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January 21, 2021

It might be poetic to say social and emotional learning (SEL) just feels right. But where are the data? Consider highlights from Early Lessons From School and Out-of-School Time Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning. The scope of the data collection used by the RAND Corporation in the publication of these findings leaves little doubt about the impact social and emotional learning can have, especially when early lessons from implementation are shared. In response to these clearly defined lessons that are most closely linked to successful efforts, you can consult corresponding tools from Y4Y’s Social and Emotional Learning course to thaw a data-driven path to connecting with students on nonacademic areas of growth and development.

Be sure to check out all the course tools as your program implements its own SEL initiative, and remember that each tool is customizable to your specific needs. 



December 14, 2020

As the weather turns cold and the country heads into a second cycle of COVID-19 closures, the idea of cabin fever — a phenomenon that already plagued educators in colder climates especially — may have new implications. Drawing from Y4Y's resources, you can arm yourself and your staff for an unprecedented season of cabin fever and serve your students in new and important ways.

You can begin by thinking about the signs of cabin fever, such as impatience, restlessness, general irritability, trouble concentrating, lack of motivation and fatigue. Remember, these look different in students than adults, but we’re all equally prone to them. Here are a few ideas on how to combat each.

Impatience. Right now, life feels like one big waiting game, so it’s only natural that we’re becoming impatient with waiting for a file to download, for class to be over, or for Mom to bring us a juice box. But what if you filled those times with something special so it doesn’t feel like waiting? Here’s an idea: Identify times when your students have to wait, and use transition strategies to help everyone stay focused and engaged. See Y4Y’s Transition Strategies tool for inspiration.

Restlessness. The solution to restlessness is staring every educator right in the face: MOVE. How can you incorporate more movement into your program? Just before the initial pandemic shutdown, Y4Y hosted a Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreation Opportunities, which was also summarized in a blog post. A key takeaway that applies even in a virtual environment is the need to incorporate movement wherever you can. For example, have students jump up and down whenever another student offers a correct response to a question. Be inclusive of your students with disabilities when thinking about these goals. Consider these tips from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) for home workouts.

General irritability. Combat negativity with positivity! You can start with Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment and other tools from the course. Thanksgiving is still in your rearview mirror. Practice gratitude with students by having them take turns expressing what they’re grateful for, and why. When the holidays are over and life feels especially dull, liven things up with a joke-of-the day assignment or a dance party to raise spirits.

Trouble concentrating. This is an issue that 21st CCLC programs have always faced after students have put in a long school day. That “brain break” of some social time before jumping into any academics is always key, but cabin fever might bring on the kind of concentration barriers that seem insurmountable. This month’s LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, is a tremendous resource for how and why meditative practices are key for adults and children in achieving a clean mental slate and state. If you missed the real-time webinar, you can catch it in the archive in the new year.

Lack of motivation. Believe it or not, routines can be good for you, and even a path out of the doldrums. After all, a routine is a small set of goals you set for you or your students each day. In Y4Y’s webinar series on approaches to learning, specifically in Webinar #1: Building Trust With Students in the Whole Environment, the U.S. Department of Education's Y4Y Technical Assistance Team discusses the sorts of structures that offer predictability and comfort in the face of the uncertainty everyone is facing right now.

Fatigue. This may be the trickiest symptom of cabin fever to combat. Some students may be suffering from the kind of fatigue that comes from too little sleep. This is pretty easy to recognize in most students. Occasionally, fatigue can result from too much sleep, which isn’t always as easy to recognize. Be sure your program gives students the opportunity to complete all homework, to take that task off their plate. Revisit Y4Y’s Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go to help you recognize and address signs of trauma in your students. Finally, don’t forget the importance of supporting and engaging families if student fatigue persists.

We see signs around the country that many adults aren’t coping well with restrictions that mean their lives have to change — in some cases quite dramatically — for an indefinite period of time to keep everyone safe. Let the lessons of social and emotional learning be your guide to appreciating the resilience and maturity students stand to gain from this period of their lives. While cabin fever might not have a tried-and-true cure, your 21st CCLC program may be the chicken noodle soup that gets your students through the worst of it.



November 16, 2020

Last month, a newly published study came as a pleasant surprise to most Americans. It revealed that overall, the mental health of teens is better now than it was two years ago. Of note, the study is based on a national survey whose sampling “aimed to fill quotas for gender, race/ethnicity, urban/ rural location, and region of the country....” A couple of key takeaways included the value of more sleep and more family time for teens. It also noted an increase in video chatting with friends, despite all the time they’re spending on screens in school and afterschool programs like yours. However dim this glimmer of a silver lining may be, how can you arm your program with this good news and stay together in positivity heading into the winter months?

