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July 16, 2019

This quote is often attributed to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She was known for her commitment to human and civil rights, and she often advocated for the youth of this country. Parents and out-of-school time professionals share the beautiful dream of giving young people a thriving future. Working toward that goal together can improve the chances for success.

Since the 1960s, research has shown that students can reap significant benefits from family involvement in their education. This is especially true for disadvantaged students. Among 21st CCLC families, only 50 percent of parents have completed high school, and 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. What does this mean for your family engagement efforts? First, it means it’s important and worth doing! Second, it means you may need to challenge any assumptions that low levels of family engagement mean disinterest or “lack of commitment” on their part. You’ll need to consider and address such issues as the transportation and scheduling difficulties families at lower socioeconomic levels may face as they work to put food on the table.

Your program staff can build their knowledge with Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement, a tool in the updated Y4Y Family Engagement course. A helpful tool for making a creative plan is Y4Y’s Supporting and Engaging Families. If your family engagement efforts fall short of your expectations, take heart. Emerging wisdom surrounding success cites the importance of learning from failure, whether your own or someone else’s. In fact, “automatic success” doesn’t necessarily give you layers of information you can use to advance your expertise. It sounds like a cliché, but failures truly are learning opportunities. You and your staff can adopt this positive approach by conducting the Family Engagement Training to Go with a critical eye toward learning opportunities.

As Mrs. Roosevelt’s contemporary, Humphrey Bogart, might say, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

For additional information on the benefits of family engagement, and ways you and your staff can forge family partnerships, visit the updated Y4Y course on Family Engagement.



July 16, 2018

It’s hard to believe, but fall is just around the corner. As you plan learning events and opportunities for the next school year, focus on your requirements, needs and goals. Then brainstorm and organize resources to support staff learning.

Requirements

Many states, school districts and child care licensing organizations require annual professional learning hours, and many define topics that must be covered. In addition, state 21st CCLC program guidance may require grant-supported staff to attend events such as an annual conference. Your approved grant proposal might include a professional learning plan that defines the number of annual hours and specific training topics. Be sure you know all program and staff requirements before beginning to plan your calendar of opportunities.

Needs

Consider overall and individual staff learning needs. Have staff members do a self-assessment to uncover areas where they feel most confident and where they need further development. Now is a great time to discuss how your staff believes they learn best. Do they prefer traditional classes, or would they prefer peer mentoring? Coordinate this self-assessment information with annual staff review data and ongoing observation data to get a well-rounded view of staff needs. You might also create an inventory of strengths so you’ll know which people have skills (classroom management or activity design, for example) that might make them good mentors.

Goals

Examine your continuous improvement goals for the year. Maybe you want to emphasize project-based learning or find ways to provide continuous education through better alignment with student needs. Think about types of training and support that will help staff implement the plan. To be successful with a new initiative, staff may need to observe other practitioners in action, receive regular feedback, and have opportunities to reflect on their own learning and practice.

Resources

Y4Y has a wealth of resources to help you along the way. Staff can use online courses to build knowledge and skills on a range of topics. For quick strategies on academic enrichment activities, inclusion of students with disabilities or new director orientation, see the Y4Y Implementation Guides section. Y4Y Click and Go resources offer mini-lessons, podcasts and downloadable tools that focus on intentional design of activities. See the Y4Y Train Your Staff section for materials that help you assess staff knowledge and implement training using fully scripted PowerPoint presentations, training guides and handouts. Go to Professionalization Resources to access higher education opportunities and your state’s out-of-school time network, where you may find free or low-cost learning opportunities. With this many great learning resources, you’ll be ready to kick off a new year of learning in no time!



April 20, 2018

One of the many benefits of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects is the opportunity for students to decide how and what they’ll learn. Here are some of the choices STEM projects can offer: 
  • Which project to do, either individually or with a group.
  • What role to take in a collaborative group.
  • How to design a product for a specific purpose.
  • How to structure the work in to make sure the project is done on time and within budget.
  • How to share the product or results with others.
 
These options for incorporating student voice and choice are “cooked into the stew” of project ideas offered through the U.S. Department of Education STEM initiatives. Through this work, the U.S. Department of Education partners with other federal agencies to offer STEM projects that engage 21st CCLC students in thinking and acting like real scientists and engineers.
 
In NASA’s engineering design challenges, for example, students might work in groups to design miniature space exploration equipment, such as a parachute for a Mars landing or a crew exploration vehicle. Given the goal of, say, safely transporting two (Lego) astronauts and a tank of fuel in a vehicle of a given size and weight, students choose how to solve the challenge. How will they keep the astronauts in their seats? How will they design the hatch so it opens when needed but not when the vehicle lands? Students also can choose their roles on the project team: design engineer, technical engineer, operations engineer, technical writer or videographer.
 
The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers six progressively more complex Making projects. Each project takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Though every child will make the same project — such as a light-up name tag, wearable electronics or a scribble bot — the design possibilities are endless. Students can indulge their creativity to personalize their products.
 
NASA and the National Park Service also offer opportunities for students to engage in authentic citizen science. The data students collect will be compiled with the findings of other citizen scientists to shed light on climate change and other issues that affect us all. 
 
The STEM initiative activities provide instructions for all these project ideas and more. Your 21st CCLC program can download them from the Y4Y website for free and start using them right away. On the website, you’ll also find ideas from the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for designing your own STEM projects that offer students meaningful choices in their learning. If your budding scientists have experience in project-based learning, they might even be ready design their own experiments and challenges — the ultimate in student voice!


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?