The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Is it More Important to be Interested or Interesting?

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Interestingly, the question is debatable from both angles.

I suggest that it's more important to be interested than interesting. Do you agree? I think that philosophy impacts my approach to education and leadership. Here's why.

We are all teachers. We are all leaders. Leaders have influence. Leaders must be knowledgeable and competent. You can't reach high levels of competence without being inquisitive, eager to learn, and constantly seeking new ways to do what you do better. That's being interested. Those who are interested are engaged in a continuous quest to learn.

As a result, those who are always interested become interesting while engaged in their quest for knowledge. They become magnets from which others seek knowledge, wisdom, and new learning insights. The true leaders of any profession are those who are most interested in learning all they can and, as a result, become the most interesting and most influential.

But let's face it. We are exposed daily to interesting celebrities and public officials who have somehow captured the attention of the masses because of their interesting contributions to society, or perhaps more so, because of good looks and entertaining characteristics. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not they really know what they need to know and be able to do to be truly interesting.

There are many "experts" in education who have acquired interesting characteristics so that they can entertain others in order to keep attention. That's a problem. Yet, it's a reality. Our kids, even those of us who were ‘once upon a time’ kids, have shortened attention spans. If a teacher or presenter isn't entertaining, they soon aren't interesting enough to keep our attention, no matter how much interest they have.

Still, we must elevate our personal and professional levels of interest.  As we go about our personal quest for knowledge, innovation, and competence, we must also acquire the skills necessary to become interesting. It does us little good to be interested if we are unable to use that influence in interesting ways.

Come to Dallas where we have dozens of workshops and plenary sessions led by experts in our field who have demonstrated the highest levels of interest and who will deliver content in interesting ways.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Never Underestimate Your Influence

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Can you remember the name of your first grade teacher?  Most people can. I loved Mrs. Bateson, and as a result, I still remember playing school as a child. My younger sister was my obedient “student.”  Effective first grade teachers turn kids onto learning; those who are not so good at what they do leave devastating effects from which some kids never recover.

What about your fifth grade teacher?  Or your seventh grade science teacher? How many teachers can you remember? Most every individual has fond memories of at least one special teacher (maybe one of the toughest) who had a positive influence on their life. Our best teachers wielded tremendous influence because they were always able to find ingenious ways to motivate their students to learn.  Many of us grew up wanting to be just like that special teacher.
You can never underestimate the influence of a good teacher. Likewise, you can never underestimate the power and influence that afterschool professionals have in the lives of their students.

We’ve all worked with difficult kids. And each of us strives to meet their needs in different ways. As challenging as it may to develop trust and share a relationship with some kids, they are the ones we likely influence more than we ever know.  Going above and beyond when no one else will often leads to fond recognition, pride, and a lasting influence that extends beyond the imagination.

I encourage you to contact those favorite teachers and afterschool professionals from your past. Let them know how you appreciated them and the lessons they taught you. Those lessons likely aren’t about math or science, but more about how to dream, live, and achieve. The most influential teach life lessons.

So tomorrow, when Johnny or Susie are pressing your buttons, I encourage you to take a deep breath, step back, look into his or her eyes, and see the future. I hope you’ll see your reflection and the positive influence you will have.  Sometimes, it’s tough to see it. But it’s there.

Never underestimate your influence and what you are doing for kids.

And by the way, on their behalf - thank you!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Afterschool Innovators

Afterschool professionals need an innovation delivery system. Every profession does. Business, management, and leadership books abound on the topic. President Obama has called upon us to become the innovation nation. Pressure mounts on schools and afterschool programs to prepare children and youth with sharper skills that will prepare them to win in the global workforce. Those who will succeed will have acquired a multitude of skills that enable them to outthink, outsmart, and out-innovate the competition, whoever that might be.

Some afterschool professionals have told me that they think to become an innovator, they have to be able to invent something or create a new idea. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but to think about innovation in ways that help the masses, strategies must be developed that can be applied in practical ways. Most good ideas are "borrowed or stolen" from someone else. Most of us are just looking for ideas that we can replicate in order to increase our performance, move our programs forward, and advance our careers. We search for evidenced-based practices from other afterschool programs or professions that can be transferred and deployed in our programs at scale.

But here's the issue. Sometimes that works, but more often than not it doesn't. Too many innovative ideas from early adopters become passing fads in the hands of the general population. Innovations that get deployed on a massive scale are the exception.

But that shouldn't deter our innovative afterschool professionals from sharing and learning. In Dallas, April 2-4, you will have the opportunity to meet and learn from more than 200 innovative leaders from all parts of the country. As our expert workshop presenters share their many innovations, the most successful outcome would be that attendees effectively apply what is shared and taught back home. But here's the perpetual dilemma. Innovations and practical good ideas transfer best when the receiver has a similar set of strengths and desires as the originator who created the idea in the first place. What might be an exciting, effective, and authentic idea or practice when implemented by one person often becomes a forced, fake, and inauthentic practice in the hands of another who lacks prerequisite skills and strengths.

