‘Tis the season?

Holiday decorations abound and one local radio station is already broadcasting carols 24/7, but I’m having a hard time catching the spirit of the season given recent events in our country.

I’ve struggled with what, if anything, I had to add to the national discourse around the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice (and so many others). What could I, a white man soon approaching his 60th year on the planet, have to say about this situation that hasn’t already been said by so many others, likely much more eloquently than I could ever hope? Do I have a right to weigh in on realities that others, including people I know well, live with on a daily basis when I, privileged with a particular skin color, am protected from the same realities and fear for how I or my children or grandchildren will be treated, particularly by people in authority? How could I, when raised in a community and family culture that held authority in high regard, have a vantage point of balance?

In the end what won out in this internal debate was this question: “How can you not say something?” So, given the caveat that my reality is my reality – which certainly impacts the depth of my understanding – I venture forth.

I cannot understand, in all the pondering I’ve done on these cases, how it is that in the year 2014 people are dying in situations where they are clearly unarmed, have a toy gun (and aren’t threatening anyone), or are selling individual cigarettes on the street. How do we absorb the violent take down of our brothers (and sisters) with faces being smashed into the sidewalk or street while pleading “I can’t breathe” – all when they had not inflicted violence on others – and not be appalled? How do we rationalize the disparity in arrests, shootings, and deaths among minorities compared to whites in similar circumstances. . . and allow the patterns to continue?

I’ll be the first to acknowledge I don’t understand the stress of the daily beat of law enforcement. I can’t imagine the kinds of life and death decisions they are sometimes required to make in split seconds. But is this really the best we can hope for as a result of current law enforcement training and professional development? REALLY?

And then I recalled the situation one of our children faced in High School. Believing that he was falsely accused of passing another vehicle in an unsafe area, we supported him arguing his case in court rather than simply paying the fine. (We saw this as an amazing learning opportunity and, since he was, and is, a well-spoken young man, we felt he could handle himself in this setting.) He did a phenomenal job of representing himself, providing compelling arguments for his perspective. His self-guided defense was complete with pictures of the section of road where the “transgression” occurred. But what happened as the judge rendered his verdict was troubling . . . and has flashed through my mind often in the past few weeks. He said, in essence: “You have made a compelling case. If the officer had to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, he’d have failed. However, in this case, I have to go on the fact that the officer has 15+ years experience and knows better.” A perfect opportunity to teach a young man that the justice system works and treats the accused and the law enforcement professional equally was totally lost. Because the officer “knew better.”

To what degree does our entire judicial system rely on those within the system “knowing (and DOING) better?” And how are we assured they, in fact, do? This is what I find myself struggling to resolve in passing days.

We have so much work to do as a nation on this front. SO. MUCH. WORK.

So, in this season where being joyful is billed as the norm, I’m just not feeling it yet. The Spirit has some work to do.

Our Best Tool to Stop Bullying

We have a tendency in our country to make things more complicated than necessary. When dealing with issues concerning our young people, for example, we tend to seek solutions in program-based responses. Often times, a much simpler solution is not only much more readily available, but also more effective. This is not to say that programs don’t work or don’t have a place in our response—it just means they may not be an appropriate first response.

In the world of bullying prevention, the “simpler solution” includes the power of bystanders. Research shows that when a peer bystander intervenes in a bullying situation, the bullying usually stops within 10 seconds. 10 SECONDS. (In our work developing resources for sexual harassment and assault, we are also finding peer intervention as the most effective strategy.) THAT is a powerful intervention worth nurturing!

Peers need to be coached in how to intervene, sure. That training may happen in the context of a program, true. But let’s be sure to keep our eyes on the importance of relationship building and social emotional skills MORE than entering the slippery slope of “criminalizing” bullying behavior (the person bullying needs our support and guidance too) and thinking the solution lies in ever more structured ways of passing on expectations and norms.

The Power of Unifying Language

Whether your youth development focus is an organization or an entire community, there is a real value to uniting your efforts around a common language. It helps everyone see their unique work as part of a larger picture, a broader vision for how “we want to be” for the children and youth in our midst.

I was reminded of the power of unifying language when Dr. Rusty Clifford, Superintendent of Schools for West Carrollton, OH keynoted the regional Positive Youth Development Institute we co-hosted this summer. He spoke passionately about the power of his entire staff, as well as the students and parents they serve, seeing the work of the district tied to a consistent set of principles that guides their thinking, planning, and action. In his district, one of these unifying elements is the Developmental Asset® framework of Search Institute®. For nearly a decade, Rusty has led the charge in ensuring that the language of the framework is not only known by staff, students, and parents but that it also lives and breathes on a daily basis by the fact it informs all key decisions made on behalf of students.

