This Just Never Gets Old . . .

I just spoke with a highly regarded school superintendent with whom I’ve had a professional connection for nearly 10 years. Our connection has been related to the effort in his district to integrate positive youth development (PYD) principles (particularly the Developmental Asset® framework of Search Institute®) deeply into the culture of every school under his leadership. I have had the good fortune to visit several schools in this district to see their efforts first hand. In addition to providing organizational leadership in this regard, this superintendent also provides leadership to a regional initiative to embed those same PYD principles throughout the broader community.

They are doing AMAZING THINGS in this district! Every school creates its own unique way of making an asset-rich climate real . . . and it shows! The language of the assets forms a core framework to the work underway in all corners of this sizeable organization. The leadership uses the language of strengths regularly; the staff in every building uses the same language to describe what they do and why they do it; and the students know and use the language to describe their interactions with one another (and with staff and teachers), and it informs their opportunities for leadership and engagement. And it this outcome—the results seen in students—that really gets your attention. It is, in the words of this superintendent “The reason I and my leadership team go to work every day!”

What are my take away from the conversation? The work we are about is transformative. The work we are about is meaningful in today’s educational world. The work we are about is empowering to both young people and the adults in their lives. This just never gets old!

Resolutions Rethought

Here we are approaching February; on its doorstep really. Which leads me to reflect yet again on the folly of annual New Year’s Resolutions. I mean, really, how many of us make pledges to shed pounds, exercise more, be a better person, call our parents or children (or both) more often, and on and on . . . only to find by this time of the very first month of that promising new year that we are right back to our usual pattern?

Sound familiar? Sure does to me. So here is what I’ve come to embrace: Living more intentionally every single day in hopes that there is less to be in consternation about at year-end. And therefore fewer things to try and “re-focus” every January.

Sure, I undergo periodic self-assessment. I consider it my own little “continuous quality improvement cycle,” which all my corporate friends can identify with–thus providing me fodder for the next social interaction. And I reset my direction now and again, adjust the sails, tend the tiller . . . you get the idea. BUT, I am spared facing the end of January in dread of realizing I’ve failed yet again.

Resolutions. Bah Humbug!

Reframing the Dialogue re: Beauty

We just posted our latest Video Short entitled A Beautiful Body. You can view it here free throughout January. It portrays the touching true story of how one dad intentionally spent time helping his young daughter (age 4) think about the real meaning of beauty by recasting the definition of “beauty” in light of what our own bodies are and can do just the way they are, rather than the culturally dominant theme of how our bodies look.

This is an important message related to body image for females of all ages. While some businesses, like Dove® soap, have tackled body image head on (see their Real Beauty campaign), this messaging is the exception to the marketing norm in the United States. As referenced on Dove’s website, a global study found that only 2% of women worldwide describe themselves as beautiful. In a compelling video demonstrating women’s self-perception, Dove’s efforts help us see how “disconnected” a woman’s view of self can be from reality.

It’s challenging enough for me to wrap my head around this when I see it impacting my wife, my close female friends and colleagues . . . or my own adult daughter. But when I see the impact of our culture already beginning to inform perceptions of my granddaughter at a mere five-years-of-age, it causes a skip in my heartbeat.

And what additional challenge do women of color, or differently-abled women face? How much more effort must it take to ward off the overwhelming marketing message of what becomes defined as beauty? The brushstroke altered, photo-shopped images that adorn every checkout aisle at the local convenience story or grocery remind me daily of how deeply the messages permeate our experience.

So . . . take up the challenge with me of letting every woman you know, regardless of age, about the real beauty you see in them. Recognize their gifts and talents. Compliment their effort and persistence, their ability to overcome, their capacity to love and care for themselves and others. The gift each of them is to the world. We can “out market” the marketplace, one interaction at a time!

Reflections on Transition

The end of another year approaches. (Do they get faster every year or is it just me?) This is a typical time for reflection, so I’ve given in to the trend and have been engaging in some myself.

2013 was a year of significant transition for me. And I don’t really care for significant transition all that much. Well, at least not always. There were major shifts in the collaborations we are part of in our work this year. After over a dozen years serving as the sole provider of Search Institute’s speaking and training events, that relationship shifted. There was loss and grieving involved, but what I’ve learned is that in that transition, great opportunity has presented itself. It’s as though we were running so hard and fast to sustain the old way of doing business that the idea that there might even BE a new way just never really occurred to me.

Like I said, I don’t really LIKE to shake up my life all that much. “Straight and steady as she goes” is often just fine by me. But I have to say, I’ve come to see the upside to the 2013 transitions we’ve endured.

I’ve learned more about myself; what I’m really made of, what’s really important to me, and that at this stage in my professional life there are certain work priorities that are non-negotiable. (Important stuff!)

I’ve learned more about our business; where we have established really important connections, whose work it is I cherish and wish to make present to the world in deeper ways, and how dang essential it is to hang with really good people who do GREAT WORK!

Yeah, so I don’t really like transitions all that much . . . but I’m warming to the idea. Here’s to a most prosperous and THRIVING New Year. To all of you, and to the young people we serve.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Our Presenters ROCK! (Really, they do!)

At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I need to take a few minutes to brag about the team of top-notch, high-energy, committed, passionate, people-of-integrity that comprise our small team of presenters. I often hear friends (and strangers) bemoan the awful people with whom they work. (Some sound particularly HORRID!) And I’m always left thinking . . . “that’s not the people I work with!”

