Thursday, October 31, 2013

Systematically Looking at Your Program

What’s your plan for strengthening your program?  What systems do you use?  At C4K we would suggest that you begin with a site or program assessment tool.  C4K has two of them—the Super 7 and the Elite 8—but there are other tools that will also help you take a systematic look at program. 

We think it is important that you begin to assess your program by first looking at the program itself rather than at staff.  There will be plenty of time to get to the people working in your program, and sometimes if you start with the people, you overlook the aspects of program that structurally could be strengthened and/or reorganized.  Peter Senge in his book The 5th Discipline, gives an example of what happens when you get into the “blame” game.  If you wonder why something isn’t working well and you go down the path of the people and the supervisors, you could miss that the schedule didn’t have any time for transitions built in, or the checkout system has parents moving to 3 different spaces, or that the Walkie Talkies are ineffective.  If you miss those items, you might temporarily fix the symptom but you will not resolve the problem.  To ensure you get to the “root cause” of something ask yourself first “What is happening here?” and then secondly take a look at the systems and structures you have in place to determine if something could be addressed at this level.  Ask for input and feedback from your stakeholders and really listen to what they have to say.  You might want to make it your process for people to identify something they think is not working or could be working more effectively AND THEN share one or more solutions from their own vantage point as to how the challenge could be resolved.

Once you’ve taken a thorough look at your program, identify your strengths and make a plan to celebrate those strengths.  Identify 1-3 areas where you could strengthen your program that makes sense with the direction you and your partners are going, and then create a plan for the next several months on how you will work on your challenge.  If you believe that training your people would help you be more effective, determine what each needs—plug them into content training with C4K, and then coach them to implement successfully.
You’ll discover if you work this plan you will strengthen your program continuously and provide more effective learning opportunities for your youth. 

Check out the C4K website at and see how we can help you with content training. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Peer-to-Peer Learning

It is challenging for program leaders to know all of the answers and to have complete content knowledge.  In the course of the program youth leaders may be asked to support students with geometry homework related to the Pythagorean Theory, consider the theme and the protagonist in a Shakespearean play, coach and referee a soccer game, and finally talk with a youth about poor behavior choices.  Is it any wonder that they don’t have 100% content knowledge?  It is important that these program leaders be supported by their peers not only to facilitate their own learning but as a model for the best practices for working with youth. 

One of the things you can implement in your program is intentional is peer-to-peer learning.  Peer learning can encompass staff-to-staff and youth-to-youth learning.  Actually, if you want your program leaders to implement peer-to-peer opportunities for youth it will be most effective if they have experienced it themselves.  Consider asking more experienced staff to mentor and coach the newly hired, set up time for them to meet and talk through the challenges several times each week.  Perhaps as the site coordinator you can engage two groups of youth in a physical activity while the leaders have a chance to work together.  Connecting staff members to one another is a natural peer-to-peer endeavor.  You can also support these peer-to-peer interactions by praising them at a staff meeting.  Remember you will get what you support.

With kids, you can have peer-to-peer interactions through a process called Hear A Peer (check out our video on this topic) and you can also have cross-age groupings where younger children are supported by older youth.  It will be easier for your staff to see the value of peer-to-peer support if they have experienced it themselves and can articulate the benefits of this type of support.

Check out C4K’s information on peer-to-peer learning and in particular, Hear A Peer  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Physical Safety—Line of Sight

