Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

There is an idiom that states, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” This expression refers to someone who is unable to understand what is important in a situation because he/she is giving too much attention to details. As a leader of an after-school program, it is easy to fall into this habit. Every day there is so much to do, so many details to take care of (making copies, distributing snacks, taking roll, orchestrating sign-out, following the schedule, talking with school day and parents…the list can go on and on.) So how do you keep from falling into this trap?

It is important to set goals for your after-school program and then to create a plan for accomplishing them. Once you have set these very important goals (1-3 is more than enough), determine how you will know if you are successful in accomplishing them. For example, if your goal was to win a basketball championship, you would know that you were successful when you win the trophy at the end of the season. The next thing to do is to determine what measures along the way to the final success that you can review regularly to ensure that you are on track to accomplish your goals. So, to continue the basketball analogy, you could check on weekly free throw averages (it is my understanding that this is a predictor of winning) as well as the number of rebounds the team makes.

Once you have your goals set, know how you will know that you were successful in the end, and defined the benchmarks that will act as guideposts along the way, you are ready to determine which strategies and activities you will need to implement to accomplish the desired results. For basketball I might plan daily practice sessions and week end tournaments to go along with scheduled league games. It is important to remember the Pareto Principle—20% of the activity will net you 80% of the results. The task at this point is to determine which activities you should do to achieve your desired results.

It is important that as the leader of an after-school program you are able to see the big picture, the future state that you are working to accomplish. Weekly reflections on how you are doing will keep you on track.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Often times we think of assessment as a very formal process. This is not always the case. In reality 24/7 our brain is gathering information and making decisions based on that information. Our brain is, in fact, assessing data and we are making decisions and judgments based on that information.

As an example of informal assessment, if you are driving down the street and you realize that a light has been green for quite a while, you may suspect that the chances of you making the light are reducing by the second, and so make a judgment to either speed up (I think if I go a little faster I can make it) or to slow down (I think I am too far away to make it through before the light turns red), and then you act accordingly. You base your assessment of the situation on your past experiences as well as the current reality. Increments of meaning will also help you to assess the situation in a different way. For example, if you have made the decision to speed up to make the light, and you look in your rear-view mirror and see law enforcement, you may rethink your decision and slow down, even though your first judgment was to speed up. By the same token, you might decide to slow when you look ahead and you see that the intersection you are approaching is one that is governed by a camera that will take your picture if you are going through the light on the caution or red, and you will receive a ticket in the mail. All of the pieces of information that you take in, often within a few seconds, influence your decision. It is this informal assessment of data that we rely on to make life easier as we make day to day decisions.

During your after-school program you make many of these informal decisions. There is a rhythm in the workings of an after-school program, and it is a break in that rhythm that often prompts you to make a decision or judgment. Along with these informal assessments, it is also important that you are making more formal assessments to determine if you are making progress toward a high-quality program.

To guide these formal assessments, select a focus for the month. For example, do you want to strengthen the homework component of your program, work to clean-up the playground to support the custodian, have 90% of all homework completed…the list could go on and on. Select one thing at a time. Determine how things would be if they were stronger, cleaner, or more complete. Select strategies and activities that you believe will help you accomplish those goals. Bring your team on board, soliciting input from them (include the kids if this makes sense), and then check-in with this same group once a week to determine if you are being successful. This data are all a part of your more formal assessment. Set a deadline for seeing success. Each week you ask yourself the same questions—am I satisfied with the progress; should I stay the course; should I change directions; should I be patient and make a decision next week after I have more information.

Assessment is part of how we do business in life and in work. Be aware of the assessments you are making and how these affect your life.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Support of the School Day

One of the most important roles of after-school programs is to support the good work of the school day. Each student who participates in the after-school program is directly linked to the expectations of the school day, whether that be in homework, behavior, or improved academic performance. Helping to create a seamless day for each student helps youth to be enveloped in consistency and support.

In order to align with the school day you need to develop a relationship with school day staff. While most after-school site coordinators have a working relationship with the school day principal, it is important that the site coordinator also develop strong connections with other school day staff—classroom teachers, food services personnel, instructional assistants, and custodians. It truly does “Take A Village” to raise a child and it is essential that after-school extends its hand to the school day.

