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, May 25, 2011

10 Second Commercials

Dr. Paul G. Young
Presdient and CEO
I was frequently asked about what I did when I worked as an afterschool program director. When I responded, I'd often see puzzled looks. But when I explained that I had also been a school principal, people seemed to better relate. Apparently, if you went to school, you supposedly know what principals do (or maybe I talk with adults who, as kids, spent too much time in the principal’s office). But it also seems that far too many people are unaware of what afterschool program directors do. If adults themselves haven't attend an afterschool program or have children or grandchildren attending one, they have no reference point to envision it. And they have difficulty connecting or appreciating the similarities of leading afterschool programs with school leadership positions.

It's time we change those perceptions.

If you haven't thought about or practiced a response for describing what you do each day or what your afterschool program does, you’ll likely ramble on and make little sense when asked. You might bore your listeners and subsequently feel unappreciated and rejected. We all must be able to explain why our programs exist and what we intend them to accomplish.  And we better be able to convey that big idea concept in very simple terms.

We must memorize and be able deliver a 10-second commercial that explains who we are, what we do, why and where we do it, and how we make a difference. Try developing your personal commercial that goes something like this...

“Hi, I am Paul Young.  I lead the leaders of afterschool programs that provide kids with a safe place to expand their learning - after school”

The point of an effective, rehearsed, well-delivered 10-second commercial is that it grabs the attention of listeners so that they will ask you to tell them more. If you aren't commanding, strangers will dismiss you. If you lack sparkle and personality, you'll be a bore.

Without any doubt, afterschool is a "good idea." But we must make it into a "big idea" that resonates with the public in ways that everyone can understand, relate, and appreciate.  What does your afterschool program do? Tell it, sell it, and make your commercial remarkable.

Comparably, and almost universally, people associate Disney with happiness and make-believe. People know that Walmart exists to give ordinary folks the opportunity to buy the same things as rich people. McDonald’s makes hamburgers fast and cheaply. How about your afterschool program? What’s the big idea? What should we all learn to say? “The ‘ABC’ program is childcare?” “The ‘ABC’ program is recreation?” “Or the ‘ABC’ program is a safe place where kids go to expand their learning after school?” Which resonates best? Develop what works for you?

Our profession must adopt a universal "big idea." Schools exist to teach and learn. Hospitals exist to heal the sick. Libraries exist to house and lend books. Afterschool?  How about this?  Afterschool programs keep kids safe and learning - after school. It's redundant, but it works. 

It’s human nature to inquire what others do. When you are asked, deliver your 10-second commercial. When delivering it, you have the opportunity to sell yourself and our profession. Keep working with the wording until it is short, sweet, and easy for everyone in your organization to repeat. Learn to modify it for either formal or casual situations. Then, deliver it everywhere you go. Enable every employee and stakeholder to embrace it and describe the program's mission. And remember, after you've captured someone's attention, you have less than 90 seconds to fully explain the concept and details about afterschool.

Practice until you can nail it, both for what afterschool is and what you do - in 10 seconds or less.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The "Tiger Mom" Debate

Dr. Paul G. Young
The release of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's memoir describing her "Chinese way" of parenting has triggered a national debate about the most effective and desirable methods of child rearing. Often times, afterschool professionals commiserate over the challenges of engaging parents and cite numerous examples of ineffective, or absent, parenting skills. Chua's memoir has touched some raw nerves because it focuses on achievement gaps among America's racial and ethnic subgroups.

Chua makes broad generalizations that American kids engage in less academic rigor than their Chinese counterparts. She also describes American kids as being fat and lazy. Her 'tiger mom' style of parenting with her two teenage daughters emulated that of her immigrant Chinese parents - hours of drill after school, rigorous study of piano and violin, no sleepovers or play dates,  no video games or TV, and nothing less than a number-one performance in all academic work. She describes students who fail to give their best as ‘losers’. Chua claims that American parents are more likely to seek medical intervention and special classes for their children at first signs of underperformance. She explains that the Chinese way demands higher amounts of effort from the child to master difficult objectives.

Do American parents enable their children's laziness? Do we give up too quickly with those children with unique, special learning styles and needs? Chua would suggest that we do. And she further suggests that educators contribute to the malaise and share considerable criticism for underachievement with parents.

Regardless of which side you align with this debate, afterschool professionals are wise to evaluate the levels of rigor expected in all of our American educational offerings. President Obama is calling us to become the innovation nation, to more effectively engage our students in STEM related learning, and to increase physical activity and curb our fattening eating habits. Afterschool professionals must be engaged in this debate. We have watch over children and youth at the critical times of the day when significant change and gains can be achieved. We must be firm in our own convictions about what is generally good for kids, how they should be engaged in learning afterschool, and what academic rigor in America really means. We set the tone!

Most likely, most afterschool professionals would agree that a touch of the 'tiger mom' parenting approach would help our kids. We must lead the debate about what is best for the whole child. A little more dosage of toughness will drive change. We must unite to prepare our young learners for a competitive edge in the global marketplace. And despite what we want to think, the ‘Tiger Mom’ debate shows that race continues to be a factor in our educational malaise and deeper social problems.

We can't afford to keep our ostrich heads in the ground. We need to urge all our kids to develop a good work ethic and strive for excellence. Read Chua’s memoir!

Reference:  Chua, Amy (2011). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin Press.