Each school in the West Carrollton district is allowed to determine exactly HOW they will become an asset-rich environment . . . but they are clearly expected to do just that. In a visit to the district several years ago, I saw firsthand how the creativity and commitment of administrators and staff at every level to this ideal resulted in a wide array of asset-building, climate enhancing strategies. Though each building’s approach was unique, they were all connected to the unifying thread of being an environment steeped in asset-rich experiences. The cumulative effect was powerful.

And the work didn’t stop at the schoolhouse door. The school district has been a key stakeholder in a regional effort to embed asset-building principles in the fabric of daily community life as well. An annual conference, co-hosted by the district, helps engage, motivate, and empower organizations, business, and community members at large as asset champions. All tied to a consistent, unifying language.

So, whether you embrace Developmental Assets (Search Institute), the Youth ThriveTM framework (Center for the Study of Social Policy), Risk and Protective Factors/the Social Development Strategy (Social Development Research Group), the Five C’s (Forum for Youth Investment), or some other overarching view of youth development . . . be clear, be consistent, and be intentional. Tie the work of your organization and/or community to a common vision and to common language. Your imapct will be enhanced as a result.

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Dear Dad:

I hope you are able to receive this message where you are. I don’t quite understand how this works when you have left this plain, so I’m trusting in things beyond my knowing that you’ll get it in a timely manner. Truth is, it is sure to be faster than the trusty US Mail you had come to rely on for delivery of messages when you were still among us!

So anyway, it’s Father’s Day again Sunday. It surely focuses my attention on the memories of you, dad, but it seems a bit artificial. I mean, I think of you so often in the regular course of living my life now that calling out one particular day to do so just doesn’t seem to make sense. You’re there when someone mentions how I tend to organize my tools or shop (when it’s not a total disaster) and I think “That’s because dad taught me to ‘put thing back where you found them.’” Or the times I return a borrowed tool to a friend and they comment how nice it is I cleaned it up, filled it with fuel, or replaced a worn part and I think “That’s because dad always said: ‘Give things back a little better than you got them.’” (By the way, that has paid off BIG TIME! I’ve had the use of some pretty sweet tools and pieces of equipment along the way and I am CONVINCED it would not have happened had I not put that adage into practice.) And then there are the times I’m buying a gift for someone (for THAT I have to thank mom) and I think “don’t buy something that requires them to buy something else,” because I remember the many times you mentioned preferring gifts that were complete to those that required you to now run out and buy some piece or part.

Oh, and dad, that picture of us when we still lived on the farm and we had caught the HUGE Northern Pike in the Missouri River . . . do you remember that? That fish was as big as me! Well that picture hangs on our refrigerator for everyone to see, including my grandkids (you’d love them by the way, and they would love you right back). Sorry to say, that is one of the FEW fish I’ve caught over the years. I guess I should have paid better attention to your fishing instruction.

BTW (that means “by the way”—it’s a new thing since we last saw each other), I had the chance to visit the WWII memorial in DC last year. You were there in some way I don’t understand, I know, but man I wished we could have walked around there together! I’ll bet you would have had some good stories to share . . . if you’d wanted to. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and I sure thought of you then. They interviewed a glider pilot who glided behind enemy lines to land and I recalled how you had volunteered for that program and how they closed it down prior to your graduation. (To be honest, dad, I was always kind of glad that happened. I think it increased the odds of you coming home and, well . . . without that the rest of this wouldn’t have been possible.)

Say, how is JoAnne? It was hard on Mom to have her go first. Heck, who am I kidding, it was hard on all of us! Sure do miss my big sis too. I’m glad she is there to celebrate this special day with you. Give her a hug from me, will ya?

The family place is still there and mom has given it a steady dose of TLC since you left. In fact, it’s getting a new lease on life now that other family members are living with mom to help her. She’s such a strong woman . . . but I know you already know that. I’ll bet Sunday will be bittersweet for her too.

We’re doing well, dad. Our lives have led us to some phenomenal places, some amazing work, and provided the chance to meet truly special people. For that I’m thankful. But more than anything, I am thankful today for the role you had in helping to set the course for my path. It wasn’t perfect . . . I don’t know if it ever is when it comes to parenting. But it WAS my beginning and there was plenty of good in it. I know you tried hard to be a good dad and, while there were challenges for you, all in all you did a mighty fine job!