Y4Y’s course on Creating a Positive Learning Environment gives you direction on laying the groundwork, but more important, points out essential elements to use as your guiding philosophies to be sure the tone of your program is always a positive one. As noted in Y4Y’s July webinar: in a positive learning environment, everyone plays an equally important role in creating a place where everyone feels safe and respected. This environment increases engagement and productivity and enables students to thrive and grow. Remember these words: Equally Important. Safe and Respected. Engagement. Productivity. Thrive and Grow. This may be a bit more challenging when your environment extends to the kitchen tables of your students, but some great ideas were also shared in a June Y4Y Showcase, Creating a Positive Learning Environment at Home. Knowing there’s a chance that teens may actually be more well-adjusted now than their counterparts two years ago, you can make the most of these circumstances.

Equally Important

Why is “equity” such a hot topic today? Our youth are forward thinkers. They recognize the beauty of equity and equality where it’s found, and feel deep concern about places where it isn’t. Tools in Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course, such as the Incorporating Multiple Viewpoints Checklist and staff Training to Go on Incorporating the Democratic Process can arm you with the fundamentals of equity, and therefore positivity in your program.

Safe and Respected

When you use the word “safe” in your program, does it have multiple meanings? While the Y4Y Click & Go on Developing and Implementing a Safety Plan is a must-have to ensure you’re not overlooking physical safety, pairing “safe” with the word “respected” recognizes you also look out for your students’ emotional safety. Be on the lookout for signs of Trauma, and prepare to intervene as is appropriate to your program and host institution. Keep in mind how critical building relationships is to fostering respect and safety between students and with staff. A place to start is the Y4Y Building Student/Educator Relationships Questionnaire. Maintaining positivity in your program without these tenets would be impossible.

Engagement

You’ve all seen it. In fact, probably some of your best program memories are of activities where the students were all so invested, they were clamoring to have a turn, smiling, laughing and excited. Engagement equals positivity, plain and simple. Check out Y4Y tools for ensuring student engagement, such as a STEM course tool Student Engagement Tips for Grades K-12, and the secondary and elementary student interest surveys.

Productivity

Your 21st CCLC program doesn’t emphasize “achievement” in quite the same way the school day does. There are no grades, and activities and projects are paced and crafted around a gentler framework. But contributing to a demonstrable improvement in school performance is what sets 21st CCLC apart from many other afterschool programs. Under current circumstances, your homework help might be the most important way you’re helping your students be productive. Remember, that involves supporting families as well as students (as discussed in this month’s blog post, Together Online). But productivity is the end result of positivity, so if you sense that even this most essential role of your program is struggling, try revisiting these ideas to foster that positive learning environment.

Thrive and Grow

The five skill domains of social and emotional learning are a great gauge of how your students are developing as students and as people. Back to that silver lining around the dark cloud of the pandemic: students are building a resiliency and a resourcefulness that will universally make them conscientious leaders of tomorrow.

Finally: Families. Families. Families. When you think about the very roots and goals of 21st CCLC programs, you already knew the important role of families that the new study echoes. That doesn’t mean your family engagement efforts just got any easier. Y4Y tools like Reaching Out to Families, Supporting and Engaging Families, and Knowing Families and Their Cultures will be assets to your program as you make the most of these relationships. In light of the obstacles to family engagement efforts in non-English-speaking households, please also consider visiting the new Y4Y Supporting English Learners tools for resources such as the Family Goal-Setting Survey.

It’s easy to stay positive when data suggest that young people might be OK after all of this is over, and even in the midst of it. Let positivity be a core value, a driving priority and the glue that allows a new kind of togetherness.



September 8, 2020

Each year, a new variety of products shows up in stores, restaurants and TV commercials as marketers aim to capitalize on the pumpkin spice fad. But is enough enough already? Education has seen its own share of fads. New ideas present exciting possibilities, but there’s nothing wrong with “old ideas” that are working well. How can your 21st CCLC program keep pace with the latest school-day wisdom and separate true innovations from passing fads?

