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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Giving Feedback

Paul G. Young, Ph. D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Mention the words “performance review”, and they often conjure up anxious memories of uncomfortable conversations with our bosses.  For many of us, those painful experiences ranked close to going to the dentist for a root canal. We’d do anything to avoid them. The documentation and feedback processes that were used often had little meaning.  Little good ever came from the experience.

The reality is, unfortunately, that many of us don’t conduct performance reviews with our staffs any better than our bosses. Most of us have never been trained in how to give supportive feedback. It's not a performance task in our long list of work responsibilities that typically gets perfected. We stress and worry about how to deliver unpleasant messages and respond to recipients’ reactions. So we tend to ignore or procrastinate until, quite often, pressure points build. When that happens, change often becomes unattainable.

In contrast, we all respond favorably to positive feedback. It has many benefits. It helps us all focus our attention and behavior. Giving it shows that we care and notice what others do. Since one of our primary responsibilities is to increase and enhance the skills of our professional staffs, providing feedback (positive or negative) is one of the most powerful tools we have as leaders. We need to learn to do it well.

We can learn a lot about giving feedback by observing what the great athletic coaches do. They train and mentor their players to improve, overcome mistakes, become a cohesive team, and achieve success.  Great coaches let their players know they care whether their feedback is positive or critical. They share strong interpersonal relationships. Expectations are clear. Feedback and ideas are communicated and exchanged in highly personalized ways. All players are given proper attention and training with opportunities to grow.

Our coaching work with afterschool professionals, hopefully under a lot less stress of most high profile coaches, is just as important. We can learn by observing them in order to improve our processes for giving feedback to our staffs. No matter our level of experience, we all have room for improvement.

We must focus more on observable work behaviors, less on attitude or personality traits. We must provide feedback in the moment, everyday, not days after the fact. It should be delivered in a short, informal, and mostly positive manner. We must encourage our staff members to provide peer feedback to each other, and just as in sports, to teach peer support processes to their students.

Furthermore, I encourage you to give feedback to your afterschool staff in this way. “Motivate on Monday” and give “Feedback on Friday”.  When your staff reports on Mondays, spend a few minutes outlining major goals and expectations for the week.  Allow time for questions. Provide encouragement. Highlight successes. Individualize as needed for each person. Be motivational. Set the tone for the week. Then, before everyone leaves on Friday, provide summary feedback that you haven’t otherwise shared throughout the week. Show people you care and how you will support them going forward.

Relationships are the key. Communication must be effective. Giving feedback, as challenging as it sometimes may be, is essential to grow and develop our staffs. Get involved with NAA where you will have many opportunities to listen and learn and further develop your leadership skills as an afterschool professional.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Flashbacks to Marching Band

Recently, a graduate from my high school posted an open question on Facebook, "You know you went to Fairfield Union High School if...". When curiosity finally got the best of me, I began reading the comments, many of which were from classmates I haven't seen or heard from in years. And since I was one of several graduates who returned to my high school after college to begin my teaching career (in my case as the band director), I became intrigued by what my former students were writing about me and my teaching colleagues from the 70s and early 80s. My former students now range in age from 45- 56.

I have to admit, what I've read has been fascinating. I feel like an evaluation of my work has been occurring all over again. Here's a sampling of what they recall:
·         I was tough and demanded the highest form of discipline.
·         I worked my students hard.
·         Students knew they were expected to perform and excel at a high level.
·         We held marching band practices in rain, snow, excessive heat, and bitter cold.
·         We were a family.

My former students remember incidences that I've long forgotten. But they remember the way I handled them as well as the people involved who became part of the school’s folklore. I remember some of the complaints and occasionally worried that perhaps my teaching style and rehearsal methods were too extreme. But time shapes our memories, in this case very fondly. Despite the love of music that they learned under my tutelage, it was the sense of discipline, work ethic, and pride that they valued even more. Many have described ways that those characteristics have carried them to success in their varied careers.

I wasn't their only teacher, of course. Facebook fans are also reflecting on the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of many other teachers and the pranks they pulled as part of high school. They remember how their teachers walked, talked, dressed, smelled - and cared. The smallest things made lasting impressions. It doesn't take much reading to discover the teachers that the students liked and who they didn't.

