improvement.
If you have ever attended one of our workshops, you know I love acronyms. So, I created one to help you remember a formula for providing feedback. The acronym is F.O.C.U.S. – which is great because providing great feedback is all about how we FOCUS on issues, not on personalities; how we FOCUS on the future; how we FOCUS on results; and how we FOCUS on facilitating the positive development of people.
F = First Things First
O = Ongoing
C = Clear, Concise, Concrete
S = Strategy
Then the Facilitative Feedback Flywheel begins again, and again, and again and the continuous quality improvement process is institutionalized and becomes a permanent part of the culture of your workplace.
For breakfast today I had a large glass of iced coffee and some green chile stew.
I have been working with after school programs across the country since 1998 and there are some things that I have learned that make doing academic enrichment activities more successful with kids after school. To meet the goals of this is after school not more school and kids should be engaged and having fun, here are some helpful tips. They are in no order because I could never decide which was the most important, but I think number 9 is key...stop talking. What would you add?
1. Meet with your school(s) to find out what areas to focus on, where kids need more time, and how you can work together to align with what they are focusing on.
2. Explore existing interests. Poll your children to learn what they are interested in and consider ways to use academic enrichment to focus on these areas. For example, if children show an interest in animals consider children's literature or reference materials about animals that will pique their interest and facilitate conversations. Ask open-ended questions that require students to discuss the text. You will find that children can learn about what they are interested in while building comprehension and vocabulary.
3. Allow leaders some choice in what areas of academic enrichment they facilitate so they bring their own interest into afterschool. For example, some leaders might not feel comfortable doing a read aloud, but might be artistic or musical.
4. Make it playful. Choose activities are that are fun, engaging, and hands-on. Afterschool should not feel like more school.
5. Timing is everything. Think about your schedule. If children have choice make sure that the offerings are equal. For example, don't offer basketball and literacy at the same time.
6. Give lead-time to leaders. Give your staff time to think about and prep for what they are going to do with children. Staff benefit greatly from support. Taking time to prepare will help to ensure success.
7. Involve parents and the community. If there is an opportunity to take a field trip or have a visitor come in to talk about a related topic children will be more engaged and more likely to own their learning.
8. Mix it up! Encourage children to work together with multiple age levels. For example, have one age group of kids learn about a topic and give them time to teach another age group in partners or groups.
9. Facilitate more. Talk less. Give kids lots of time to talk to each other about what they are learning. Work on being a "guide on the side" and let the children do the majority of talking and thinking.
10. Put a fresh spin on your existing routine. Look at what you are already doing and think about ways to involve academic enrichment. For example, can the kids play a role in snack by dividing it and/or planning how to serve it?
11. Allow for a learning curve. Embrace that you don't have to know everything. If you don't know the answer to a question work together to figure out how to learn about it.
12. Share what excites you. Show your own excitement about what you are sharing with the kids and chances are they will join you!
I had Trader Joe's Corn Flakes with a sliced banana breakfast.
I was in a meeting recently and was offered a suggestion: to invite my staff to play back what they heard when we're having discussions to reduce the chance for misunderstandings. I appreciated this feedback because it was practical and addresses an area of growth for me. It was especially meaningful since the feedback was from someone whom I supervise. I know that it's not always easy to offer up constructive feedback to a supervisor.
Feedback within an organization: Practice makes better
It takes determination and practice to make feedback part of the practice of our organizations. At Techbridge we encourage all staff to offer feedback on what is working well as well as areas in need of improvement. This goal came out of our recent performance review process in which areas for improvement surfaced. There were a smattering of challenges described in peer and supervisor reviews that had not been shared between supervisors and staff during the year. Next year, we don't want any surprises or missed opportunities for making changes and improving practices with more timeliness.
We recognize that while giving more and better feedback is a goal, it is a work in progress at Techbridge. Jane MacKenzie, Chair of our Board of Directors, offered up her help and hosted training for our staff. Jane is General Manager for Global Workforce Development at Chevron and she shared research and encouraged us to role play and practice some of the strategies she recommended. We know that a one-time training isn't enough and plan to revisit our staff needs for additional training later in the year.