I love you dad. Always will. Happy Father’s Day!

I know you are, but what am I?

I’m baffled by a recent phenomenon in social media. Several times a week, I receive invitations to “find out what I am.” One recently stated: “I got caretaker of a private island. What’s your fantasy job?” Another: “I’m a daisy. What flower are you?” Still another: “I got gold aura. What color is your aura?” And then: “I got swan. What bird are you?”

I have yet to be enticed to open any of them. These things leave me confused. Am I supposed to feel some level of discontent with not knowing what bird I am? I don’t. And I’m trusting my aura can take care of itself quite well, thank you very much. Though I suppose if there is anything I should worry about in that regard it would be how well I’m keeping it healthy, rather than being concerned with it’s color. I’ll admit I almost bit at the fantasy job “survey.” I mean, there are days when we all wonder if there isn’t “that perfect job out there, somewhere” for us. Don’t we? But when I weighed it all out, it just didn’t seem worthy of the investment of time for the outcome promised.

In the end I’m just not that interested. I have plenty of identities I embrace and that inform my life daily. I’m a white male who has managed to live to his mid-fifties (if you stretch the definition of “mid”) and that right there carries more than enough baggage for me to not want to find any NEW descriptors! I am a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather. Those seem like pretty clear identities most of the time—and I cherish each of them. I’m an educator, a facilitator, a trainer, an advocate, a leader, and I try to be a good friend and role model. That’s plenty in my book. No need to know which Wizard of Oz character I am (yep, another tempting offer recently received).

So, good friends, you don’t need to stop including me on the invitations, but just know that I’m content with the parts of me I know .  .  . I think I’ll pass on complicating the picture with “surveys” to find a new me. But do let me know if finding out which Disney character you most resemble makes a meaningful difference in your life. I may reconsider my stance someday . . . .

If Change is so Great . . . YOU go First!

I have to admit I can’t recall where I first heard that great adage about change, but it’s true, isn’t it? I know in my own experience I will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid change . . . even, sometimes, when compelling evidence tells me it would be in my best interest to not only entertain change, but to fully embrace it!

So it is with models that guide our thinking, practice, and action. The familiar becomes comfortable, the comfortable becomes the standard, the standard becomes the defended.

And then, every now and then, I’m reminded of the power in “lifting up my head” and seeing the world from a more expansive view. Maybe, just maybe, someone has found a way to enrich those things that are important to me. Not to diminish the value of what I’ve come to know, love, and trust; but rather to strengthen, enhance, and improve it.

Well that’s the basic realization I recently had when I first heard the work from the Center for the Study of Social Policy and their Youth ThriveTM Framework. The core of the content you’ll find there will look very familiar to any of you who have been doing Positive Youth Development work through connection to us over the past 20 years. Yet it embodies key information ESSENTIAL to today’s PYD practitioner. There is Cultural Competence in there. And Brain Science. And Stress and Trauma-Informed Care. Important stuff that helps us approach our work with an enriched perspective, mindful of the many variants that impact a young person’s life and to which we must be intentionally attuned if we are to lead them toward thriving.

So . . . I invite you to take a look at the information found by following the link above. Check it out. Mull it over. I’d love to know what you think. Even if it’s not your usual style to reply to a blog post, consider it for this one. I want to hear your thoughts!

Who Cares?

Really, who does? That’s a question far too many of our young people are asking themselves. And their peers. And if you are fortunate enough as an adult to have a really good relationship with them, they may confide in you with these questions. It seems that in our United States culture today, young people feel overlooked, ignored, and unvalued.

Am I SURE about that? Yep, I’m sure. In their most recent aggregate sample of US students, Search Institute® reports that only 25% of students surveyed reported being valued by their community. Only 32% indicated they are given useful roles in their community. I’m pretty sure that all contributes to the question “Who cares?”

The reason I LOVE doing the work we do at Bolster Collaborative, however is NOT in this “half empty” view of the world. It’s in the “over half full” view that acknowledges that principled, caring people everywhere DO CARE and are taking intentional actions daily to reflect that. We have the good fortune to meet and work with people like that every day.