The point of my writing about things such as this in this blog is to remind afterschool professionals that you, too, will someday be fair game for an informal evaluation by your students when they become reflective about their time with you. You probably won't discover their feedback about you via Facebook, but rather, some kind of communication media we can't even imagine today. After all, for my former students who are reflecting about me, the slide rule was high tech for them when we shared those special high school years.

Never waver from your values. Set high expectations. Kids will rise up and meet them. Communication is essential. Listen. Smile. Dress professionally. Show that you care. Have fun.

Kids are always watching. The realization that my former students  now respect (for the most part) what we collectively did to become a successful marching band creates a sense of pride within me that is worth more than any amount of money.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Encore Careers

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association

As a music major in college, I was taught what needed to be done before and during concerts so that my audiences would ask for more. It’s every musician’s aspiration to finish a performance and hear shouts of bravo! and encore!

As an educator, I’ve approached my professional work as I was trained to do by my musical mentors.  My high school marching bands, 4th and 5th grade classrooms, and schools where I served as principal were my ‘concert venues’ where my students, staff,  and I worked to meet the highest expectations and plaudits from our supporters. Our success bred success. The more we did together, the more we realized we could do.

Then in 2004, after many years and many ‘performances’ came the age for retirement. Once I did it, I discovered retirement to be very challenging. I would dress, but have no place to go. I had no audiences to perform for. There was a big void in my life.

But rather quickly, I was presented opportunities in afterschool. And during that time, the term encore career was made popular.[1] I soon discovered more audiences, performance venues, and reasons to work hard. Life was good again.

But we were also taught another lesson in music school. Don’t let an encore become another concert! After one, or perhaps two short, delightful encores, there is an appropriate time to stop. To extend beyond that point is to risk leaving audiences privately wishing your performance would end so they could get on with other business, no matter how good you might think you are.

That time has come for me. My encore is finished. I choose to leave before I begin hearing boos instead of bravo. There may be smaller gigs that I can play from time to time, but no more long concert programs. There are younger professionals that must be given those opportunities.

It is no wonder so many Babyboomers are writing their own second acts or performing encores. The rewards—at least in terms of personal satisfaction—can be tremendous. We are retiring and finding ourselves in good health with a desire to do more, and give back.  We are fortunate to find jobs that combine personal meaning, provide continued income, and have potential for social impact. But we can’t let an encore career become another career!

What we can do is mentor, consult, and teach. In those ways, we can maintain our performance skills and realize continued value from our experience. But we also have to get out of the way and allow those younger to enjoy the limelight of the stage.

[1] work in the second half of life that combines continued income, greater meaning and social impact. These are paid positions often in public interest fields such as education, the environment, health, government sector, social services and other nonprofits.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Value in Complete Sentences

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
 In addition to my other professional work, I've enjoyed teaching music theory classes for 30 years as an adjunct professor at a regional campus of Ohio University. Many of my students would best be described as nontraditional college undergraduates - and definitely non-music majors.  For some, perhaps because they've already experienced some of life's tough knocks and limitations in the workforce, they've enrolled in college with aspirations of positioning themselves for better opportunities. Many of them know all too well the hardships of poverty. Most are recent high school graduates, and for numerous reasons (most always poverty-related issues) have chosen the regional campus college experience. In general, most of our community's more advanced and privileged high school graduates attend college elsewhere. Yet, what I find in my classes are hard working students, but they've probably never been considered to be stellar students by their former teachers. 

Read more as to why I think they've come to be perceived that way.

As they present themselves, it’s apparent to me why their peers outshined them. Many do not know how to effectively communicate. They have weak verbal skills. They lack command of sentence structure. More often than not, informal social skills and cues necessary for success in the middle class are lacking. And most can't put a sentence together without using the word “like” and other forms of verbal graffiti. Added to those gaffes, they often fail to make good eye contact. And when they shake hands, they expose their lack of self-confidence. I hate wet noodles.

Besides providing them with an introduction to music theory, I also teach ‘Communication 101’ to help address these issues and provide them an advantage. Some get it, others don't. Those that don't work to improve will be perpetually held back and continue to fall to the bottom of the class or any other professional setting. They will fail to reap the rewards of their college training, not because they can't master the basic content, but because they can't express themselves during important high stakes, middle class conversations, such as a job interview.