Just as pumpkin pie isn’t going away anytime soon but pumpkin spice shoe polish may be short-lived, consider these tips for recognizing which of your tried and true program elements are keepers, and which you can, and maybe should, bid farewell:

  • What’s the evidence base for the new idea, especially when it’s used in programs with student demographics like yours?
  • Reflect on all aspects of your student population. Does the fad/trend “fit” your students?
  • What are your resources and partners, and does the fad/trend make good use of these? Or, does it spread any of these too thin?
  • Is the new idea consistent with your mission, climate and culture?
  • Are you involving student and family voices in adopting new ideas? You can customize Y4Y tools to do so.
  • Make a good, old-fashioned pros and cons list!

Here are a few examples of current trends or fads in education with some points to consider.

Phasing Out Direct Instruction?

Sometimes it seems there’s a tug-of-war between advocates for the “guide on the side” approach and the “sage on the stage” instructional approach. To supplement and enrich the education efforts of the school day, your program might lean toward hands-on, self-guided learning experiences and the “guide on the side” approach.

Is there an argument to be made for keeping direct instruction in your program? Consider these benefits of direct instruction:

  • Sometimes direct instruction is the most efficient choice. Time is at a premium in your program. On less in-depth subjects, a few minutes of direct instruction, with opportunities for questions and discussion, can be the way to go.
  • Let the sage be a sage. You might have opportunities to bring in guest speakers like STEM professionals or business advisors with a wealth of content knowledge but no teaching experience. You wouldn’t want to miss opportunities to tap into their wisdom by overburdening them with instructional duties. But you can structure the experience to make it beneficial to the students and the sage. Y4Y’s College and Career Readiness course offers a tool for developing guiding questions for partnerships, which may be of use in this arena.
  • Different instructional strategies offer different opportunities. Small-group discussions and collaborative work, for example, call on students to use different skills than direct instruction. Using a variety of strategies can help you to learn more about students’ skill gaps and areas of strength.
  • Direct instruction gives students practice in exercising patience and attention. Self-management is one of five skill domains in social and emotional learning that’s addressed in the Y4Y course on the subject. The recent switch to virtual learning environments has been an eye-opener for most educators on the advantages of having students accustomed to focusing their attention on the leader, even if lessons have an interactive format.
  • Some students benefit from the clarity and structure that direct instruction provides. While the argument is made by some that direct instruction doesn’t accommodate different learning styles, eliminating it entirely could be a disservice to those students who benefit from its clarity and structure.

What arguments can be made for minimizing direct instruction in out-of-school time?

  • Other instructional strategies like project-based learning put 21st century skills in action. These are skills like critical thinking, initiative, self-direction, leadership, productivity, accountability, responsibility, communication and collaboration.
  • Direct instruction is difficult to individualize. It doesn’t accommodate all learning styles.
  • Student voice and choice are more difficult to incorporate into direct instruction. Approaches like project-based learning give students more options.
  • Variety engages students. Often when students arrive at your 21st CCLC program, they’ve spent their day receiving direct instruction. The less you rely on this method, the better your chance of keeping students engaged.

OUTCOME: Reducing (but not eliminating) direct instruction in your 21st CCLC program earns the pumpkin pie award: it’s a trend or “fad” that’s likely to become a tried and true practice. Many Y4Y courses give examples of appropriate use of direct (“explicit”) instruction alongside other approaches. Keep direct instruction as a spice in your drawer and use as needed.

BYOD?

BYOD, or bring your own device, is a trend toward encouraging students to bring their own devices to school and afterschool programs. If you search online, you’ll find long lists of advantages, ranging from cost savings to increasing interactivity to boosting student ownership of learning. But what about equity? In a best-case scenario, there’s some disparity in the socioeconomic levels of your students and the devices they own, IF they can afford devices at all. BYOD can draw attention to these disparities in a way that could make some students uncomfortable or put them at a disadvantage. Also, an array of different devices could lead to frontline staff spending more time as tech support than as activity leaders. A different stance could be adopted if your students are all loaned the same device from their school district, but in 21st CCLC programs, there are some rural districts where going to the expense of supplying devices is of limited use due to lack of internet access.

OUTCOME: BYOD is a fad in education that earns the pumpkin spice shoe polish award: enough is enough! Although we’ve made close friends with technology under current circumstances, requiring students to bring their own device to your program may not be the most equitable or practical choice.

Maker Lab or Computer Lab?

In many educational settings, the idea of a computer lab where technology is a stand-alone subject is giving way to maker labs (makerspaces) or design labs where students might make use of technology to create things, but the technology itself isn’t the central focus.