And recently, I saw a powerful reminder of how simple the acts can be that transform the sense of “Who cares?” to one of “They care!” That reminder came in the form of YouTube video that I’ve posted to Facebook, and which you can view by following this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlyVF84YVso .  If you haven’t yet viewed the video, do yourself a favor and take 3 minutes to check it out. It tells the story of a senior citizen who undertook an unusual campaign. As students walked to the nearby high school every day, she simply waved to them! She noticed. She cared. She didn’t discriminate and wave just to some students. And she did it intentionally, repeatedly, deliberately.

That’s what Asset Champions do. They take deliberate action over and over and over again to clearly demonstrate that they are THERE and that they CARE. It’s not really rocket science. Certainly the emphasis on proven programs and effective practice has a place . . . but let’s not forget about the simple act of letting our young know that we care.

Now let’s all get out there an be noticed!

You Won’t Want to Miss this Webinar!

February 27, 3:30 p.m.−5:00 p.m. (ET)

Guiding Principle #1: Fostering Positive School Climate to Prevent Behavioral Issues and Promote Student Success

Continuing the efforts of the Federal Supportive School Discipline Initiative, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education* are pleased to announce the next event in the 2014 Supportive School Discipline (SSD) Webinar Series. The Series is designed to increase awareness and understanding of school disciplinary practices that push youth out of school and many times into the justice system, and provide practical examples of alternative approaches that maintain school safety while ensuring academic engagement and success for all students.

The third Webinar in the 2014 series, Guiding Principle 1: Fostering Positive School Climate to Prevent Behavioral Issues and Promote Student Success, is scheduled for February 27, 2014, 3:30–5:00 p.m. ET. This Webinar will provide an in-depth review of Guiding Principle #1 as outlined within the Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline, a key document in the recently released School Discipline Guidance Package.  In particular, it will walk through each Action Step identified for Principle #1 implementation, including exploring how each are being implemented by an expert panel of practitioners. These content experts bring deep knowledge of the practical realities associated with integrating Principle #1 strategies into current practice.

The Webinar will also include a “tracking guide” that will allow participants to complete a short self-assessment aligned with the Action Steps of Guiding Principle #1 and a list of related resources to support effective implementation.

The Webinar will be moderated by David Osher, Ph.D. (American Institutes for Research, Washington, DC), and feature key experts in the field who have implemented elements of Principle #1, including: Virginia Dolan, Ph.D. (Program Manager and PBIS Facilitator, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, MD), Nicholas Yoder, Ph.D. (Technical Assistant Consultant, Center for Great Teachers and Leaders, Chicago, IL), the Honorable Stephen J. Teske (Juvenile Court Judge, Clayton County Court, Jonesboro, GA), and Ricardo Martinez (Parents and Youth United, Denver, CO).

For more information and to register, visit http://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/events/webinar/ssd-webinar-series-event-guiding-principle-1-climate-and-prevention

*The Series is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention State Training and Technical Assistance Center (STTAC) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Supportive School Discipline Communities of Practice (SSDCOP) and the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE).

 

Education Re-imagined: What can we learn from MOOCs?

You don’t have to know me very long to learn that I’m a BIG fan of TED Talks. As far as I’m concerned, they should be on everyone’s “Favorites” list of your web browser. Furthermore, I’m likely to propose that at least once a week employers should require their employees to find a relevant TED Talk to watch as part of their paid work time. It would help them to “think different” (to steal a line from Apple), work different, and improve themselves and our human condition. I’m a fan.

My latest TED Talk find features Anant Agarwal and his presentation on the value of MOOCs and what they have to teach us about the future of education. Have you heard of MOOCs? “Massive Open Online Courses.” In the video clip of Mr. Agarwal, describes a MOOC for an engineering course in which 155, 000 people participated from around the world. That’s right, 155,000. That certainly qualifies as “massive!”

The idea of these gigantic courses being offered in a way that makes high quality education available worldwide and in some cases free of charge leaves my head spinning. What implications does this have to level the playing field of access to quality education? How exciting this could be for a world that has the potential to grow smaller every day as technology brings us all closer together.

And what about implications for “blended education” as Mr. Agarwal describes? He offers compelling insight into how technology can effectively be integrated into the educational environment. There will need to be a LOT of changes for this form of education to become mainstream . . . should it ever “arrive.”

So I wonder, what do YOU think about all of this? Do MOOCs and blended education have the ability to transform the field of education? What challenges do you see? How do we integrate all we’ve learned about the power of relationships in these larger, less personal learning environments? Interesting . . . .