If youth are going to feel physically safe they need to know that they are:
  • Safe from physical harm;
  • Protected by the adults around;
  • Able to count on the adults around them to assist them if they are feeling threatened;
  • Subject to rules that will be fairly and consistently applied. 
The feeling of physical safety is strengthened when a program has agreements in place that address each of the different environments that youth find themselves in.  For example, what does physical safety look like for youth in the hallway, on the playground, in the multi-purpose area, at the drinking fountain, in the restroom, in the classroom, and any other environment that youth find themselves in.  Setting clear expectations in these environments will help to keep youth safe.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure that safety agreements are followed is to keep youth in “line of sight.” Indoors, line of sight means keeping students within the scope of your vision, and remembering if you can see them, they can see you.  To do this, you must know your position in the room.  From that position you should intentionally use visual and auditory scans of the room so you are aware of what is going on.  We are always picking up visual and sound clues about what is going on in our environment.  For example, our peripheral vision picks up movement and draws our eye to a particular scene.  Just as we look in that direction, the second student, not the one who attracted our attention in the first place, behaves in a way that does not support your clear expectations.  The first actor remains unseen.  The same is true for noise, or the lack of noise. It will draw our attention and then we see only a piece of the action.  Although you cannot avoid this attention grabbing phenomena altogether, intentionally scanning, looking for things out of place, and keeping students within your line of sight will make it easier for young people to make good behavior choices.
When you are outdoors, line of sight is more challenging than indoors because boundaries are more arbitrary.  Line of sight requires leaders to walk at the end of the line, stand in a spot where all youth can be seen, and figure out how to transition from one activity to another and one location to a different place.  During physical activity it is important to engage youth in being the score keeper and referee if you are going to truly focus on keeping kids safe.  Work with youth to establish boundaries that are clear such as the end of the hallway, at the corner, on the basketball court, or across from the gate. 

Creating a physically safe place for youth will go a long way to build to quality of your program.  Check out C4K’s information about Safety 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Revisiting Paul Tough—How Children Succeed

If you haven’t read Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, I would like to encourage you to do so.  Tough has taken a look at what he calls the non-cognitive skills.  He speaks of the importance of grit and delayed gratification, perseverance, working well with others, and young people making choices about the work they will do.  Reinforcing these non-cognitive skills is one of the things we in afterschool programs already do.  Afterschool programs come from a mindset of youth development, and youth development is about helping young people to develop the resiliency they need to keep on keeping on.

Whether your youth development approach is based on the 40 Developmental Assets identified by the Search Institute or the work of Karen Pittman, or looking at the indicators from the California Healthy Kids Survey or some other source, youth development focuses on youth holistically and does not just weigh in on cognitive skills and academic performance. Youth development is about helping young people find a way to be successful, emotionally, behaviorally, socially, and cognitively while developing the resiliency and tenacity to never give up.  It is about helping youth today prepare for a future that will allow them to be successful.

More and more the evidence is demonstrating that memorization of facts and the ability to take a multiple choice test really doesn’t indicate how successful a young person will be.  The evidence is increasingly clear that these non-cognitive skills make a difference.  So take a look at Tough’s book and a look at the natural connections to your program.

Let us know how you’re doing.  Contact us at and share your efforts.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Strategies for Setting Up Hands-On-Minds-On Learning Experiences

It is important in afterschool that learning is both hands-on and minds-on.  Either aspect alone will not really meet the needs of youth.  So how can you ensure that your lessons and learning opportunities are active, collaborative, and meaningful while at the same time help youth to develop or hone skills and broaden horizons?  Here are some tips.
Begin by IDENTIFYING what it is that you want youth to learn from the experience.  For example, if you are doing an art lesson, you may want youth to understand complementary colors on the color wheel, how to shade to add depth, or understand the broad brush strokes of a Van Gogh.  Whichever one of these objectives you decide on, the rest of the work you will do begins here.
The next step is to determine HOW you will know that the youth have learned what you want them to learn.  Certainly you can debrief the activity, but you can also look at a finished product, have the youth verbally explain his/her thinking by sharing a project, or demonstrate an understanding by teaching someone else.   Checking for understanding doesn’t require an official “test” or assessment, but is important to be done in a way that makes sense and gives you immediate feedback. 
Once you know what you want youth to learn and how you will determine if they have learned it, you are ready to begin PLANNING the activity, asking yourself at each step of the plan the question, “How will this step in the activity help youth achieve the goal I’ve identified?”  During this section you should also consider what questions you will ask and what specific content you might need to share, either by telling or demonstration.
If there is any part of the lesson you’ve never done before, you will probably want to DO THE ACTIVITY yourself first so you can better guide the process when youth are doing the activity.  Nothing can replace firsthand experience so don’t hesitate to practice.
After all the thinking and planning you are now ready to EXECUTE your plan and then of course REFLECT on what you’ve done when the lesson is complete so you will know how to strengthen the lesson the next time..
These are practical steps help to ensure minds and hands-on activities.  This type of preparation focuses on what the youth are learning.