One of the most important gifts we can give our afterschool program participants is an awareness of the importance and mastery ability to speak in complete sentences – in English. Teaching and modeling proper verbal communication skills should take place every minute of every day in every afterschool program. It won’t cost anything extra. It simply requires a staff with a clear vision and commitment of purpose to equip kids with one of the most important and essential life skills. But achieving the desired outcome requires focused teaching, modeling, and relating language and communication experiences to the real world. It demands persistence over time. Kids can learn how to properly shake hands. They can make eye contact. They can speak with proper inflections, nuances, and grammatically correct usage of nouns, verbs, and adjectives if they are continually encouraged and reinforced by caring and nurturing adults.

I'm convinced that many of my college students will eventually become fantastic workers. But they'll pay a huge price and wait a long time to see a return on the investment of their training if they don't learn how to speak. I recognize that many possess a warm personality and intelligence. But without self-confidence (which comes from teaching and practice), their verbal skills will hold them back.

Please provide your kids with that time to practice and gain confidence speaking in complete sentences. In the end, that may be more of an important edge for them than mastery of content knowledge or a high test score.

Don't let kids leave your programs until they can confidently talk their way out of it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just Do It

Register for the GO FAR race
 at the 2012 convention

Nike's iconic trademark and motto are universally recognized. They convey an image and message of self-reliant athleticism that leads to success. Buying Nikes is easy, but it’s the regular usage of them that is not so much fun for some.

I think that most people I know and meet in the world of afterschool education are knowledgeable. But I find too many that fail to act as effectively as they can on what they know. Most of us know what's right to do. We understand what actions and behaviors will lead to desirable outcomes, but we often fail to act on what we know is right. Like our kids, we sometimes just need some gentle (or perhaps not so gentle) reminders. That's really the essence of most of my blog entries - practical, common sense advice and reminders of things most of us already know. My intent is that with a little nudge, these reminders will prompt you (and me) to take action and realize significant change as professionals.

Take exercising, for example. Or even more so, consider how the role modeling of good exercise, eating, and healthy living habits impacts your kids. Do you have an interest and commitment to reduce the incidence of childhood and adult obesity?

We don't lack for knowing what to do about that issue. We lack for doing something about it.

When I get on my soapbox about this issue and gently (or not so gently) nudge, I sometimes stir up anxieties and feel tension within my audiences. I observe a consensus that afterschool professionals intellectually know what they should do, but they allow too many barriers or obstacles to get in the way. And more than any other barriers, our self-imposed choices get in the way and prevent us from adopting a healthier lifestyle.

My blogs are also intended to push your mind-set, challenge your methodologies, educate, encourage, nudge, and help you achieve success regardless of your circumstances. It's my hope that reading my words will enlighten you to move beyond the information I share (much of which I know you already know) and inspire you to take action.

So again, let’s reflect on exercising, personally and with our program staff and participants.  Most of us would like to increase our personal level of fitness. We can't refute or deny what the research says. Most of us are informed and know what we should do, we just don't do it. We lack conviction to embrace change. But with a collective effort, I think most of us can make changes necessary to improve our health – and many other facets of our personal and professional lives. It is imperative that we teach our kids how to do so, both in school and afterschool.

At last year's NAA convention, we partnered with the North Carolina-based GO FAR (Go Out For A Run) Club to sponsor a 5k race/fun walk as part of our convention. This year, we anticipate 750-1000 kids from the Frisco, TX, schools and other nearby areas to participate in our second event (all those little people might trample us old folks). I envision a glorious spectacle. Afterschool program leaders, particularly in Frisco, have embraced the 10-week eating and fitness program from GO FAR as an actionable way to inform, teach, engage, and actually do something alongside their kids to create change. You can, too.

Check out this inexpensive program at  Start a club in your afterschool program. Create change. You'll have many reasons and outcomes to celebrate after just 10 weeks.

Come on, just do it!

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are You an Active Listener or a Multitasker?

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
I must admit, my attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I'm like the kids in school and our afterschool programs that seem to have ants in their pants. But unlike those squirming youngsters, I know what I am doing. I allow myself to be distracted. I know the research proves that multitasking is a myth. But like a fool, I try to multitask anyway.

I don't like this characteristic about myself very much.

Do I have your attention?

If you're like me, you participate in lots of meetings, face-to-face or virtually using a phone and computer. If the agenda isn't relevant with engaging content, I start checking email, texting, doodling, thinking, creating a “to-do” list, or simply watching other people. If the meeting leader allows the flow of the meeting to drag, I get bored. I drift off and become distracted by my thoughts or any other environmental stimuli.

