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April 20, 2018

As more people use mobile devices to stay connected, texting seems like a natural way to inform and engage families. If your 21st CCLC program is considering it, here are some things to keep in mind:
 
Have a plan. Meet with your program team to discuss whether texting might be a good tool for your communications toolbox. Discuss possible pros and cons. Who will be in charge of setting it up, creating and sending messages, and responding if a family member sends a message in return? 
 
Select a texting platform. A texting platform, also called a short message service or SMS, lets you send messages to multiple subscribers at once. With most platforms, you can import contact information from a spreadsheet, which makes messaging easy and quick. Some platforms let you store messages to be sent automatically. It’s smart to test the platform with team members to work out any kinks and to make sure everyone knows how to use it.
 
Get family members’ permission. On your program’s student enrollment form, where it asks for family members’ cell phone numbers, also ask for permission to send text messages from the program. Remind families about this option periodically in letters or newsletters, or in person.  
 
Use texting to remind about actions or deadlines. Texting works best for quick reminders like “We hope to see you Friday at 7 p.m. at the high school for the ABC Program’s student showcase!” Texting isn’t the best tool for explaining concepts like why it’s important for students to present their work to an audience.  
 
Keep it short. Messages that get to the point respect families’ time. Also, if your message is longer than 160 characters, some phone carriers will break it into two parts. Be specific, but not wordy. 
 
Limit the number of texts you send. If parents know you’ll send texts only to share important or useful messages, they are more likely to pay attention when you write. 
 
Personalize when possible. Some texting platforms enable you to personalize messages you send to a group. Also, sometimes, you might choose to send an individual message to just one or two families.   
 
Proofread before you send. Double-check times, dates, spelling and grammar. If you’re not sure about something, ask a colleague to take a look.  
 
Don’t over-rely on texting. Some families might not have a mobile device, and some might choose not to sign up for text messages from your program. So don’t make texting your only form of communication. Delivering a message multiple times in multiple formats is a good practice, no matter what you’re communicating. That’s why major companies often advertise their products in a variety of ways.       
 
Y4Y’s Family Engagement course points out the importance of making information available in a variety of formats and languages that families can understand. Texting is just one of many possible tools your staff can use to overcome common challenges in communicating with families. Also take a look at the recent Family Engagement Virtual Institute for a wealth of resources.
 
Does your 21st CCLC program use texting? What has the experience been like? What benefits and drawbacks have you seen? What other strategies have worked for you? Please share your ideas and strategies with peers on this Y4Y discussion board so that others may benefit from what you’ve learned!

 



March 22, 2018

You already know that questions are an important tool for learning. In the classroom, they can help improve students’ reading comprehension and drive project-based learning. But questioning is also a strategy you can use to support your program staff. Here are three ways you can use questions to become a better leader.
 
Ask Questions That Focus Attention and Stimulate Thinking 
Some questions you ask staff members are very basic, and are necessary to routine program activities: Are the art supplies ready for today’s activity? How many students will have their artwork ready for next week’s showing? Did you send the invitations to parents today? These questions ask for facts. They can usually be answered without much thought.
 
Questions that focus attention and stimulate thinking ask for ideas: How did you think today’s art activity went? What are your thoughts about ways we can make tomorrow’s activity less chaotic? They go beyond asking “What do you know about X?” to ask, “What do you think about X?”
 
Listen to Your Staff
If staff members wait a few seconds before responding to a question, that’s good! It means they’re thinking about what you said. Be quiet and give them time to process their thoughts. 
 
When staff members speak, listen for content and tone If someone says, “I think it would be good to put three students at each table instead of four during the art activity,” that person has identified overcrowding at each table as a possible cause for the chaos and offered a solution. If someone says, “I guess I could stay up the night before and plan things better,” that person might be feeling overworked, stressed or perhaps blamed for the problem. 
 
Respond with Respect 
To show that you heard what the person said, you might paraphrase the response (“So you’re suggesting fewer students per table”) or ask a probing question (“Do you think having three students share art supplies instead of four will be sufficient, or do we need to consider other strategies as well?”). Sometimes, it may be appropriate to acknowledge the underlying tone of a response (“It sounds like you found the situation stressful”) and provide support (“Let’s figure this out as a team. I don’t want any of us losing sleep over this!).
 
Try it!
Don’t overlook questioning as a tool for leading and coaching your staff. Effective questions can enhance everyday interactions — and professional development. What are some ways asking, listening and responding to your staff as described above might lead to tangible improvements in your program? What’s the first step you’ll take to make questioning part of your leadership strategy?

 



March 22, 2018

Education has its own language, one that includes lots of acronyms. You’ve probably heard school staff talk about AP (Advanced Placement), EL (English learner) and IEP (Individualized Education Program). In late 2015, federal education law added two new ones: CSI (comprehensive support and improvement) and TSI (targeted support and improvement). Here’s what these terms mean, and why you need to know.
 