Check out our C4K video, "Creating A Space for Learning"  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Importance of Preparing Staff

Ask yourself “What does a well-prepared staff member do?” and “How do you build the capacity of staff to truly lead program?”  By asking these questions up from you will be able to begin with the end in mind when you plan your staff development program and will be more likely to have the staff you desire.  So here are C4K’s answers to these two questions:
Well-prepared frontline staff members understand the importance of professionalism, maintaining safety for themselves and youth, how to manage the environment, guide behavior and provide discipline; while offering well-prepared learning opportunities that capture all aspects of holistic instruction, manage transitions, routinely debrief the experience, and understand and practice the difference between direct and tell and questioning to connection. 

Well-prepared frontline staff and site leaders understand the various program components—opening, closing, homework assistance, enrichment, healthy living, and academic support and how to support these components through a youth development approach and mindset.

Well-prepared site leaders understand the different hats they wear—supervisor, trainer, coach, facilitator, change agent, mentor, and when to use which hat.

Well-prepared staff are certainly executing the day-to-day of program, but more than that they are also considering how to strengthen program and their own performance.  They are building skills as a leader and deepening an understanding of youth and how best to support them.  Well-prepared staff is essential for operating and sustaining a high quality programming.

Check out Consult 4 Kids (connect to the overview of the Nifty 9 and an excerpt of the many hats of site coordinators in the Vocational Training.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Does Youth Voice and Choice Matter?

Working with youth is both challenging and rewarding, and for those of us who work with youth, we can’t imagine doing anything else.  And why do we do this?  Because we would like for youth to grow into adults who are economically self-sufficient, have positive relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and understand the importance of giving back to the community.  Adults with these characteristics don’t happen by accident.  They happen on purpose and one way to ensure this eventuality is to give youth opportunities to practice their voice and the right to make choices. 

In the book, The Eighth Habit, (which by the way is not the forgotten habit in Covey’s 7 Habits) focuses on the importance of finding your voice and helping others to find a voice as well.  While essential for adults the ability to have a voice doesn’t begin when you are 18, it begins when you are young and people not only listen to you but help you learn how to articulate your point of view.  Sometimes this can be challenging because we have “stereotypes” of what sort of decisions and opinions certain aged youth should have.  We need to remember that young people are not these stereotypes nor are they isolated snapshots, they are moving pictures and it is essential that we continue to encourage growth and development in each youth.  So here are three tips to give youth voice and choice:

Create a Youth Leadership Council—engage young people intentionally in leading the program.  Create a council and work with youth weekly.  Be sure they have meaningful work to do, not just busy work. 
Town Hall Meetings, Surveys and Focus Group Interviews —bring the youth together and have them talk about what they like best about the program and what they would like to change.  To begin with you might want to do these Town Halls with individual classrooms with the goal of actually having a single Town Hall in which everyone participates.  It is best to give youth some things to think about to begin with and then ask for other thoughts.  Sometimes the list of topics or ideas will “prime the pump” and help youth think of other things they are interested in or have opinions about.  You can ask about program components, homework assistance, and enrichment activities.  All topics that you would like for youth to have input on should be discussed (not all at the same time but over the course of the year.)
Engage Youth In The Day To Day—young people can make announcements, organize activities, lead a debriefing session, teach a project, act as a learning buddy, and it goes on and on.  Youth are able to do a lot.  One of the most interesting observations I made was of Kindergartners teaching and coaching other Kinders.  They were AMAZING and kudos to the leader who encouraged them to have a voice and choice.

Consult 4 Kids has some great videos on "Youth development" 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Being Part of Education As An Essential Service

What is an essential service?  Certainly in the United States it is running water, waste disposal systems, roads and freeways, electricity and gas, and the list could go on and on.  We also consider education an essential service—we are committed to setting the next generation for success, even though we aren’t in agreement as to how that education should look.  So the question is “How can you become a viable part of this essential educational service for the youth in your program?”