Feedback to partners: Regard it as a gift
Offering feedback is also important for the partners we work with. We introduce our girls to role models who dispel stereotypes and inspire our girls in science, technology, and engineering. They come to our after-school programs and host field trips. Knowing how to be an effective role model is not something one learns in college or on the job. In order to support their success, it is important for us to share feedback with role models. At the start our staff wanted to focus only on the positive since role models were volunteering their time. While we want to recognize and reinforce what role models get right, it is important to note where role models (and Techbridge) can improve. We've learned that while it may be hard at first, it is important to engage in candid discussions with role models.
Looking at feedback as a gift instead of an indication of a shortcoming is a perspective that helps guide us. It helps to set up the expectation from the start that follow-ups are part of successful partnerships and feedback supports program improvement. Starting these conversations by asking partners for their help on what they think can be improved makes it easier to share feedback on how they can also improve. Everyone wants to help when they are asked. Quality feedback makes for lasting partnerships. With practice and training it does get easier to provide feedback.
Techbridge's Top Ten Tips for Making Feedback Part of our DNA:
1. For most of us, feedback can sometimes be hard to give and receive. Provide training so that everyone in your organization gets more comfortable and more skilled. It takes practice and with time will become easier and more effective. It helps to remember that we are all works-in-progress.
2. Make it timely. When you see or hear something that you want to reinforce, let your staff know what they have successfully accomplished. Be specific on what made their behavior effective. Did they walk around the classroom and make sure that all kids were engaged with hands-on materials? Did they demonstrate growth in giving directions and managing behavior since your last visit?
3. In instances when you can't provide immediate feedback, find the next appropriate moment to share your comments. Or, send a quick email or write a note that captures your insights and can serve as the basis for a discussion the next time you meet.
4. Techbridge after-school programs end with shout outs. We learned this from one of our program coordinators. Our girls share out and acknowledge and appreciate the actions of others. They note the partner who helped them work through a design challenge, the teacher who encouraged them to persevere, or the role model who visited their school. We brought this practice back to our office and end team meetings with shout outs. Help with a weekend family event, review of new curriculum, and success in managing a challenging partnership are examples of shout outs that appreciate the collective efforts of our team.
5. Find out the preference for how each staff wants to receive feedback. Each of us is different. A private note may be more appropriate for some. A public remark during a meeting may work better for others.
6. For managers, make it a standard practice to ask a question during check-ins to make sure that they are providing feedback to their direct reports. Ask them for an example of when they provided feedback on successful work and when they provided input on a skill that needed improvement.
7. Positively reinforce feedback. When someone offers up feedback, thank them for caring enough to offer a suggestion on how to improve. This is particularly important for supervisors since it can be intimidating to offer constructive feedback to someone with more authority.
8. Managers, give your team a box of thank-you notes to support their giving of feedback. Let them know that you will be checking back to make sure they use them up in a timely way.
9. We invite partners to visit our programs and see us in action. We ask that they follow up with feedback. We learned this effective practice from Galileo Learning. In advance of a visit to one of their trainings, Glen Tripp, CEO and Founder, requested that we share at least one piece of constructive feedback with him. We liked the idea so much that we stole it!
10. Random acts of feedback are demonstrations of caring. They help us thrive in our work. The benefits go round and round. The person who receives feedback feels better and becomes more effective at the job. The person who provides the feedback feels good and knows that she or he is cultivating leadership within.
For breakfast today, I had coffee and granola. I shared breakfast over a phone call with Elizabeth Hodges, who is Executive Director in our Greater Seattle office. We may be in different cities, but we share a common commitment to inspiring the next generation of innovators and leaders. In these calls, we can offer input to one another and work on our feedback muscle.