Here are some tips for building strong relationships with the school day:

Be visible—say “hello” to everyone and show up in the lounge, at staff meetings, and school events.

Learn as much as you can about what is going on in each classroom—visit school day classrooms, especially those with students who are challenging. Learn what methods of support are being used by the classroom teacher and use those in the afterschool program as well.

Support the school day when and where you can—if someone needs help, volunteer, don’t wait to be asked. If you can help by monitoring a benchmark test, or taking tickets at the school carnival, then do that.

Ask questions and genuinely listen to the answers—remember that school day teachers are exactly that, teachers. Be willing to be an adult member of the classroom that they create.

Communicate regularly so folks know what is going on in the after-school program. Lack of information creates a vacuum, and misinformation can easily fill that vacuum if you are not careful. Share the great work that you are doing and how this work supports the school day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The word “troubleshooting” refers to the ability to identify a problem (hopefully in real time) and figure out what to do to change the problem into a success. Several things need to be in place for a challenge to be successfully transformed.

You must be present, totally in the moment. In order to truly understand what is going on, you must “show up and choose to be present”. Being present allows you the opportunity to pay attention to what is going on in many venues and assimilate that information in order to holistically view the challenge.

Seek 360° input if at all possible from everyone who is involved in the challenge. This 360° perspective will be immensely helpful. You will gain understanding that you would not otherwise have.

Deliberate on the information you have attained and ask yourself if you need to continue as you are, gather more information, or change courses altogether. This deliberation is like putting together a puzzle and determining what is really going on.

Seek expertise if you need to. Sometimes you may simply need the viewpoint of an expert. If you do, communicate with someone who you believe may have a solution for the challenge you are facing. C4K allows you to access experts by clicking on the Troubleshooting link. Once there, you will succinctly capture your challenge, send it off, and then someone who is an experienced after-school professional will respond within 72 hours.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Value of the Arts

Recently published, The Transformative Power of the Arts in Closing the Achievement Gap, takes a look at the impact a robust arts program can have on academic performance. This work was a result from the work done by CCSESA (County Superintendents of Schools in the State of California) Arts Initiative and the Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC) Visual and Performing Arts Subcommittee. The entire publication is available at

In a nutshell, the paper focuses on the “transformative power” of the arts and the relationship of this power and the promotion of 21st century work place skills. The paper states that this transformative power is most evident in the lives of youth who often do not have the opportunity to participate in the arts because of poverty, crime, special education placement, immigrant status, racial discrimination, traditional school day curriculum, and limited English skills. For many of these youth, the visual and performing arts offer a way to “level the playing field” and inspires them to excel.

The paper spends some time describing the achievement gap, stating, “Achievement gaps in schools reflect social stratification, discrimination and power relations in the society.” The Arts, on the other hand, can cross all of these barriers and offer huge benefit for all students not just some of the students; can be connected to growth in other areas; can hugely benefit marginalized populations, and can provide intrinsic motivations for students.

Reflect on this quote from Deborah Meier:

“The arts are fundamental to children’s education and they are fundamental because the arts are fundamental to human nature, to the human being, so I do not see art as an instrument to teach something else. The primary reason why we need strong arts programs in the schools is that human beings are artists. One way we grapple with ideas is through the arts…. A school that has ignored the artist in us has done damage.”

Be sure to include the arts in your program. To find out more about why that is so essential, read the Transformative Power of the Arts in Closing the Achievement Gap at the website below.

Friday, October 15, 2010

21st Century Work Place Skills

Today’s workplace is not the same place that young people entered even 20 years ago. Currently, knowledge worker jobs are on the rise, and America is competing in a global work environment. A generation ago, many in the world believed that to get a strong education you needed to attend a university in the United States. The brightest and the best came to school and many of them stayed on and became an integral part of the work force as members of “think tanks”, inventors, engineers, mathematicians, and of course business leaders and professors.

