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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