It was a typical day in my elementary after school program. I was the newly appointed Site Coordinator after 5 years of being a line staff program leader working with 20 youth at the same school. I remember how excited I was to be promoted to the Site Coordinator position. I felt like for the first time someone had recognized my talent in working with youth. I remember how I felt when I received my staff collared polo shirt; line staff wore regular t-shirts. Somehow the collar told everyone around the school that I was the person in charge. I remember getting a master key for the school from the school principal; she let me know how important it was for me to not loose it and the costs and consequences if I did. I received my own mailbox in the teacher's lounge, next to all of the credentialed teachers and certificated staff. Needless to say I felt I had finally made it in after school. It was hard to stay humble those first couple of weeks, until the day that changed my life in a profound way.
I remember this day like it was yesterday even though it was October 10, 2002. The school principal came to speak to me in the multi-purpose room with a student standing next to her. As she approached, I noticed that the youth was visibly upset, his fists clinched to the side of his body, with a look that I was familiar with from my upbringing. I knew exactly what it meant and that this could escalate very quickly. She told me that Salvador had been kicked out of every program that he had been in, that he was failing in school, that he could not pass any single test, that his attitude was out of control and that she wanted to enroll Salvador in my after school program as a last chance. If he got kicked out of my program, he would get no more chances from the school.
I was shocked and definitely not prepared for this. I could not believe that she was saying all of this right in front of him. All of my training and work in youth development had not prepared me to deal with Salvador nor with the principal. I was definitely out of my league. So I asked Salvador to please go sit with the rest of the 4th grade class in the program. He looked at me with his fists still clinched and let me know in his own words that he did not want to be part of my program or this school. I asked him again to try it out for the day and that we could chat about this after the program. After the program, I spoke briefly to him about his day and as he was leaving, he says: "I don't want to be here and I am going to steal your car." I did not know what to say nor do as I was frozen and shocked. He left without saying another word.
The next day to my surprise Salvador shows up to my program after school with a black horn in his hands. He walks straight to me, hands me the horn and says: " See, I told you I can steal your car." I asked him what this was and he quickly responded that it was my car alarm. I could not believe it. We went outside with the horn in my hands to where my small Toyota pickup was parked right outside the school office. I kept pushing my car alarm remote and nothing was sounding. I opened the hood and to my surprise, it was indeed the horn to my car alarm as I could see the space where it was supposed to go with the wires hanging out. I was furious. He looks at me and says: "Are you going to kick me out now?"
I had to pause for a moment. I realized that in my 23 years of life I had not had to make many life-changing decisions. Looking back at the entire situation this was definitely a life-changing moment for me, although I would not realize it at the time. Similar to the decisions I would later make such as getting married, having children and finishing my degree, among others; decisions that would impact the rest of life and would shape my career and who I am as a person. Nobody can fully prepare a Site Coordinator to make these types decisions. It is the difference between doing things right and doing the right thing. My collared polo shirt and master key to the school did not prepare me for this.
After a moment I thought about the opportunities I had been given in my life, the chances that people took with me, the great teachers and mentors that I had and so I turned to him and told him that not only was I not going to kick him out of the program but instead I was personally going to work with him because based on what he had done with my car, he would be great in projects that I would find for us to do together. Right then and there, his whole demeanor changed. He relaxed his body and the look in his eyes was different. Right then and there, I had gained his respect.
From that moment on, he came to the program each and every day. Never wanting to go home when his mom came to pick him up early from the program. He was a different kid. A leader in his cluster at the after school program, improved his grades and social skills during the school day. Completely different kid than the one all the teachers always talked about. We were all excited for him. He spent 3 years in my after school program. He asked me to go to his 6th grade graduation. He asked to take a picture with me holding his certificate. He was so proud that day. Needless to say that I was promoted yet again that summer, moved to administrative roles within the after school program. I did not see nor hear about Salvador until two years ago when my phone ranged and a deep voice said: "Mr. Bruno, do you know who this is? It is Salvador from your after school program. Is there a way that I can speak with you about going to college?" I remembered holding my car alarm horn in my hands and then I remembered holding his 6th grade certificate. 10 years had passed and he was now 20 years old. He told me that he wanted to go to college and play baseball. The problem he had was that his family did not believe in college nor encouraged anything other than for him to get a job and help pay the bills. He said that he did not have anyone that he could speak with about college and that he knew that I would answer the phone. This is when I realized that my career in after school was a success. I realized that I had made an impact on at least one student. I also realized how much this program and this one student had made an impact on me.
