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.

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

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