One of my college music theory professors once stopped his lecture and asked, “Paul, how many leaves are left on that tree outside our classroom?”

Multitaskers relish irrelevancy. Everything distracts and slows them down. Despite what they’d like to think, they don’t have an undivided attention span. They can remember very little of what distracted them, and as a result, they gain minimal benefits from participating in meetings. Research shows that our brains struggle to process more than one bit of information at a time.   Multitaskers waste time and productivity by constantly, compulsively, and actively switching between random activities.

Virtual meetings by conference call have become multitaskers’ play time.  Many people have come to view a regularly scheduled conference call meeting as a free opportunity to shut their office doors, log onto the calls, activate the mute function, and then start multitasking as they listen (or try to) to the meeting presenter(s). No matter how hard we try, the distractions that can occur during conference calls are tempting and too numerous to stay focused. Boring conference calls don’t work, because they just invite more multitasking without fear of being caught.

Let's commit to doing better. Afterschool professionals must adhere to meeting norms and expectations, and presenters must keep things moving with content that is relevant and engaging.

We can do better and get more done virtually. Our meetings can become the exception to the rule. We can be remarkable. We just have to try - and not multitask.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Value of Piano Recitals

As I reflect upon those formative years when my daughters were elementary-age students, my favorite memories include their earliest piano recitals. My wife and I elevated these into important events in their young lives. Looking back, I hope we didn't create unrealistic expectations. But we never wavered from an expectation that they would participate and do their best.

Fast forward to today, both have become successful professional women with many accomplishments while performing and advancing in their chosen careers. Katie has become the principal oboist with the Florida Orchestra and Mary Ellen an editor with McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Both have developed confidence in the technical, professional, and political aspects of their work. But more importantly, they have acquired high levels of self-confidence, particularly when speaking or "performing" in front of others. I think the roots of that confidence and their ability to self-express can be traced back to their learning experiences during to those childhood piano recitals.

Without any doubt, our daughters benefitted from having two parents who themselves had both majored in music. But neither of us were pianists. Much more importantly, they had an uncompromising yet outstanding piano teacher (after school). Mrs. Seeley modeled confidence and performance skill and insisted her students do the same. Besides learning about music and the piano, our girls were taught stage presence, poise, performance skills, public speaking, and the skill of improvising and thinking fast in the present. They learned to deliberately focus their practice sessions (homework) on what required the most effort and improvement. They learned self-discipline and responsibility. Our daughters now know that these peripheral performance skills have greatly influenced their ability to succeed as adults.

And, as you would likely imagine, those life performance skills were learned after school!

I challenge our professionals to develop multiple opportunities in our afterschool programs so that all kids can attain these advantages. They can be learned in many disciplines besides music, such as athletics, clubs, extracurricular activities, and enrichment endeavors. Many kids can, and must, be taught these success skills without the benefit of parental support. And believe it or not, we can teach kids to perform while learning math and reading.

I encourage you to prioritize the teaching of the peripheral performance skills in your afterschool program. In every way you can, I encourage you to create opportunities for kids where they can show what they know and can do so in front of supportive adults. Encourage them to speak and express their own thoughts, to improvise, and to show poise under pressure. They will thank you for these valuable learning experiences after they have successfully interviewed for jobs in a competitive market.

Share your ideas and best practices with our members. Together, we can greatly add to the value of afterschool experiences.

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Working With Millennials

As I travel the country, I frequently overhear afterschool program directors (who appear to be age 40 or older) commiserating about the difficulties they have working with their youngest employees – those twenty-somethings that social psychologists are calling the millennials. Some of the descriptors I hear about the challenges are that these workers are uninterested in work, unprofessional, complacent, lazy, carefree, late to work, always multitasking, and more. There are some obvious generational disconnects.  That may be nothing new.

I am sure there were plenty of issues raised when my generation, the babyboomers, entered the workforce, especially during the tumultuous late 60 and early 70s. After all, we thought nothing about bringing our freewill spirit, long hair, and wearing hippy attire complete with dirty bellbottom jeans and sandals to work. We were young and oblivious to what our elders thought, or cared.