NAA will unveil a set of nationally recognized Core Knowledge and Competencies that have been designed to help all afterschool professional attain the skills and strengths needed to grow, advance, and innovate. As our convention attendees listen and learn from the experts, I hope they will focus on the strengths of the presenter as much as the message they share. Only when we can assure matching passion and commitment levels will new ideas succeed when conventioneers return home. To further help, effective presenters must unabashedly share the ways of thinking, time, and energy, and personal strengths they deploy to  drive their innovations.

I hope that every convention attendee is introduced to dozens of practical innovations that, when you hear them, you realize that you, too, could have thought of them, but you simply haven't yet. I hope you'll listen, learn, adapt, and build on innovations to further revitalize your program and others back home. I hope you take home ideas that feel good, that you can implement in authentic ways immediately to accelerate your creativity. I hope you have many matches of ideas with your strengths.

Let's adopt the practices of turtles. Don't be afraid to stick your neck out.  We succeed when the innovations we share become part of our daily practice. And like bees, we can get a lot done when we work together.

I look forward to seeing you on Dallas. It's my goal that you discover the NAA Convention to be the premiere innovation delivery system in the field.

Paul G. Young, Ph. D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Let's Get StARTed

As a principal, I often asked my students what they liked most about our school.  As might be expected, many of them cited recess, but another consistently popular response was ART. They didn't care what kind of ART. All genres seemed to fit their liking.

I remember one young boy, “Jimmy”, a sixth grader, who was very small for his age. He was often bullied, yet he could give it back to the bigger kids with a very filthy mouth. He lived in a very impoverished, broken, and dysfunctional home. His grades were mostly failing. His lack of academic progress was often a topic of discussion in Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) meetings. My staff and I were very worried about his past, present, and future school progress.

Then one day while he and his classmates were standing in the hallway waiting to switch classrooms, I noticed he was carrying a pencil drawing of the Mona Lisa.  When I asked Jimmy where he got it, he replied. "I drew it." I doubted that, so I said, "You must mean you traced it from some art book." “No,” he said, “I looked at a picture from a book in our library, but I didn't trace anything. I drew it."

If you could have seen what I saw, you'd better be able to appreciate what I'd discovered. This pencil drawing was of very high quality, I couldn't believe my eyes.  I certainly thought Jimmy was pulling my leg. I just couldn’t understand how.

So, I asked his teacher to allow Jimmy to accompany me back to my office. Jimmy was quite familiar with my office. His inappropriate behavior ensured that he and I had frequent visits. When we reached my office, Jimmy took his customary seat and readied himself for another of my inquisitions.

After several minutes of questioning, I began to realize that he wasn't lying. I had grown used to knowing what signals to observe him when he did. But not this time. I realized was talking with a budding natural artist, and I was also looking at other works (yes, he had numerous other drawings in his bookbag such as the US Capitol, Mt. Rushmore, and more) that were way beyond what a  typical sixth grader could produce.

What I learned next was even more surprising. Jimmy, the boy we thought couldn't read on grade level, who had an IEP, began telling me facts about Leonardo DaVinci that I didn't even know. I asked, "How did you learn all this information?" Jimmy relied, "From books in our library!”

All this, right under our noses!

One reason for sharing this story is to confess how my staff and I missed this young boy's potential. Another is to show how that day changed how we worked with Jimmy. He happily went on to middle school to a great art teacher and began enjoying his first positive experiences in school.  Best of all, Jimmy and I never had the same kind of office inquisitions. He never got in serious trouble after the "discovery".  We began to share a relationship. He began to blossom when we stARTed talking ART.

The same can happen for you. You might have an artist (or many) right under your nose in your afterschool program, just like Jimmy. Just create the right conditions. Set aside some space and develop an art gallery area in your program. Connect with the school. Let kids draw. ART will become the showcase of your program.  Everyone will take delight in it, especially your little “Jimmys”.

Let's get stARTed finding arts experiences for all kids. Let’s commit to developing them, encouraging, nurturing, and changing lives through the ARTS. All it takes is paper and pencil. You may find the next Picasso. Let everyone know when you do!

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What, How, and Why

 Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Please contemplate how you would answer these questions:

WHAT do you do?
HOW do you do what you do?
WHY do you do what you do?

When you are asked about why you choose to work in an after school program, how do you answer? Do you focus on WHAT you do, HOW you do it, or WHY?

Studies show that most people start with the WHAT. But that might not be the right place to start. If you really go deep with people in many diverse lines of work - afterschool among them - they really aren't very clear why their organization exists. Many are really far off the mark. In his leadership book, Start with Why, author Simon Sinek (Penguin Group, 2009) suggests we would better respond to the question about why we choose to work in afterschool by starting with the WHY? Why does your afterschool program exist?

It is particularly important to have contemplated and analyze our responses to these questions before we attempt to build relationships with principals and gain their support. Rehearse your responses. You are well advised to start with the WHY. Principals aren’t so concerned with WHAT you do or HOW you do it. But the WHY you do what you do will catch their attention, especially when the WHY your program exists closely aligns with WHAT they and their school need.

