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, 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