The millennials go by many names - Generation Y, Generation Next, or the Echo Boomers (yes, many millennials are boomers’ kids.) This group generally is said to be born from 1982 through the early 2000s. They’ve been pampered by doting parents who structured their lives to take advantage of increasing numbers of learning and social experiences. Television, computers, the Internet, and myriad digital communication devices have shaped their outlook, behaviors, and skills. Millennials text message more than they talk. In their world, there are always unlimited minutes. As a group, they are bright, cheerful, cooperative, and display a “can-do” attitude about tasks at work. Yet, to afterschool program leaders, many are presenting an “I-don’t-want-to-do-this-type-of-work” attitude.

So what is research revealing that can help our older leaders when working with millennials?

Be patient. Tolerate differences and try to understand. Because of their schooling, many millennials feel that they are better suited for higher-level work above entry positions. They appear unwilling or unable to start at the bottom and work their way up. They view grunt work as something other people should do. They don’t buy into the concept of paying one’s dues.  They expect to work hours that fit their schedule, not the other way around. The reality is that many can jump right in and succeed.  But not all.

When hiring and working with millennials, make sure expectations are very clear. Don’t make demands that won’t work. To avoid conflicts and unhappiness, allow for flexibility and teamwork. Provide constant feedback.

Embrace the millennials’ love for technology. Encourage them to use it. Challenge them with new assignments and teach them about the importance of professional credibility. Remember, this group’s constant connection to technology will keep them linked to it while performing their jobs more than their older coworkers.

From an early age, millennials have learned, been allowed, and even been encouraged to be multitaskers.  They will easily become distracted. They must be provided parameters of when, where, and how they can multitask at work, especially when working with children and youth. They must be taught about the dangers and mistakes that multitasking can create in their work performance.

Millennials also want to know why an activity is important before they listen to what must be done. When asking these questions, they aren’t being defiant. They just want to know their role in the grand scheme of things. We need to help them discover their reason to care. When asked, explain the why.

Millennials are the future of afterschool. They value a balance between work and life, rewards, achievement, attention, simplicity, informality, meaning, and multitasking. They bring fresh perspective to an afterschool setting many grew up in when younger. We must accept their values and create a work culture that is millennial-friendly. We must adapt behaviors and learn skills that engage them. Babyboomers must accept millennials without bias, communicate and connect with them, and establish meaning and accountability in their work. Direct those who appear unfocused and indifferent.

Millennials are creative, generous, educated, and enjoyable. Without doubt, babyboomers and those of other generations wanted to be viewed by our first employers in much the same way. We came to work expecting our unique differences to be accepted. 

Nothing is new.

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Develop Your Network

As an afterschool leader, you've probably heard this advice numerous times - get out and network. But you might not know how or where to begin. Maybe it’s been suggested to you to keep track of people you meet, add their contact information into a database, and have a presence and be sociable at professional events. Some think that networking involves nothing more than collecting friends on Facebook or making connections on LinkedIn. Too many never learn how to move beyond meeting people to effectively make their networking experiences work for them. It's unfortunate that people are not provided with extensive training about how to develop a network.

NAA wants to help.

Developing a professional afterschool network is more than keeping track of people you've met or know in the field. To be effective, your network must consist of people who not only know you, but also like you and trust you. People in a close knit network will always have you in the back of their minds - and they'll watch your back. They genuinely want to see you succeed.

To develop an effective networking, people need to be able to see you as an individual willing to give as much or more than you receive.

Networking is not about keeping score of how many contacts you can collect to serve your own self interests. It is not about who owes someone else for some favor. Successful networkers have influence and attain it by placing others' interests first. They know how to be a friend, care for people, and make others feel good about themselves. They become magnetic.

Networking is a cycle of giving and receiving.  You put something in, and you receive in return. Your true worth is determined by how much you give compared to how much you take from others.

Come to the 2012 NAA National Convention in Dallas where you will be provided numerous opportunities and the best platform to develop a network on a national scale. Connect with those who do what you do, give of yourself, and great things will happen professionally as a result.

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Penny Debate

Recently, on a flight to Florida to attend the FASA Fall Conference, while reading Southwest Airlines’ travel journal, Spirit Magazine, I saw a picture of a piggybank with the heading "it costs 1.8 cents to make a penny.” Since that made no sense to me, I was compelled to read further. Did you know, according to the U. S. Mint's 2010 Annual Report[1], that rising costs of zinc and copper have made it impossible for the government to make a penny for less than one cent? And it costs 9.2 cents to make a nickel! The government lost $27.4 million last year just making pennies. Even more making nickels! And this has been happening for nearly 5 years!