I know. I’m fortunate. But I’m not alone. Through their work this dedicated team has traveled across North America (and beyond) sharing uplifting, research-based details that bring hope and possibility to tired professionals, weary parents, and distraught communities. And they love it!

Okay, I’ll stop. But do yourself a favor. Check them out here.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

A New Workshop from Bolster Collaborative

We are proud to announce the addition of a new workshop event to our line up! Raising Thriving Kids: Training of Trainers is now available for delivery across North America. Developed and field-tested in conjunction with two major school districts in California, this event prepares participants to deliver five sessions to parents, including multi-lingual groups. With content rooted in Search Institute’s® Developmental Asset® framework, parents learn how to utilize the information to enhance their relationship with their child(ren).

Find out more by clicking here!

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Big Secret Revealed

I often hear adults commiserating over how to know what young people want. “How are we supposed to deliver programming that draws them in?” or “We do all this for them and they don’t show up. What gives?” The comments come in lots of versions, but I think you get the idea.

Well, I’m prepared to give you the #1 tool to address these questions. This is information that eludes all too many of us adults. Perhaps it’s because it’s just so dang complicated. Perhaps it wasn’t covered in our graduate curricula as we prepared for our jobs to serve young people to the very best of our ability. (Our heart and spirit are certainly in the right place, so it’s not THAT!)

Are you sitting down? Here is the #1 answer: ASK THEM!

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.


More people in the United States travel to be with family and friends this week than any other during the year. Perhaps that’s because we need to occasionally stop to reflect, in the company of people we know and trust, on those things for which we are thankful. (I certainly DON’T think it’s because we relish the idea of hours in the car or enduring the “joy” of modern-day airports!)

So, in that spirit . . . I’m thankful for:

  • The chance to do meaningful work, with like-minded people–all committed to giving our best to the next generations
  • Young people of all ages—their hope, creativity, and passion inspire me
  • Health and well-being
  • Family: from my 90 year-old mother, to my spouse of 37 years, to our three wonderful adult children (making a difference in the world, each in their own unique way), to our three grandchildren
  • Chocolate
  • Sunny summer days for trips to the lake; sunny winter days for snowshoe treks through the Maine woods
  • And much, much more

And you?

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Reflections on Family

We recently celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday. 90 years! When mom was born in 1923 the price of gas was 22 cents/gallon and the price of a movie ticket was 7 cents! (Though to be honest, the most interesting figure I found was that the price for a pound of prunes was 3 cents. Who tracks such things?) A lot has changed in nine decades . . . .

My siblings and I coordinated a family celebration of the big event that grew beyond our expectations. Four generations of our family ended up gathering in rural MT to pronounce to the world that we are PROUD about this woman’s life.  Three distinct generations of cousins were in attendance: those of my generation, my nieces and nephews, and finally their children—the newest generation to the clan. One of my cousins spoke to the fact that he was enthralled by the youngest in our midst. In watching them he was transported back to his own youth when, at similar times of family celebration, he recalled enjoying time with others of his own age while “older folks,” many of whom he didn’t really know, sat around the edges chatting about farm prices and politics.

What he reminded us all about was the power of family. How in this celebratory gathering we were planting seeds of groundedness with the youngest members of our family. They were building the ties that bind and together we were honoring the ties to days gone by.

As with any family, we have our challenges, pains, and sorrows too. On this occasion though, I was reminded mostly of the power of good that exists in these relationships. With its “warts and all,” it was still home.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thanks for bringing us all together to weave the next chapter of family history.

Tim Duffey, President, Vision Training Associates, Inc. and co-founder, Bolster Collaborative.

Working with Immigrant Parents – New Research Findings

This month Bolster Collaborative has posted the first in a series of Practice Briefs on working with immigrant families.(Engaging Immigrant Families: the Latest Thinking) This issue has confounded schools and youth programs for decades, but research now is beginning to tease out strategies that can boost involvement of parents who are new to this country.

It should come as no surprise to people who operate from a strengths-based perspective that one of the key findings is that relationships make a difference.  Researchers are highlighting the role that “cultural brokers” play in this process. A number of school districts have either hired from outside or grown from within a cadre of principals and district leaders who reflect the cultures of their students and who can relate well to immigrant parents and intercede when cultural differences bring about misunderstandings.

As the Practice Brief points out, immigrant parents do care about their children’s success in school.  When schools pay attention to the needs of the parents, and communicate with them in ways that begin to build trusting relationships, engagement can follow.

The Cornerstone Project, operating out of the YMCA of Santa Clara County has been working at this with school districts throughout the county for over a decade. They translated Taking it Personally, a curriculum exploring the Developmental Assets®, into Spanish, and have been offering it to small groups of parents. Parents who are excited about what they are learning are invited to be leaders of subsequent groups. This training, which was developed and piloted in St Louis Park, MN, as Taking Asset Building Personally, and then renamed and published by Search Institute, has been offered throughout Santa Clara County, CA to several thousand parents, many of them immigrants.

Go to this page to learn more about the parent programs that Project Cornerstone offers in schools across the county.   And here,, you can learn more about their innovative Los Dichos program, which involves Spanish-speaking parents reading to students in the classroom.

About the Author:  Nancy Tellett-Royce is a primary collaborator and consultant with Bolster Collaborative. For the prior 14 years, she was community liaison to some 600+ community efforts through the Healthy Communities ˑ Healthy Youth® Initiative of Search Institute®, and a senior consultant to organizations and community initiatives, also through the institute. Nancy has been a part of the Children First initiative in St Louis Park, MN, where she served as co-chair and continues to be a part of the Executive Team. She has two sons in their 20’s.