Your 21st CCLC program likely doesn’t have its own computer lab, but you probably have access to some technology. There might be excellent reasons to focus on the basics of using a computer in your program, such as

  • Students can’t access technology in their homes to augment their classroom learning or do homework assignments, and they need extra time to learn and practice technology skills.
  • A lack of funding in your district means limited school-day access to technology.
  • The primary concern of your student population is learning English, so computer instruction might need to begin with very basic technology terms and concepts.

Even if these circumstances describe your program, you can be looking to a long-term shift toward your program serving as more of a maker/design space. The arguments for this trend/fad include

  • You’ll build learning opportunities on the premise of real-world problem solving.
  • You’re allowing for design thinking and problem solving by broadening materials and devices to include items like Legos, art supplies, robotics components, a sewing machine or even woodworking equipment like scrap blocks with a hammer and nails.
  • You can customize Y4Y’s Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning tool and incorporate technology as one of many resources — particularly for conducting research — in your real-world problem-solving activities. Just plan to take a beat for those students needing basic instruction in technology.

OUTCOME: Moving from a computer lab to a makerspace or design lab is a trend/fad that earns the pumpkin pie award! This transition is an expansion of your current offerings, and can grow with the budget, partnership, staff and student census fluctuations your program experiences. Nothing is lost; instruction on technology basics is always at your disposal. But moving with the times and adopting a richer, creative, hands-on approach to learning is a winning idea.



July 22, 2020

For years to come, it may be difficult to measure the impact of the COVID pandemic on the children of today, given that nearly every student on the planet will be touched in some way by it. Like other challenging times throughout history, the degree of that impact will vary significantly. So, too, will the effects on child development. Y4Y urges 21st CCLC professionals to take some time at this crucial juncture to review our Social and Emotional Learning course and Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go and arm yourself with tools to help students stay as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as circumstances allow. While there’s no simple solution, keeping these basics of a healthy childhood in mind will help you be of greatest value in the lives of your students until that day in the future when this is all behind us. Here are some simple actions you can take:

Practice Frameworks for Social and Emotional Learning

  • Positive youth development supports positive outcomes by fostering competence, confidence, connections, character and caring. Simple action: Individually “catch students with character” from a list of admirable character traits you develop as a group and keep posted over your shoulder in your virtual program. This will build confidence and caring as well as character.
  • Mindfulness development increases the ability to focus on the present moment over past or future events. This can improve executive function skills and self-regulation. Simple action: Build age-appropriate mindfulness techniques into your daily program routine.
  • Trauma-informed practice seeks to minimize the effects of childhood trauma by offering safety, trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration; empowerment; and respect for diversity. Simple action: Connect individually as often as possible with students you believe may be experiencing trauma. Your small, heartfelt gestures can have immeasurable value when you think of yourself as an anchor in the child’s life.

Five Skill Domains of Social and Emotional Learning

  • Self-awareness. Simple action: Ask questions that promote introspection, like “How did you feel in a situation?”
  • Self-management. Simple action: Ask questions that promote reflection, like “Do you wish you had done anything differently in that situation?”
  • Social awareness. Simple action: Ask questions that promote compassion, like “How do you think your friend felt in that situation?”
  • Responsible decision making. Simple action: Ask questions that promote planning, like “How will you react the next time you’re in a situation?”
  • Relationship skills. Simple action: Ask questions that promote collaboration, like “How might you work with others the next time you’re in a situation?”

Simple Practices for Developing Resilience

  • Pay it forward. Doing for others builds self-worth.
  • Express yourself. The skill of accessing and talking about feelings gives you power over them.
  • Hang out. There’s simple beauty and value in social time. That looks different right now, but you can make it a priority for students to have a safe, relaxed space with their peers.
  • Imagine. Talk about the future in happy, sunny terms.
  • Take care. As tempting as it is to “let go” with so much time spent at home, model and encourage good sleep, eating and exercise habits.
  • Lean into the fall. “Failures” can be reframed as new opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Wear your thinking cap. Create micro-opportunities for students to exercise and show off their critical thinking.
  • Call it half full. A positive spin can be put on many things, even a quarantine. Let students know that today’s experts believe they’ll grow up to be stronger, more resilient, and more empathetic adults for what they are currently experiencing in their young lives.

Bring a team with you! Check out Y4Y’s tool for assigning roles and responsibilities around social and emotional learning.