I don't know about you, but this bothers me. Can't anyone in our national government (or private citizen groups) rise up and stop this example of economic waste and bleeding? Why does the great penny debate need to continue?

Still bothered, I began contemplating how the great penny debate impacts afterschool. What could we as a profession (especially our nonprofits) do with what's being lost making these outdated coins? You can only imagine. But you can also likely agree that, like the government, our professional would benefit if we could eradicate outdated practices.  But change is hard (and obviously long overdue for the pennies and nickels that constitute change in our pockets).

So I began (and I want you to join me here) thinking about how many wasteful and outdated practices we have forced upon us and tolerate burdening our profession. For starters, the hidden costs of required trainings, licensing, compliance costs, outdated paperwork (much of which could be automated) come to mind. But like the government, and perhaps because of it, we throw money down the drain without questioning, changing, and eliminating practices that are no longer practical or cost effective.  In many cases, afterschool programs are caught in a bind, forced to continue charging similar rates and provide services that are more expensive than the actual costs of supplies and resources.

Like me, maybe you didn't know that in today's world it cost more to make a penny than it is actually worth. Seems like an insignificant issue until it adds up. I know I’ve never complained about it until now, and I doubt you haven't either. But if we all joined forces and persistently voiced our outrage at this great penny debacle, I bet we could affect change (and not just in pennies and nickels).

We could certainly make change (in dollars) by speaking out more on the cost prohibitive practices impacting afterschool. What are we worth? How much more does it cost to do what we do than what we receive in return? How are we relevant?  How are needed in a bigger scope of business and education?

Join me in raising a multitude of great money debate questions related to school and afterschool. It's unlikely that we’ll get lots more money, but not improbable. If we do nothing, change is unlikely. And while we raise questions and re-evaluate, we can focus on ways to save, do our work more efficiently, and discard practices that no longer have value.

Together, we can make change.

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


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Finishing Strong

One of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I was a junior in high school. To end the year, our school had scheduled an outdoor field day complete with games, sporting events, and races for all levels of competitors. Because the seniors had already graduated, like many of my classmates, I was discovering the new-found arrogance of being a senior – at the top!

Because I had always been lean and lanky, running had become sport while my brothers excelled at football and basketball. So for our field day, I entered the one mile run. As I considered the competition, I presumed that I would do well – and maybe win the race.

The race consisted of four laps around the high school track. I hadn’t trained that spring, but because my legs felt good, I quickly rushed out to the front to take the lead – and by a considerable distance after the first lap.

At the halfway mark, the burning cramps began. The lead that I had built  gradually started to erode.  My pace slowed, and those who had been applauding my prowess suddenly began cheering for the slower (and smarter!) runners to catch me.  I can remember the looks on the faces of some of my friends and teachers as I passed them in the stands on the third lap. During the fourth lap, with most of the runners passing by me, I had slowed to almost a crawl. I finished dead last – embarrassed – yet I somehow summoned the strength, despite severe pain, to complete the race.

Years later, I realized that I learned some very good lessons that day.  We learn from our mistakes. Training is essential. Pacing is the key to long term success. Patience is a virtue.

I’ve always wanted to go at a fast pace. Many times, my mother admonished my impulsiveness by reminding me that, because of my rush to be born, she barely reached the hospital. As an educator, going too fast often confused my students. My insistence to complete tasks quickly came off as aloofness and arrogance with my colleagues. Even today, when I feel the urge to rush, I’m reminded of my infamous race. As difficult as it was, I learned that pacing coupled with continuous training, especially at the end of the race, is essential for success. By picking myself up, dealing with my humiliation, and facing my friends, I learned a lesson about perseverance.

Every child must learn the lessons I’ve shared. They are an integral part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ found within every school and afterschool program - not easy to experience from books. They must be lived, as painful as they might be. We’ll all get knocked down. With training, we’ll learn how to get back up.

Even as adults, we must never lose sight of the value of continuous training. It might be uncomfortable to sit in a class. It’s not fun to practice and prepare while others appear to play. But we can’t expect to effectively lead others unless we have prepared ourselves to do so.