Many of the young people who are graduating from high school and/or college are unprepared to tackle the world of work in the 21st Century. So what can we do in the after-school venue that will support the development of these critical 21st Century skills. To begin with, we need to identify what those skills are. Although the following is not a definitive list, over 400 employers across the United States were surveyed to identify these skills. According to “Are They Ready to Work”, a study by the collaborative consisting of The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, there are four general areas of skill development:

•Professionalism/Work Ethic
•Oral and Written Communications
•Teamwork/Collaboration and
•Critical Thinking/Problem Solving.

The report goes on to say, “In fact, the findings indicate that applied skills1 on all educational levels trump basic knowledge and skills, such as Reading Comprehension and Mathematics. In other words, while the “three Rs” are still fundamental to any new workforce entrant’s ability to do the job, employers emphasize that applied skills like Teamwork/Collaboration and Critical Thinking are “very important” to success at work.

When you look at these skill categories, after-school is a natural to provide opportunities for youth to practice both oral and written communication skills, team and collaboration, and critical thinking and problem solving. As we develop more project-based learning opportunities for your, the work ethic will be strengthened.

The 3Rs of afterschool, relationships, relevance, and rigor, applied consistently in the program, will go a long way to support the development of the identified 21st Century skills.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

C4K—Vocational Training

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question is asked of children every day. As a child, we are full of thoughts about our future jobs or careers, but as we get out into the world, we can struggle to make a choice that will allow us to live a fulfilled life, learn skills that allow us to fully use our talents, and make a difference in the world. Get the education you need to put your passion and skills to work.

While there are many career options, masseur, manicurist, dental assistant, these careers take at least a year of preparation, (in some cases more than that), and have little opportunity for career advancement. After-school is an emerging field, and becoming a part of it is being on the ground floor of the future.

After-school Programs can be found in some form or another in nearly every city and town in the Nation. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Educations says, "If we are serious about having more students be productive citizens, if we are serious about having more students prepared to be successful in college, dramatically improving the quality and the quantity of after-school programming is going to be at the heart of our work as a country."

To be an exemplary performer in the world of after-school requires a great deal of knowledge followed by the ability to implement that knowledge in a way that helps young people to explore interests and academic accomplishment. Providing comprehensive training for after-school staff is not particularly easy.

So, how can you prepare for this opportunity? C4K offers you a learning experience that is flexible—join a face-to-face or online class. We put you first, your schedule, your availability, your talent. C4K’s Vocational Training was written by practitioners who have developed expertise by being a part of an after-school program.

Check out C4K’s Vocational Training on line at .

Monday, October 11, 2010

Planning for Veteran’s Day

Veterans’ Day, observed on November 11, is an annual holiday in the United States that is set aside to honor military veterans. Veterans’ Day is celebrated as Armistic Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world as November 11th marks the end of World War I. History says that all major hostilities in World War I were ended on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. (Note: Next year Veteran’s Day will be celebrated on 11/11/11).

Veteran’s Day is a perfect time to engage young people in planning a celebration to honor those who have served in the military to protect the freedom and rights of all Americans. If you begin next week, you will have a full month to plan the activities.

Begin with the end in mind. What would you like the culminating event to be? Would you like to have Veterans come to the after-school program and not only be honored for the service given but speak to the students about what it means to “serve” your country? Would you like students to write cards or letters to Veterans that are in the hospital? Would you like for students to sing patriotic songs and write about freedom, capture it on video, and share it with families and friends, as well as veterans? Maybe you would like to combine several activities for the day’s celebration. Whatever you decide, the next month will give you plenty of time to work toward this end.

Since November 11th , Veteran’s Day, is a holiday, you will want to be prepared for the final event on November 10th Once you have decided on the “end” you want, you will need to backward plan with the students. With students, brainstorm all of the possible activities and lessons that you can do as a lead-up to the culminating event. Discuss which activities are feasible and also which are appropriate for which grade level. You may want to select several short projects for each group of students, or you may want to plan a single activity that will require multiple sessions to complete. If you are looking for art activities you can find numerous ones on line. You can find a variety of poems that celebrate the service that Veterans have given this country. If you decide to do music, work on the patriotic songs for several weeks, bringing the youth together to practice more than once.

You might want to do this planning with a single classroom of older students or an advisory group of students with representatives from each of the grade levels. Either way, you will find that the celebration on Veteran’s Day will be a great success.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Consult 4 Kids—Online Instruction

In 2002, a Delphi study on the future of after-school identified the staff training and development would be one of the most significant challenges facing after-school. The words of the consulted experts echo in the ears of program managers and directors everywhere.