I always think about the struggles that Site Coordinators go through each and every day. They are essentially the school principal during the after school hours, they are the keepers of safety not only for their students but also their staff. They handle timesheets, payroll, meals, they provide professional development, advice, encouragement; they are the connection between the parents and the school.
They are coordinators, event planners, mentors, managers, marketing directors; they are the most important person on an after school program simply because they have access to all the key stakeholders on a daily basis; the students, the parents, the staff, the teachers and principal, the school support staff, and have influence over program and school decision makers. I am not sure if anyone tells them any of this when they get a master key and a collared shirt but they are the keepers of the success of after school programs not only in their neighborhoods and communities but also throughout their state. They are the key piece to the puzzle.
I have made a career in after school and as I continue to move up the ladder in different positions, I have never encountered a decision or situation that was more difficult than my time as a Site Coordinator. I cherish that time and I take it with me. I have never forgotten that feeling of my first speech to new staff on the first day back from summer. I have never forgotten that feeling of going to the dollar store with $80 dollars which $30 of them were my own personal money right before the program and trying to buy things to create a program carnival for 80 kids. I have never forgotten that whenever I told a parent that my program was full and there was no room for their child and that they would have to go on a waiting list, that the decision that I had just made an impact on that entire family's disposable income as they now needed to pay for child care or possibly stop working full time. I have never forgotten that one time a child went missing from the program because they decided to walk to the park after school instead of checking in to the program and their parents did not know where they were. I have never forgotten that one child, Salvador.
As you read this, all I ask is this...Do you think you know what a former student would say if they called you ten years from now and said: "Because of you I..."
For breakfast this morning I had a protein shake.
To promote an environment of innovation and improvement, one strategy we employ is engaging our staff in developing and then sharing their expertise with their peers. It is in an effort to promote a learning community philosophy to encourage leadership, promote learning, and foster expertise. Through the learning community we are focusing on intentional personal and program improvement, fostering expertise and leadership, and creating internal capacity for staff development.
Promoting Personal & Program Improvement
We have a diverse committee that puts together a list of internal staff expertise. Staff are asked to identify their expertise and participate in sharing it with their peers. The committee also surveys the staff to understand what the professional development needs and wants are among the staff. Those with expertise in the areas of need or interest are then asked to deliver trainings and other learning experiences. In addition to this approach, we also ask staff to lead discussions in their areas of interest. For example, we have a training series that has different staff members leading discussions on selected TED Talks.
The committee also identifies where outside training and support are needed and encourages staff to attend external trainings to expand or develop expertise. Every staff member is asked to develop their own professional development goals, which are discussed and reviewed in the performance evaluation process. All of this is in an effort to continue to grow and expand personal skills, which improve program performance and promote an environment of innovation.
Fostering Expertise & Leadership
Through the learning community, the goal is that staff at all levels of the organization see themselves as ongoing learners and leaders in their field. This happens from their own continued learning as well as rising to high expectations. Being asked to lead a workshop for peers builds confidence. To teach is to first learn, so in that way it also promotes learning in the person developing the workshop. These "teachers" further take on the mantle of leader as they showcase their skills to their peers.
Building Internal Capacity
An added benefit to this strategy is that you are growing your organization's staff development capacity in a very cost effective way. You don't have to pay consultants or send staff to as many external trainings, saving money on fees and travel and focusing in on your internal capacity.
I think it is also a great model for our students. They see that the staff is taking charge of their own education and growth, which can only have a positive benefit for our students, hopefully inspiring them to own their own learning and capacity for leadership.
Speaking of a learning community, I am looking forward to one of the best learning opportunities while we are here at BOOST. I can see a series of internal trainings over the next couple of days that are inspired by BOOST, so those that attend are sharing their learning with those who aren't able to be here. What do you think?