Although you have many partners when you work with youth, two of the most essential are the parents or caregivers and the school day that works with youth during the instructional day.  Developing a close partnership with both of these entities helps to create a seamless day for youth which will go a long way in helping your program become part of this essential service.  So, how do you go about establishing this close relationship?  I would suggest that you take a lesson from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Habit number 5 is “Seek first to understand before being understood.”  This is outstanding advice.  Instead of approaching the relationship from the point of view of what you need, find out what the school day and caregivers need from you.  Certainly you are not going to agree to something that would go against your beliefs about program, but chances are, at the core for all three entities is the desire to help youth be successful now and in the future.  Since you have this common ground, figuring out how to support your partners will give you a solid footing upon which to build your niche as an essential service.
Check out the C4K video "Parents As Allies and Supporting the Good Work of the School Day" 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Discipline Systems

What’s the difference between discipline and punishment?  Discipline is proactive while punishment is reactive.  Discipline is accomplished as a result of setting clear expectations, understanding the consequences of not meeting those expectations, and the opportunity to choose to either honor the expectations or accept the consequences.  It is also important to understand the difference between inappropriate behavior that is unacceptable because it is annoying, irresponsible, or disrespectful, and behavior that is unsafe and causes harm to others.  Discipline plans and procedures need to accommodate these two very different behaviors.  If a youth is causing harm to him/herself or others, he/she should be immediately sent to the Site Coordinator who will determine the appropriate course of action which could include a telephone conversation with the parent, asking that the parent pick the child up immediately, suspending the child from the program for 1-5 days, and communicating the incident to the principal.  If the youth is being annoying, irresponsible, or disrespectful, then you will go through the established discipline procedure.  In a Discipline Plan you have defined steps or consequences that will be administered if youth choose to not meet expectations.  In determining consequences you should select only those that you can administer and monitor.  For example, if you cannot suspend youth from the after school program, then suspension would not be one of the consequences on your list.  Having youth help determine the consequences can be helpful if they have an understanding of what you can administer. 

You must ensure that youth accept the responsibility of the choices made and the actions taken.  When you talk with youth about the choices they make try the following:
·         Keep the focus of your message on the student’s behavior;
·         Be direct and specific, identifying the expectation and how that expectation was not met
·         Use your normal voice and avoid hints of anger, pleading, and bargaining;
·         Specify the consequences that will occur
·         Support your words with effective action, honoring the choice the student had made for the consequence in lieu of meeting the expectation.

Check out Consult 4 Kids videos on Discipline


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Supporting the Common Core—Reading Informational Text

The Common Core, adopted by almost all states, looks at learning in depth.  The standards support youth as they learn to communicate effectively, think critically, creatively consider ways to take existing information and transform it, and work collaboratively.  One of the standards focuses on reading informational text.  This is an area in which afterschool programs can be particularly effective.  In Common Core youth are encouraged to look at a variety of information sources—books, articles, poetry, reports, media, and so on, to develop and then articulate an opinion. 

So how might afterschool work to support this Common Core standard?  Consider the Service Learning projects you already do.  In Service Learning youth are to identify a community need and then determine how they might address that need.  What if you simply added a small modification and when youth are reading, listening, or watching information about the need they have identified, you ask them the following two questions:

  •        What is the author of this piece of information trying to share with me?
  •          How does the point of view and information in this piece of text/media fit with other sources I have read?

Once the youth have considered these questions they are ready to form a course of action that is based on an informed opinion founded on an analysis of multiple sources of information—in other words based on the reading of informational text.  The youth ask, “What course of action should we take?” and your Service Project is launched.

Surely the reflection component of your service project will reinforce all of the thinking that went into organizing, planning and executing the project.  At this point simply asking if the results were what they expected based on the information they read, will bring reading informational text full circle.   

If you aren’t offering Service Learning in your program check out Consult 4 Kids videos on
 "Service Learning"