Like the experts of the Delphi study, Consult 4 Kids (C4K) is very clear that to have a high-quality after-school program you must have exemplary staff. The importance of a strong staff development program is essential. Working with young people is complex and requires you to have a wide-range of knowledge, strategies, and "tricks of the trade" to draw on. So the question is, “what is your staff development challenge?” Is it that you have ongoing staff turnover and many of your frontline staff come to work AFTER the pre-service training at the beginning of the school year and there are huge challenges about “redoing” that intensive training? Is it that those you train seem to “forget” the training they have had when trying to implement with students? Is it that the time you have with staff is being spent on developing knowledge and understanding, rather than coaching staff to implement successfully? Whether one of these represents your challenge or it is something else, Consult 4 Kids has a solution that will support your staff training efforts. That solution is Online Instruction.

C4K's Online Instruction lets you and your staff build the necessary skills and understanding to run a high-quality program. Online Instruction is a patient teacher and gives you and your staff the opportunity to learn at a pace that makes sense for you, decide how many times you want to review the material, and provides you the convenience that busy people need. With only a standard Web Browser you can quickly access Online Instruction.

C4K has designed a series of Online Instruction media to meet the ongoing comprehensive needs of staff development.

3 Minute Minis: These Online Instruction Minis cover topics like Homework Basics, Attention Getters, Line of Sight, Questioning Techniques and Teaching Moments. Minis end with a quick review of the key points.

7 Minute Modules: These Online Instruction Modules provide "how to" examples of topics like Levels of Leadership and the Ownership Model, Transitions, Moving from Activity to Learning Opportunity, and Powerful Openings. At the end of the Module there is a review of key points.

The Lessons: These Online Instruction Lessons including Professionalism, Making Your Attendance Number, Planning, Coaching Youth and Data Collection, look closely at the aspects of quality programming. Practical application tips can be found throughout the Lessons.

The Classes: The Online Instruction Classes take a close look at complex topics such as Recruiting Youth for Middle School Programs, Dealing With Difficult People, Conflict Resolution Building Relationships, and Homework. Classes provide Program Leaders and Site Coordinators with critical information for running high-quality programs.

Check C4K out at

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Before you know it, the 2010 elections will be here. The right to vote and to let your voice be heard, is a right that many people take for granted. That is unfortunate, because if we do not exercise this right, it will someday atrophy and no longer be available to us. This year’s election can be defining for the world of after-school, especially in California. It is imperative that our elected officials represent our point of view and the viewpoint of millions of others across the state and the nation. In a conversation with the campaign offices of both Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, the response to the question about a position on after-school, was “the candidate doesn’t have one” followed by if there is enough interest the “candidate will have one”. We’re talking about something that matters to those of us in the field and it is a shame that there is “no opinion”.

The AfterSchool Alliance, a non-profit that works for after-school programs in Washington DC, stated in an article entitled: Action Needed, “The Afterschool Alliance is encouraging the afterschool community to reach out to federal lawmakers to remind them that working families and communities need afterschool programs. Now more than ever, we need the community to reach out to lawmakers with messages about the need for more quality afterschool programs," Grant said.” Jodi Grant is the chief in charge of the Alliance and has her finger on the pulse of the nation’s Capitol.

Grant is absolutely correct. This is not the time to be silent. It is the time to stand up and be counted. After-school is making a difference in the lives of children and youth across the country. We need to let our legislators know this.

While in the perfect world we would be supporting and voting for afterschool champions, in this less than perfect world, it is essential that we invite legislators—supportive or reluctant-- to visit our programs so that he/she can learn about the way afterschool programs are operated. Take time to educate the invited legislators. Remember, many legislators are totally unaware of how many programs are in their District. Set up media coverage (even if it is tentative), and let your Representative know how important it is to have his/her afterschool support.