To spice up my day, I had potatoes and cottage cheese with Tabasco for breakfast this morning.
1) Be PRESENT. Don't compare last year to this year. You will be chasing a ghost or even worse, you will try to "recreate" last year's experience. Every year is distinct and every year there are new 'openings.' Which is one of the secrets of BOOST and something that can be appreciated, only if you are PRESENT (mind, body and soul).
2) The ENTIRE CONFERENCE is a workshop. If you expect to get your professional development in workshop sessions...good. That's what they are there for. Also, think about this...the nation's leaders in Expanded Learning are convening in one area for one week. Utilize and maximize this opportunity. I have found that this type of informal learning has been the most transformative and authentic.
3) Be GENEROUS with your SMILES and APPRECIATION (especially if you are from California). It is more difficult and awkward to NOT speak to or acknowledge people in their presence. And from my experience, BOOST is the only time where I get to see many of my dear friends and comrades in the Expanded Learning field. Equally as important is smiling and acknowledging people we don't know. Now, for my California peoples, this incredibly important. This is our state and people are coming from across the nation to BOOST. Welcome them and show them why some say the WEST COAST is the BEST COAST.
4) Make a commitment to CONNECT with a minimum of 5 new people. I remember one of the first conferences I went to in my after school career. A team member dug into me because I wasn't doing everything with them. I get it. Building team is important. Equally important is building and connecting with new people. There are going to be over 2,000 people at BOOST...someone has to have the answer to your question. Someone has to have that idea that will inspire a program, a city, a state and/or nation. BONUS POINTS: Connect two different people from across the states that have never met.
5) SHARE your learnings, highlights, and inspirations via social media. They say there are two types of misers: One is a miser of money. The second is the miser of knowledge. The latter is worse than the first. Why? The miser of money doesn't give out of fear of losing their money. The miser of knowledge, ironically, doesn't lose any of their knowledge when they share it. Lesson: don't be stingy with your knowledge and share it via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
6) Make it a point to REFLECT on your experience: By the end of the week you will be on a high. You will meet so many people who are deeply passionate about what they do. You will meet people who love their work and the people they work with. This love is both intoxicating and contagious. You cannot help but be inspired, so on your plane ride home or your drive back, make it a point and reflect on your experience.
7) Keep yourself HYDRATED. Seems simple, right? It's going to be over 100 degrees EVERY day there so please make sure you take care of your basic needs. BONUS POINTS: Offer someone a bottle of water or buy them a drink ;).
For breakfast I had a cup of coffee and a spinach, banana, and coconut milk shake.
The holiday season is upon us — a time of year when we recognize those in our personal lives we are thankful for. It is also a great time to think about recognizing those in our work life. Things can get so busy during the year that we forget to let those we work with know how much we value their contributions. That is why having a Recognition Plan can be so valuable.
Those that work in our after school programs, and with our most vulnerable youth, really benefit from ongoing support and recognition to feel engaged in the program and get through challenges. The best thinking and research in this area indicates effective recognition should:
• Have both an individual and team component
• Be aligned with organizational goals and values
• Increase employee engagement
• Create a positive work environment
• Reward innovation, attitude and performance
• Improve employee retention
It is important that recognition is meaningful, specific and connected with activities that staff value. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but it should be personal and tied to the vision of the organization. Here are some practices from my experience to get you thinking about your recognition strategy:
Write a personal note to a staff member who has done something great, thoughtful, or supportive. It is so simple but often is the most meaningful. I remind myself to be specific about what I am thankful for and to connect it to our vision of supporting student success.
Create your own personal certificate to give to those who have an achievement, present at a meeting, or reach a certain goal. I got this idea from our Superintendent who gives out her own award, which staff often post on their walls with pride.
Invite an employee to coffee or lunch to celebrate an accomplishment. This provides some one-on-one time to acknowledge the accomplishment and make a personal connection and explore future career steps.