Today, I continue to run for my health. I’m not as fast as I used to be decades ago, but I’m proud that I’m still working at it, long after many others have hung up their shoes. But more imperative to me now is the importance of maintaining the strength and endurance of my mind. To succeed until the end, I have to train it. So I read, write, think, speak, and welcome opportunities to learn with others. I train and practice every day. My goal is to finish strong.

Like me, you may wonder what lies ahead. You may doubt if you are up for the race. But I can assure you, getting to the finish line isn’t what matters most. Conditioning in order to enjoy the run is much more important. Let’s enjoy training - together. Our ultimate goal will be to finish strong.

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Surviving in Tough Times

Like everyone else, I wish this depressed economy had already recovered by now. Everywhere I go, I hear afterschool program leaders bemoan how times are tough and how balancing their budgets has forced them to do more with less, adding to their stress. Some have bundled jobs to get the work done in order to serve their program participants. And most often, those who are doing more and more of those bundled tasks are the program leaders. As their staffs get smaller or work fewer hours, there still remains more work to do, with less help.

What are we to do?

We must hang together. If we get better at sharing our resources and ideas, utilize technology in ways that reduce work, and protect our time to learn together - at all costs - we can ride through anything. We must continuously analyze our work and eliminate the clutter, streamline repetitious tasks, avoid reinventing the wheel, and better support each other. This is not a time for afterschool professionals to work as lone rangers.

And if it helps, let’s remember that we aren't the only Americans who have experienced tough times.

For example, we can learn lessons from the Great Plains pioneers. They used the strategy of circling wagons when they faced attacks. Afterschool professionals must utilize that today. That means we must always be on the lookout for threats, provide support, and come together to protect each other. Those veteran trailblazers taught each other critical survival skills. We must, too! Considering the scope of the life and death challenges they faced, with vigilant support and strategic thinking, I think we can weather these tough economic times. But we can't shoot at each other, compete at each other’s expense, nor allow renegades to go off and stir up trouble.

Part of the value of your NAA membership is that we have the forum at state and national levels to engage in these important survival discussions, talk about them, teach coping strategies, and show that we care for one another.

Join your professional association, help shape the survival strategy of afterschool, and reduce your level of stress knowing that you have thousands of colleagues who've got your back.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dealing with Frustration

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If you are like me, you're feeling the frustrations of the lingering recession, political stalemates, pressure to do more with less, and the lack of time to do everything that needs to be done. Everywhere I look, I find more that can be done and things that I could do even better. It would be easy to lose control and give up. But I learned long ago that nothing worth doing would ever be easy.

When frustrations mount, we have to make time for ourselves. That means we create time to relax and get away from the daily ‘gnawing gnats’ that pester us and add to our worries. It's important to refresh our bodies for good health. It’s even more important to refresh our minds for good mental health. I do that by connecting with others who do the work that I do, commiserating if I need to, and listening for fresh ideas that will help me address my frustrations. I've learned that the worst thing I can do is try to go it alone. That just leads to an isolated feeling and adds to my frustration level.

I invite you to join us in Dallas, Texas, where together we can support ourselves through these tough times. The NAA staff, the NAA Board of Directors, the Convention Planning Team, and I are committed to assuring that those attending get the support and ideas they need to survive and thrive during tough times.

So pack your running or walking shoes and join us for the GO FAR 5k race/walk during which you can relieve your stress and improve your health. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try our Zumba class. You’ll have numerous opportunities to learn from 200 expert presenters who will surely give you new ideas that will brighten your workdays.  We also hope you will gather ideas from our Science and Arts Fairs about how you can promote STEM activities and make them in to STEAM by integrating the arts throughout your program this year. A focus on the arts will not only increase creativity, but they’ll make us feel better. Nowhere else will you have the opportunity to hear celebrity speakers like we have for this year’s convention.  Our faithful vendors and sponsors will have the latest and best materials and resources that will help you become the best at what you do.

Most importantly, though, things are always bigger in Texas, and the quality of support that thousands of your colleagues will provide you when we gather for the nations’ greatest event for afterschool professionals will be immeasurable – and it will greatly help us deal with these frustrating times.

I hope to see you there.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I recently saw a new term, escalefter, on a subway message board. If you've ever stepped on a moving walkway in an airport terminal or ridden an escalator at the mall, you've likely encountered one. They are those individuals that choose to nonchalantly stand on the left side of the walkway or escalator completely oblivious to any warning announcements and fully blocking the forward movement of those with a more determined destination. They seem unaware of the hustle and bustle around them or the inconveniences they are creating for others.  But, of course, we've all probably encountered some that know exactly what they are doing and continue do it deliberately, anyway.