What is a CSI school? If you hear someone say a school is a “CSI school,” it means your state education agency has identified it as one of the lowest-performing schools in the state. This is based mostly on students’ academic performance. Also, any high school with a graduation rate of 66 percent or less is a CSI school. 
 
What if your students attend a CSI school? If the students in your program attend a CSI school, they might need extra support in certain academic subjects. The next time you talk with the principal or teachers, ask about subjects where students need the most help, or skills they might need to develop. Chances are, the school will welcome you to the team — and you’ll gain valuable insights into ways to help all the students in your program succeed.
 
What is a TSI school? A TSI school is one where at least one subgroup of students is consistently underperforming in school. It could be English learners, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, migrant students or some other group, depending on which ones your state education agency includes in its accountability system.
 
What if your students attend a TSI school? If your students attend a TSI school, your program may serve students who belong to subgroups that aren’t doing as well, even if most students at the school are performing above average. Talk with the school principal or teachers about which groups of students might need extra help or support. They can share data about subgroup performance, and together you can discuss ways your program can enhance the school’s efforts to support students in low-performing subgroups.
 
Talk with school staff. If you find out your students attend a CSI or TSI school, and you’re hesitant to start a conversation with school staff, here’s something to keep in mind: Once you get past the “alphabet soup” of education acronyms, your program and the school are working toward the same goal — helping children and youth reach their full potential. You can support one another as you move toward your goal. It’s worth starting the conversation!
 
Use Y4Y resources to prepare program staff as they support the school’s efforts. Here are two ideas to get you started: 
  • Use Y4Y’s Trainings to Go to help program staff facilitate effective homework time and incorporate academic content. Why not invite school staff to help you customize and present the training?
  • Use Y4Y’s online courses to help program staff learn new strategies (like project-based learning) and increase their knowledge in academic subject areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and literacy

 



March 22, 2018

The  term “well-rounded education” occurs 24 times in federal education law (the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA). What does it mean, and how is it related to 21st CCLC activities? 
 
A Well-Rounded Education Includes Many Subjects and Experiences
First, let’s see how ESSA defines the term: 
 
"WELL-ROUNDED EDUCATION — The term ‘well-rounded education’ means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.’’ 
 
The ESSA list of subjects includes many that are already part of 21st CCLC programming, and it opens the door to potential areas of collaboration with schools. As you work with the school to identify high-priority student needs, look for ways to enhance what the school is already doing. Could your program use music and arts to explore mathematics, or use Reader’s Theater to expand students’ knowledge of history and other subjects? Could your students increase their own knowledge about exercise and nutrition by organizing a community health fair? Y4Y courses and resources offer many possibilities. Here are links to just a few:
Every Student Deserves a Well-Rounded Education
The title of the federal legislation (ESSA) refers to “every student,” and the definition of “well-rounded education” includes “all students.” That means every ethnicity, every socioeconomic group and every ability. An intentionally designed 21st CCLC program targets specific academic needs within specific grade levels. In many cases, students with disabilities will be among the students with the greatest needs and you can encourage these students to apply. They can benefit from the academic enrichment and social development experiences your program offers. Including students with disabilities can be easier and more rewarding than you might imagine. See these Y4Y resources: 

User-friendly, topic-focused guides and webinars provide strategies and best practices from experts and practitioners.

Start Planning Now
Add the above Y4Y resources to your current favorites, and use it as you plan student recruitment, projects and activities for your next program session.

 



February 23, 2018

Driving Students Toward Success: Project-Based Learning! That’s the title of the next Y4Y Showcase webinar. It’s free, as always, so register now to get it on your calendar. You’ll get insights from frontline 21st CCLC practitioners as Y4Y walks you through the newly updated Project-Based Learning course. You’ll learn about the three phases of a project (introduce and prepare; design and implement; and celebrate, reflect and assess), steps for facilitating an authentic experience that students will enjoy and ways to deal with common challenges.

But wait. Why not invite a colleague (or your entire team) to attend with you? Participating with others is a great way to get more out of the experience. Before the webinar, tell your teammate(s) you’d like to huddle briefly after the webinar to discuss the following questions:  

  • What was new or surprising?
  • What idea would you like to try?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Having these questions up front, and knowing each team member will be called on to contribute to a postwebinar discussion, encourages active listening. That means your team will be more likely to pay attention, take notes and ask their own questions during the webinar. It also sets the expectation that team members will act on what they learn. That 10-minute discussion after the webinar could be the most important part of the experience, as information gets translated into action steps. Like this one, for example (hint, hint):

So yes, register now for the Showcase, but also forward the webinar invitation to your team, along with the three questions listed above, and invite them to join you. After all, driving students toward success is what it’s all about, and project-based learning is a terrific way to do it!