Find out what the staff person enjoys and get a gift that aligns with their interests/strengths. This can run the gamut but it is best when connected to the vision. As an example, I got a personalized coach whistle to thank a staff person who loves sports and organized a sports league in our after school program.
Provide, as a reward, opportunities for staff development to support career aspirations. I have offered a registration to the BOOST conference to staff who attain certain goals.
Honor those exhibiting best practices. This recognizes individual accomplishments and reaffirms specific program strategies and elements you want to see in your program.
Include appreciations at every staff meeting. At our staff meetings, we always conclude with an opportunity for staff to recognize each other.
Honor a Staff Member of the Month, create a "Catch Inspiration" Award to highlight inspirational staff/stories, or create a staff nominated "Wall of Fame" and post on social media. We have done a variety of these types of recognition strategies, usually focusing on our Facebook page, blog and newsletter. It is a great public recognition that the honoree can send to their families and friends.
Honor years of service along with personal milestones. This is an annual celebration at my organization. However you celebrate it, the recognition of time given to the organization is an important and motivating right of passage.
Honor innovation with a special award where the winner can challenge you to do something new. This is a great way to get more deeply involved with staff and it is fun and motivating too.
Bring a care package to staff teams that have done great work, made it through a challenging time, or reached a milestone. We honor school site teams with care packages and gifts throughout the year in honor of accomplishments, with thanks for a job well done, and to appreciate the strength shown in getting through challenging times.
Organize a party to appreciate staff and provide time for personal connections. We have a committee that focuses on creating social opportunities and other strategies to support a positive workplace. It is great to get the whole organization involved and owning recognition—it encourages a culture of appreciation.
Some Other Ideas
• Have staff fill out a "Recognition Preference Profile" so you know what type of recognition is preferred.
• Keep an inventory of recognition strategies and what works well (or not).
I hope some of these ideas spur your thinking about how to support, recognize, and honor those who do this necessary work. Recognize!
I began my day with half a grapefruit, sourdough toast, and coffee.
Life should be lived as play, summarized from Plato's Laws, should be the mantra of every adult providing out-of-school time care for children. Childhood passes swiftly, and even more so as our nation careens down the path of testing and accountability. With Americans living on average into their 70s and 80s, the time one can spend playing without guilt passes in a blink. The childhood experience is missing fun for fun's sake. Free play has been replaced with purposeful skill building. Pick up sports have been replaced by competitive teams. Hours of free time have turned to structure and expectations. Our children – and perhaps we—yearn to burst through stifling schedules and to run with abandon, to giggle without care, and to leap wildly--without correct form or technique--through the air. We are in serious need of FUN because:
5. FUN IS CHEAPER...
According to the New York Times (July 2, 2013), the number of Americans who receive Social Security Disability Insurance for mental disorders has doubled during the past 15 years. An incredible 11.5 million American adults now receive a total of 150 billion direct dollars due to debilitating mental illnesses. While I am not insinuating the cause of mental illness is the lack of fun, it is important to remember the opposite of fun is not boredom, it is depression. It is proven that good feelings flow when fun is involved, including joy, motivation, attention to the present, serenity, confidence, clarity, engagement, and delight. Mood lifting body chemicals are released with laughter, fun, and play!
4. FUN HEALS
Children's Advocacy Centers report serving 287,000 child victims of abuse around the country in 2012. In a culture of sadness and hurt, where children and families are suffering, fun heals. Fun creates a distraction from pain, fear, and other burdens. Playing with others reminds us we are not alone in this world. Stuart Brown (TED, 2009) asserts, "The basis of human trust is established through play signals." We connect with others and form the infrastructure of trust, the foundation of all positive relationships.
3. FUN BUILDS COMMUNITY
Play teaches children how to interact with peers, relieve stress, and cope with their surroundings. Students bond over silliness and through play. Sharing joy and laughter with others strengthens a sense of community in programs. This sense of cohesiveness provides emotional support for children in even our neediest communities and makes children WANT to attend afterschool programs.
