Monday, May 23, 2011

Frontline Staff Basics #3

As a segue between behavior guidance, managing the environment, and discipline, it is also important that staff understand the difference between direct and tell and asking questions. It is also important that frontline staff has some skills around basic lesson design and delivery and the ability to debrief the learning that occurred during the lesson. Let’s first take a look at direct and tell and asking questions.

While it appears to be easier to simply direct and tell (line up, walk with your eyes forward, stay 6 feet from swinging doors, organize your homework space by taking out all of your materials and beginning with a sharpened pencil, and so on), in the long run the question is, when you direct and tell who actually owns the behavior. It is challenging enough to “manage” your own behavior and when you rely on the strategy of direct and tell you are trying to manage the behavior of everyone. When you define and prescribe the methods, you own the results and when the outcomes fall short, it is up to you to “fix” the problem. How much easier would it be to have 20 young people on board to manage not someone else’s behavior but to manage their own? You can do this be simply asking questions. For example, you are going to transition from an outdoor activity into homework time. You have thought through everything that needs to occur to make this a successful transition. Instead of telling the students, ask them, “What do you think it will take for us to transition from this basketball game to being focused on homework in the shortest amount of time?” Amazingly, students will begin to give you responses that are right in line with what you thought (and sometimes even things you haven’t thought of). If they miss one or two, you can simply ask them if they think that something is important. After listing all of the things that need to occur, ask the kids to commit to making that happen, and when they do celebrate with a high 5 and ask them to organize themselves to carry out the plan they created. If the behaviors aren’t measuring up to the expectation, stop and recommit. While this may take some time in the beginning, in the end, students own the success of the transition which is much more important than the adult owning it.

Once the management strategies are in place, knowing how to design and deliver a lesson, followed with a debrief of the learning is critical. Lesson design, in its simplest form, follows this pattern. Identify what you are going to be learning about, check in to see what the students already know (or think they know), identify the learning objective (the take-away from the lesson), introduce the lesson by engaging the youth, share the 2-3 key points by modeling and interactive conversation, share how the youth are going to practice the learning (what activity will they be doing), guide the activity by checking in with each small group of students while they are working on the activity, taking advantage of the teaching moments, bring the activity to a close, and then debrief what just occurred.

Lessons don’t need to be razzle-dazzle. Effective lessons engage the young people in learning and then end with the identification of the key learning and how the student will apply that key learning in school and in life, and then making a commitment to practice the new learning. In after-school we believe that learning lessons are best taught through partner and small group work, with relevant experiences that are rigorous enough to engage active minds and bodies.

When you put these 10 basics together, you have a frontline staff member ready to facilitate miracles in the field.

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