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February 14, 2019

Author Marie Kondo is known for her advice on “tidying up” your space and getting rid of things that don’t “spark joy.” Regardless of whether you agree with her approach, the advice to keep it simple is nothing new. The KISS principle (“Keep It Simple, Stupid” or sometimes “Keep It Short and Simple”) has been around for years. 

Keeping things simple means clearing out the clutter so there’s more room for what you truly care about. Sometimes the clutter isn’t in your home or office. It’s in your brain. If worries and to-do lists take up too much of your mental space, you may find it hard to focus at work, enjoy your job and feel a sense of accomplishment. Sound familiar? One way to pare down brain clutter and self-imposed pressure is to reduce the day’s to-do list to one item:

  • Deliver something of value today.   

You get to define what the “something” is, and to whom it’s valuable (e.g., yourself, your colleagues or students, the world, or all of the above).  It could be working one-on-one with a student who has attention deficit disorder to show him how to organize his homework, or getting a community organization to partner with your program. At the end of the day, write down what you delivered, the people it affected and how it made you feel.  

You might think of this method as a stripped-down way to set a personal or professional SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goal. Simply put, it’s a way to work smarter and love it more.

Here are some Y4Y “work smart” resources:

Activity and Program SMART Goals

This tool has examples and guidance on developing goals that ensure common understandings and drive results.

Positive Youth Development Rubric

This tool will remind you of the five C’s of positive youth development and ways to help students — and staff — develop competence, confidence, connection, character and caring.

Project-Based Learning Research Brief

Summer Learning Research Brief

STEM Research Brief

Learn more about one of these learning approaches so you can help students get the most out of program activities and encourage parents and partners to become more involved.

 


November 16, 2018

Excitement builds just before holiday break as students anticipate time off. You can tap into that energy by engaging students in a creative project they’ll enjoy, like producing a multifest that highlights the history, cultural traditions, music, and foods associated with seasonal celebrations and festivals like Boxing Day, Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Start by getting students to think about what they already know about seasonal celebrations and what they’d like to know. Y4Y’s Mapping Knowledge and Wonders tool will help you structure the discussion. 

Once you’ve primed the pump, let students take the lead in deciding on the multifest’s focus, format and activities. You can guide them through the process of exploring the possibilities, forming groups or committees to do certain tasks (like online research, event planning or food prep), and deciding when and where to hold the multifest and whom to invite.

Visit the Y4Y Project-Based Learning course for ready-to-use tools and guidance. With just a little planning, you can turn the week before holiday break into prime time for learning. 


October 24, 2018

With a new program year under way, and your activities up and running, it’s a good time to check on staff professional learning needs. If you’ve hired new staff or made big changes in activities or partnerships, ask, “What’s one thing you’d like to learn that would help you feel more comfortable or confident in your role?”

Staff needs and responses are likely to vary from one person to another. Encourage everyone to register on Y4Y and explore what’s there. Also, be ready to point to specific Y4Y resources that can help address their needs.

Meeting staff members’ individual short- and medium-range needs. If someone says, “I wish I could do more to support students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs),” you could point to Topic Guide 8 in the Y4Y series of implementation guides on inclusion. If several people say “I’d like to facilitate project-based learning more effectively,” you might suggest that they do the Y4Y Project-Based Learning course together. For staff who are new to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the Y4Y Introduction to 21st CCLC course could be helpful.

Aligning your program’s professional learning plan with staff needs. Consider staff responses to the “What do you need?” question as you review your upcoming professional learning events. For example, if you’ve scheduled an in-house literacy seminar for March, but staff identify it as a pressing need in September, you might want to hold the seminar earlier than planned.

Working toward long-term staff and program goals. You can inspire and motivate staff members to think about their individual long-term professional goals. Y4Y provides professionalization resources that can help 21st CCLC staff members develop a plan to help them reach those goals. Having a more skilled and qualified staff will, in turn, help your program reach its goals.

Enrolling in an online course or pursuing a formal certification program might take some staff members out of their comfort zone. Program leaders can offer coaching, support and reassurance that professional learning is the key to greater satisfaction and success.



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