2. FUN IMPROVES LEARNING
Pleasure is an important ingredient in learning and memory as it increases dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the brain. Play, with language and words allows children to grow in literacy skills, and fun with blocks and manipulatives allow improved 3-dimensional understanding. From physical play allowing children to develop gross and fine motor skills to imagination and fantasy play allowing children's minds to wander, fun enhances every domain of a child's development.
AND THE #1 REASON TO INCLUDE FUN IN AFTERSCHOOL:
BECAUSE WE CAN!
Life is serious; adults are serious; school is serious. Out-of-school time is not yet regulated and policed into seriousness. We must take advantage of this freedom to simply have FUN! Incorporate fun and play in your programs—
1. Trash (recycle) the worksheets! Make it a rule to use NONE in your program!
2. Change 2-player games into small team games and encourage collaboration.
3. Make ACTivities active! Use hands-on materials to practice skills, such as giant number lines and dice to practice adding and subtracting by standing next to numbers and stepping forward or backward.
4. Play games—board games, indoor games, outdoor games, jump rope games, hand-clapping games, line games—it does not matter—just PLAY!
Find ways, every day, to encourage laughter, enJOYment, and fun. You will be rewarded with the best program year, and your students will reap the rewards.
For breakfast I had Cheerios with raspberries!
Who do you think the hardest working educators are? Or which kind of educator deserves to be paid more money than another educator? Is money a motivator for better teaching OR is developing your staff enough? Would it be safe to say that any authentic and dedicated educator who decides to teach, coach or instruct does it because they want to change a life? And with constant debates under the NCLB and Race to the Top platforms-- issues of teacher /educator effectiveness are always on the table. And then the issue of 'compensation' arises... Wait, now I am bringing up too many topics for this post. So, what if you don't have enough money in your budget to award/reward your staff the way you want to?
Let's concentrate on how to keep a staff motivated and excited to come to work every day. I will list five fast tips that will catapult your staff into the next level of engagement with your kids, parents, colleagues and other stakeholders.
1) Develop Your Staff
Put them in positions of leadership. Are you working on several different projects? You don't have to do it all alone. You hired your staff for a reason-- use them! Ask for help and their ideas in creating projects, sessions and lessons. Use your administrative staff for any contribution towards the growth of the programs or organization-- help them feel included. Your staff can do it- all you have to do is lead by giving them opportunity and providing guidelines/ structure. (Yes, you have to let go of control—but offer structure).
2) Pay Attention
Take extra time to visit classes and workshops or stop by their office/desk just to say hello. Discuss their work with them- help them think critically about their practice by asking great questions.
3) Career Goals
Create an ongoing dialogue with them about their career goals. Don't wait for quarterly or bi- annual reviews. Let them know you want to help them achieve their goals. Even if they see themselves somewhere else in a few years- help them get there! Either let them go OR create reasons why they should stay. Would you keep them if they don't want to be there? Stay generous and develop, develop, develop- they may not want to go after all. ;)
4) Work from Positions of Strength then...
Identify each staff member's strengths and let them evolve. Grow your staff from there. Open new doors for them based on their talent and gifts. THEN challenge them into the 'uncomfortable zone' . They will be more willing to take a risk if they see you trust them and that they have already been accomplished by their past work.
5) Every Action Deserves a Reaction
Leave no stone unturned. Did they complete a project and go above and beyond? Teach a great class? Get a degree? Receive recognition from external stakeholders or other internal staff? Is your admin staff growing- let them know! Birthdays? Work anniversaries? Don't miss a moment. Make sure to send authentic congratulatory emails and send to the entire staff/organization. Take them to lunch. Make time for them, let them feel noticed. Try to celebrate them in front of staff. Don't forget, at annual reviews mention their accomplishments and help them into their next position.
Monetary reward is important and necessary but as you know not always possible. Try implementing intentional methods of appreciation. Be creative and develop your wonderful staff. Also, an organization that believes in developing staff has a strong probability of retaining staff. Remember they probably aren't in this profession for the cash. They are motivated by the art of changing a child's life.
For breakfast I am only eating grapefruit, strawberries and coffee. Sigh....