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.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Free or Fee

If you contemplate both words, you’ll notice that free is similar to fee except with a letter R inserted. As an afterschool leader worried about long-term sustainability, I often agonize over what we offer in programs for free and what should be offered with a fee. Even within a membership association, I think there are long-term ramifications for providing too much for free too much of the time.

There are problems with free.

If you’ve ever attended a state or national conference, I’ll bet that, like me, you’ve picked up dozens of free items in your welcome bag or from the exhibit areas. Even though you were appreciative and pleased to receive those items at the time, now you probably can’t remember what any of those items were. And when it was time to pack for your return home and you couldn’t get your suitcase closed, you probably thought nothing of leaving those free items behind.  Because you had nothing personally invested in them – and because they were free - they got tossed! The problem with freebies is that over time they maintain little value. People don't value what they get for free. Free is disposable.

Consider this: You see a free training offered nearby. They offer free coffee, snacks, meals, and a pretty decent presenter. Would you miss it? For those who indicate that they wouldn’t, there are many more that would. People turn up sporadically for free offerings or not at all. Yet when trainings have a prepaid cost, attendance is high.

Now think about this: When nonprofit afterschool programs are structured so that all participants and parents are invited without any charge, we are setting up a system that devalues almost everything we’ve worked extremely hard to do. People might flock to the program at first, but they'll eventually value it like everything else that they receive that is free - food, clothing, coffee, training, and much more. Free is disposable.

Certainly, the offer of ‘free’ generates feelings of appreciation. But will your parents really feel a loss if the free afterschool program their kids attend is suddenly taken away? Is anyone entitled to anything being free?

We value most that what we’ve actually paid for. You think twice about casting aside something that you've earned with your own sweat equity or money, and you find a way to shove it in your suitcase or keep it close to you. We create sustainability problems for our afternoon programs (as well as our professional associations) when we give them away for free.

Without doubt, some parents would rally for the cause if their program went away, but far too many wouldn’t. We have to find ways to add to the value of afterschool. Even if what you offer must be provided free, we need to change that perception. People are accustomed to free things and experiences being flaky and unreliable. People want to connect with something they can count on. The R in free must stand for responsibility and relationship.

It might be controversial to suggest this, but afterschool programs need some barriers to entry and a sense of exclusivity that increases the perception of value. Exclusivity is quickly eroded by free. Yet, free is very hard to sustain. No one can overcome innumerable difficulties for long periods of time and pour energy into unsustainable endeavors that have very little if any financial return.

What do you think? Does the “free-ness” of afterschool outweigh the challenges of structures based on fees or other costs for enrollment?  Can “free-ness” ever achieve long-term sustainability? Looking to the future, do you think we should be cautious and thoughtful about giving our program offerings away for nothing in return and with no investment from those who benefit most?

Value is increased in afterschool programs when people connect with you and your staff!  Relationships matter. Shared knowledge and experiences create exclusivity. But to assure that we can attract and keep the very best people so those relationships continue to increase in value, we must pay them well to keep them so that we achieve the outcomes we expect to get.

That can’t be sustained when programs are free.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Staring at Phones

I enjoy hosting my friends to watch collegiate football games on my big screen TV. Normally, we benefit socially from these times together. But increasingly, all anyone seems interested in doing is staring at their phones. No one shows much interest in the games. We don’t engage in intelligent conversation. I’ve even observed several friends spending much of the time watching score highlights on their ‘smart’ phones.

This winter, my concerns about cell phone etiquette were further heightened while attending a conference on the East Coast. There, I observed conference attendees engaged in similar behavior – staring at their phones. Worse, they had paid money to come (likely appropriated from their program budget) supposedly to learn from live, experienced trainers (I was one of them). At least my friends’ visit to my home had been free.

Then, an historic cell phone courtesy violation occurred earlier in January when the New York Philharmonic was presenting a live performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. During the beautiful fourth movement, an audience member’s cellphone began ringing loudly. The recognizable iPhone marimba riff loudly filled Avery Fisher Hall, clearly discomforting the audience. 

What happened next is an exchange no afterschool presenter ever hopes to encounter during professional workshops or trainings.

Maestro Alan Gilbert halted the performance. He turned from his podium and asked that the offending noise be turned off. The offender was seated in the front row!
Following what reports categorized as shocking dialogue and an unforgettable moment in orchestral history, Gilbert apologized to the audience for the disruption, and was greeted with applause.

Before most concerts begin, an announcement is made requesting that cell phones be turned off. Similar announcements typically precede other events. We make them at professional conferences. Yet, too many people fail to comply.