Learn about each candidate in advance. Do your homework. Check out the position of each candidate and each party, and then make a positive choice for a representative who is supportive of after-school. Every voice makes a difference. Stand up for the work that you are doing in after-school and showcase and share our overwhelming value.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Waiting for “Superman”

The September 20, 2010 issue of Time Magazine has an article titled: “A Call to Action for Public Schools”. This article by Amanda Ripley, takes a look at the call for the reform of K-12 public education that is made by the documentary, Waiting for “Superman”. This documentary is the work of Davis Guggenheim who won an academy award for the film An Inconvenient Truth, which has ultimately changed the way that Americans think about climate change.

The documentary follows five families, students and parents, from across the United States who are trying to escape from low-performing neighborhood schools by participating in a lottery that would allow the child to attend a high-performing public charter school. Guggenheim, in a trailer, stated that while he is busy shedding light on the challenges faced by many Americans who are relegated to accepting low-performing public schools, he passes several of those schools as he takes his daughters to private schools.

While schools are beginning to determine what works and what doesn’t, and as more emphasis is being placed on results rather than effort, education reform is beginning. There are beacons of hope, both in public and charter schools where against all odds, young people are participating in stellar learning communities. States are being pressured to make changes and to demand the necessary changes to a system that has long been the purveyor of the status quo.

Waiting for “Superman” was scheduled for release on September 24th, but many experienced the message of the film in private screenings held around the country. If you haven’t had a chance to attend a screening, make the effort. It is worth it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Challenge of Middle School

“Caught in the Middle” is a phrase that is used in a variety of contexts to describe the in-between world people find themselves in as well as the title of a newly released album by Heath Forbes. The middle describes the creamy center of an Oreo, the place you find lunch meat in a sandwich and the TV series, Malcolm in the Middle. So what are some of the challenges that face young people in the after-school world who are caught in the middle between elementary and high school programs?

First, middle school is the place of extremes. One only needs to walk down the hallway of a middle school to see exactly what I mean. There are youth who look like adults walking next to students who still look like children. There are youth who are loud and commanding and whose behavior is over the top and others who walk unnoticed from place to place. The ability to think abstractly spans a large range, as does physical ability, and emotional development. Middle school students often hear the words, “You are not old enough to do that” when talking about going to the movie with a friend, staying out after 10:00 p.m., or choosing their own wardrobe without guidance. They also hear the exact opposite, “You are way too old to be doing that” when they want to Trick-or-Treat, “pitch a fit” to get their way, or leave their bedroom in a mess. It is a challenge for middle school students to balance these two messages. When working with middle school students it is essential that after-school providers do not have a one-size-fits-all attitude.

Secondly, middle school youth are changing rapidly, and this means interests are changing rapidly as well. What middle school students wanted to do last Monday may no longer be what interests them today, let alone 8 weeks from today. It is important as an after-school provider that you keep your “finger on the pulse” of the youth you serve. Middle school students love to provide input. They need to experience some reasonable sense of control. Check on them often to determine where the interest is. Change clubs every 5-6 weeks and find ways to engage youth in designing, planning and implementing the club activities. Engage these middle school youth in projects that include times to be social and interact with others. Choice is essential, even if the choice is a “forced” one such as asking, “Will you do academic tutoring support on Monday and Wednesday at 4:30 or would you rather commit to Tuesday and Thursday at 3:00?” The choice isn’t about whether or not to attend the tutoring, that is a given. The choice is about “when” they will meet the requirement, not whether or not to comply.

Third, middle school students are struggling trying to determine who they are and who they want to become. It is essential that middle school students develop a bond with a positive role model outside of family members. As young people mature they begin to look outside of the family circle for people to make a connection with. They are looking for people to help them navigate the world around them, and when they are in middle school, part of that world is the school day. Research has shown that this connection with a positive role model is the key to youth developing the resiliency to cope with the ups and downs of life—ups and downs that are incredibly apparent during the middle school years.

Designing a high-quality program to meet the needs of middle school students is not easy. There needs to be enough structure, enough choice, enough variety, enough youth leadership, enough opportunity to interact with peers, enough relevance and rigor, enough discipline to help youth make great choices rather than satisfy the adult, enough of an understanding that these young people are not “old children” but rather young adults. Step up to the challenge. It is some of the best work that you will ever do.

Need support with middle school programming and strengthening program staff? Check us out at