I think there are three kinds of people using escalators and moving walkways. Those who are (1) too lazy to walk and instead choose the entitlement of a free ride, (2) those with drive, ambition, and vision who know where they want to go, and (3) the escalefters. Of course, an argument can be made for a fourth type - those independents that choose to walk and arrive at their destination on their own terms and at their own speed.

Which are you? I think these same types of people exist in every workplace - even the afterschool field. We all know there are some people who are simply lazy and saunter through life. They just ride along. Quite the opposite are those with vision and determination to get things done. They see the escalator as a means to go faster, do more, and save time. Escalators were made with this group in mind. Then there are the escalefters who block the progress of others, knowingly or not.

What about the fourth group?  Some of them are loners who choose to avoid the fast pace and do their own thing. Some are afraid. Others choose walking for their health rather than riding (don't they know they can walk even faster on a moving walkway?). And then there are those few who are so lost that they can’t even find the entrance to the escalator.

Escalators and moving walkways were designed to facilitate the movement and lifting masses of people toward their different destinations. Likewise, we create many paths and structures in our workplaces that do essentially the same things. And everywhere these same types of people exist -  loafers, movers, shakers, and blockers.

Let's not inhibit, or escaleft, those with vision who want to move our profession to a higher level even though there may be differing destinations. If they err, they'll redirect. They'll move to another walkway or change direction. But they'll still be moving forward. And they'll still be much farther ahead of those who just ride along.

Let’s work to convince escalefters to get with the flow or stand to the right.  They might get run over if they don't.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Quest for Quality

Creating quality in afterschool programming is everyone's desire and everyone's responsibility. But how does it really come about? Is quality the result of a curriculum, a healthy budget, type of program offerings, education level of the frontline staff, number of program partners, amount of resources, or something else?

I suggest that quality is most directly correlated to the leadership capacity of the program director. That individual must possess the capacity to lead people with skill sets that are far and above those needed for teaching or working in other support positions. The program director sets the tone, establishes expectations, and assures the standards of performance that result in quality.

We must make it our professional duty and practice to invest in leadership excellence. Leadership responsibility and authority can and must be distributed among our entire afterschool program staffs, but foremost, program leaders need extensive training in the nuts and bolts of administering a program along with knowledge and skills that inspire, motivate, and teach others to create magical moments in afterschool. Leaders must learn both the hard and soft leadership skill sets, and the softer skills are those that are more difficult to learn, implement, and master – and less likely taught. Being an afterschool program leader is more than a role; it's a responsibility. Effective afterschool program leaders do everything that has to be done, whenever and wherever it has to be done, and always in the best way that things should be done - whether they like it or not. They make the right things happen. They bring out the right qualities in the right people.  Where that happens, without any doubt, quality will exist.

Investment in afterschool leadership must become a priority. Too often, licensure requirements specify credentials for frontline staff but do not adequately address the essential leadership skills needed by the program director. Grants are often written without consideration for the   skills required or the time needed to effectively lead. Every afterschool site needs a dedicated, full-time leader. That individual must be engaged in professional learning about leadership, student management, organizational psychology, non-profit or for-profit management, standards attainment, and visioning.  They must also learn how to care, inspire, and work with adults. Real learning occurs in the trenches, listening, observing good and bad leaders, evaluating the effects and results, sharing experiences, and planning with expert practitioners.

Regardless of the organizational structure, all afterschool programs must meet the most basic business goal - make a profit.  Non-profits are only as good as their next buck. We all face stiff competition for funding. How successfully we generate revenue determines our reputation and future and reflects our leadership abilities. The capacity for visioning is essential for afterschool program leaders. That skill can and must be taught.

When you do something really well, word gets around. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) has developed a series of leadership lessons tailored directly for those who work at the program site level, particularly focused on the soft skill sets.  Those lessons (NAA members can find many of them in the Members Only section of the website), are simple, practical, and specific to how professionals should be treated in the afterschool setting. They are intended to help afterschool program leaders lead their staffs toward excellence and create quality learning environments that result in satisfaction and earn top rankings from those that matter most – children, youth, and their families.

Excellence in afterschool leadership must come first. When it does, quality will not be far behind.

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