What might those needs be? They will most likely center around more time for kids to learn. Yes, they might think it’s nice that kids are safe and fed and given time to play. But if they can't see how kids will get expanded learning time, they might be less likely to get on board and support your WHY.  Principals know there simply isn't enough time for many kids to learn everything they need to know and be able to do during the school day. They want more time for kids to learn - but they don't want a longer school day.

So, start with WHY. Make sure everyone is clear about WHY your afterschool program exists and can speak the mission with clarity and brevity. A good WHY will influence HOW things are done in the program. WHAT you and others do is clearly driven by a solid understanding of the WHY and HOW questions.

A good WHY is narrowly focused. You can't be everything to everybody. You likely won't be in business long if you don't know WHY you exist. A good WHY may be stated as simply as ‘to teach.”

If your WHY and that of the school's are similar, it becomes an easier task to align the learning day. But if your WHYs are at different ends of a continuum, or if principals and others can’t or won’t buy-in to your unique WHY, you will likely be on a bumpy road working with principals.

Start with WHY.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Avoid Getting Branded and Stranded

Like leaders in many professions, it easy to get caught up and consumed by the daily grind. We spend hours behind a computer working in isolation on multiple job-related tasks, and in doing so, we often fail to attend to the people who need us most. Then, when we must exercise our authority, we sometimes get labeled as being difficult. Unless we are able to change, find ways to re-engage, and focus on the needs of others, people will turn their backs on us. When that happens, we get left behind. The development of our leadership capacity and our programs becomes stagnant.

To become effective leaders, we must commit to a continuous self improvement plan. We must also dedicate ourselves to serve and develop other leaders. When we allow ourselves to selfishly focus only on what's on our plate, demand obedience, compliance, and respect because of a positional title, and fail to engage with others, we get branded as loners. If we don't assertively commit to learn and improve our work, we become isolated, mediocre, and left behind. No one wants to work with an afterschool leader who doesn't get it, or worse, doesn't care to.

People matter most in an afterschool program. Obviously, that means kids, parents, and staff. But the people within the profession in positions of leadership matter, too. They are important for advancing the profession – and reliant upon each other. It is essential that we commit to learn together, grow, build relationships, and allow ourselves to be pushed and continuously move forward. Complacency and adherence to the status quo are brands associated with leaders who only want to focus on administrative and technical tasks, not the needs of people. Acknowledging others needs and acquiring the influence necessary to lead is the essence of leadership.

We can't gain influence without pressing the flesh. We can't lead without influence, which can only be acknowledged by others. Effective afterschool leaders know that they must regularly be amidst their staff, students, parents, and active within their community. They know they to gain influence, they must earn the respect of the people who are their stakeholders. And among those stakeholders are countless other afterschool leaders that do the same kind of work they do.

As you reflect, if you can't confidently be assured that other afterschool professionals in your city or region know you, recognize the quality of your work, and respect you for how you support the work of others, you may be branded as a loner and stranded in your program. You'll go nowhere. Neither will your program.

But you can commit to change. You can resolve to learn, work more closely with others in your profession, and move ahead in your development as a leader.

There is no better place to begin your branding transformation than at the 24th Annual NAA Convention. Get involved with us. Form relationships. Let’s commit to learn together and from each other.

See you in Dallas on April.

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO

National AfterSchool Association

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Optimists and Pessimists

Stories are powerful. They are universal and cross the boundaries of language, culture, and age. They define who we are and portray the world in vivid, narrative terms. They build emotional connections. I think we learn best and make decisions that result in change from hearing stories. We would all do well to master the art of storytelling. After all, in our afterschool programs, we are surrounded by a rich and ready source of content.

Recently, my pastor began his sermon with a story about the power of being positive in any situation! I’ll share it here…

A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist.

Just to see what would happen on the twins' birthday, their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure.

That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly.

"Why are you crying?" the father asked.

"Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken." answered the pessimist twin.

Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked.

To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

We have both optimists and pessimists in our profession. But I believe we are a majority of optimists.  My belief is based on conversations with and observations of numerous professionals performing their work in a positive manner.  Afterschool professionals maintain an attitude of positive expectations, for themselves and others.

Yet, there are some that would argue that optimists are simple Pollyannas looking at the world through rose colored glasses and living in a fantasy. No doubt, each of us, from time to time, succumbs to negative thoughts. We worry about all the things that could go wrong. Some suggest that thinking the worst is a sound strategy for coping in an erratic world.

There is probably a place for both optimism and pessimism. But for my afterschool professional friends, who likely identify with the optimist twin in the story, being optimistic supports the pursuit of goals in a positive way, leading toward bigger and better dreams.

We each get to choose what we wear each day. We are also free to select an attitude to take to work.  There may be times when pessimism serves us well, but to cope in our complex and unpredictable world, I choose to hunt for the pony!

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association