Loud ringing is distracting and embarrassing. Some consider it rude. So is staring at phones while others speak.

We can do better. Hopefully, we can learn from the experience of others and avoid situations like that confronted the maestro. Let’s avoid the need to publically call out attendees at our gatherings who fail to comply with requests for common cell phone courtesy.

Better yet, let’s put our phones out of sight during trainings. Let’s stare at the speaker!  That simple act (and courtesy) will make everyone better, and smarter.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Being Succeeded

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
Leaders love it when they are needed. It stokes their ego. They love hearing how much they are appreciated. They love hearing comments like "What will we do without you?” “You have big shoes to fill.” “We like you, because you really understand us.” “You really get it!"  But leaders also know that those who say those words aren't likely to remember what they said for very long after they’re gone.

All leaders are replaceable.

My goal as I leave my leadership role at NAA is to futher define professionalism and develop other afterschool professionals so they succeed when I'm gone. Obviously, a major focus of my time and energy will be to work with and support the next association leader, whose official title will be Executive Director. Hopefully, that individual will come to the job with the requisite competencies needed to move forward in a timely manner. Those characteristics and skills will be assessed and determined by the NAA Board of Directors.

Without relationships, there is no association. My job will be to help the new leader review what I’ve done and understand the strategies I have used to build relationships with members. Allow the new leader, as you did me, the time needed to adjust, assess, cast a new vision, and begin in earnest the work of association leadership.

NAA is primed to provide the lead role for the development of high-quality professional development at the national level, which will grow the field. NAA has strategically moved from a focus on program accreditation to one of individual mastery of the essential core knowledge and competencies needed for effective program leadership. Where leaders demonstrate those competencies, program quality is bound to exist.

Although I haven't led NAA for an extensive period of time, I have worked hard to develop other leaders in the field, particularly in their work to connect with school leaders and align programming with the regular school day. That work continues to be my passion. Hopefully, I can continue to play an influential role initiating and promoting key conversations about collaboration, sharing turf and resources, and shaping school leaders’ paradigms of what afterschool is and can become.

Since the meaning of “retirement” means to withdraw and give up work, I choose to think differently about this time in my career calling it a ‘protirement” – an opportunity to be proactive, doing what I want to do when I want to do it.

I look forward to meeting my successor.

Thanks for your support.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hanging Out Together

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There is a human tendency to band together. If you reflect back to your high school days, you’ll remember the cliques of kids with commons traits and interests, such as jocks, band geeks, tech nerds, and shy, quiet, and smart kids. They hung out together, socialized, and shared common experiences that would shape their lives. We need each other. We need to make the effort to hang out with each other.

Over the years, I feel I’ve increased my leadership skills because I’ve built a network of innovative, creative, and caring professionals that shared a singular purpose with me. I’ve learned different ways to manage my work and solve problems by listening to them. Often times, hanging out with other leaders helped me by just knowing that they faced the same challenges and frustrations as I did. But I’ve also watched colleagues that wanted to live and work in a cocoon – they suffered and succumbed to their problems. Those of us with professional networks who met and talked on a regular basis were emotionally strengthened by those connections.

NAA exists to be your professional network. When you get three or four afterschool program leaders in the same room and talking about what they do and how they do it, you are certain to profit. The benefits that come from putting like minds together are powerful. When we multiply those potential benefits by the numbers of professionals you can connect with at a state conference or a national convention, the results are priceless.

One of the greatest ways to keep your focus is to reward yourself for small accomplishments. As a band geek, my friends and I would celebrate good performances together. As an afterschool professional, celebrating a good “performance” might be a less tangible concept unless you consider your collective accomplishments envisioning, managing, and growing a program. That is definitely worth celebrating! Join us at the NAA National Convention where we will do just that!

Of course, not everyone from the field can make it to Dallas. But we can still “hang out” together when we connect through websites, list-serves, E-News, conference calls, and local gatherings. We connect when we read similar materials, dream big, and share ideas. Engaging in these professional activities while doing the work we do provides us the emotional strength and reassurance we need to meet the goals we are shooting for.

There are certainly those occasions when we can’t control what happens and we fall upon rough times. But how we handle what happens to us during tough times is within our control.  Hanging out together builds emotional capital. Our capacity to handle our professional challenges has everything to do with our emotional balance. Banded together, we can conquer the chaos and get through anything. Alone, you will be consumed.

Come hang out with us at the NAA National Convention in Dallas, Texas, April 2-4, 2012.

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