Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The LIAS Principles Impact Both Students and Staff Alike

By Guest Blogger, Frank Escobar

Frank Escobar,
Manager of After School Programs
Visalia USD
Running after school programs is no easy task.  Ask anyone in the field and they’ll show you there battle wounds. However, insert 11-14 year olds and the difficult meter goes through the roof.  Sometimes its just better to not know what you don’t know. Perhaps that’s why I’m still here.  Leaning a bit but still standing.  

In the early years it was the kids, the parents, the politics. I was new to the field and trying to identify the secret sauce for recruiting and retaining enough students to keep the grant. At the same time, keeping the ratio low enough to prevent our college-age staff from getting completely run over by the middle school mack truck. Not sure we ever completely figured it out but we’ve certainly made improvements.  

Great advice from experienced veterans, thoughtful tools from the field, some amazing trainings from some amazing trainers and even a few out-of-town tours.  And as we got better on attendance we began to focus on impact.  One of the tools that helped us in that area was, at the time, the newly released Learning in After School and Summer Principles.  

The principles gave us tangible targets to shoot towards. They were clear, relatable, and reasonably identifiable in everyday program. As we improved in our understanding of these principles, we naturally improved in the facilitating of these principles.  We saw active learning in our programs, increased student collaboration, learning that was thoughtful and meaningful, mastery-building and horizons being expanded. It was enlightening, exciting and honestly, still is. 

As we became better versed in offering these types of experiences and outcomes in our program, I began to notice something interesting.  I noticed that not only were our students benefitting from the affect of these important principles but so were our college-age workers. You see, unintentionally, while we were building the capacities of our staff members to implement the principles in their programming with students, we were also implementing them with our staff. 

Our training and professional development was becoming more active, our instruction (and play) in the training room more meaningful. Our learning environments were becoming more collaborative and our training focuses narrowed in on building mastery skill-sets, particularly around behavior management (if you know what I mean). And at the end of the day, we began to see our staff expanding their own horizons. They were learning about things they never had interest in. Seeing things they never bothered looking for. Doing things they never believed important. The LIAS Principles were becoming an integral part of our program cultural for both students and staff. 

PULSE Staff Holiday Dinner
Today, with the significant workforce challenges we face in after school and expanded learning, we attempt to do our best in sustaining the best and brightest. Unfortunately, that’s rarely possible. The best and brightest normally move on (and up) and take their talents to better paying playgrounds. However, it is in most cases that what contributed to their best and bright was what they learned and practiced right here in the expanded learning field. With so many tangible, transferrable skill-sets acquired in this work many of our best and brightest are shining even brighter right now in their warm and cozy classrooms. Particularly those who were fortunate enough to work in programs that asked them to integrate those 5 LIAS Principles. It’s called the bi-product affect. A secondary or incidental result, often unforeseen or unintended.  

Although, I find it pretty hard to believe that the engineer behind these principles would do anything unintended. All to say, I sincerely believe that the introduction, acceptance, and application of the LIAS Principles have meant more to our field than what might have been expected. These principles, while aimed at our young ones, have also impacted our other young ones teaching our young ones. That they say, is a double-whammy. Or, maybe in this case, a double-Sammy!

Frank is currently the Manager of After School Programs at Visalia Unified School District in Visalia, CA as well as speaker, trainer and consultant for the after school and youth development fields. A popular speaker and trainer at school assemblies, youth and after school conferences, Frank has spoken to thousands of middle and high school youth and trained hundreds of educators and youth program workers across the country.  

A former collegiate and professional football player, Frank realized his passion for working with youth during his high school years mentoring younger athletes. Knowing one day he'd be hanging up his football cleats for a more practical profession, Frank obtained his degree in education from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Learning Communities: From Theory to Practice

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
In a recent blog post, we focused on a new study by Public Profit on learning communities (LC). We interviewed the Public Profit staff and featured their answers on the post. It is one thing to learn about a critical feature of a youth program. It is another to work with peers to translate this knowledge into practice. 

We wanted to hear directly from people who have actually participated in a learning community. Thanks to Katie Brackenridge from the Partnership for Children and Youth, who brings the perspective of a practitioner/participant, as well as an active capacity builder of afterschool and summer programs. We also asked Carol Lewis, Afterschool Coordinator, Vallejo City Unified, who brings the perspective of someone working to build the quality of programs across a district. We offer their responses below. 

Q: Can you describe how your participation in an ongoing learning community was different than a one-time, “fly-by”, training?
Katie Brackenridge,
Partnership for Children and Youth

Katie: Thinking back many years, being part of the first Youth Development Learning Networks was transformational. We were all trying to implement similar practices without being able to name them. The Learning Community created a common language between participants, gave us the opportunity to shift our practices to be more intentional about youth development, and created a space for us to learn about each other’s challenges and successes. 

This approach has longevity. Twenty years later, the Jamestown Community Center remains deeply rooted in youth development theory and practice. As a trainer and advocate, I run into my peers from those first learning communities and continue to feel a strong sense of camaraderie with them.

Carol: In my own experience and in my observations of my staff, participation in an on-going LC leads to greater levels of implementation and higher quality implementation. The site coordinators that participated in Stacey Daraio’s LIAS LC are more articulate about the 5 LIAS Principles and I believe better equipped to support their staff in designing programming.

Q: Can you explain why you chose this more intensive, multi-session, approach?  

Katie: We were excited about being part of a new, forward-thinking and intentional effort to improve our programs. We wanted to learn what the experts were saying about youth programming, apply those best practices, and connect with other youth program leaders across our community.

Carol: I chose it because I believe this style of professional learning is a best practice and I want to ensure my program staff are prepared to meet the high level of expectations I set for programming quality.

Photo Credit: http://education.umkc.edu
Q: Can you describe the benefits of participating in an ongoing learning community? 

Katie: We found it was most helpful to learn new theories and practices, try them out back at our programs, and debrief that experience with the facilitators and peers back in the learning community. The key piece of coaching connected to the learning community gave us tailored help with obstacles and challenges. The structure provided an effectively supported implementation.

Carol: As stated above, greater levels of implementation. Also, it provided my staff an opportunity to learn with and from others that are doing the work they do which I cannot provide for them – since I’ve never been a site coordinator.

Q: Would you recommend it to others, and if so, under what conditions or circumstances? 

Katie: Our experience was transformational. To be impactful, program staff have to be genuinely interested in changing practice, willing to look honestly at what currently works and doesn’t work, and share openly with the learning community.

Carol: I would absolutely recommend this type of training to others. The circumstances in which this type of training is better than online or one time lecture-based training is when the implementation of the learning is complex and requires opportunities to ‘try it out’ then return to the group with questions/comments and insights.

In our recent study of the effectiveness of the LIAS project, we heard from a number of Regional Leads on the subject of learning communities. These comments are listed below. 
  • It would be a good idea to roll out additional learning communities in Regions that have not had one yet since it fits nicely with both Quality Standards & Common Core.”
  • “We do a lot of training for people giving an introduction to the LIAS principles. We do very little in terms of learning communities or someone who's assigned to work with the site as a coach. That would be more effective in the long term.” 
  • “I know that the learning community sessions that we did with Stacey Daraio the year before was very well received. It provided the participants great in-depth conversation and it really was an opportunity for sharing. We know that learning communities really have a successful message for improving quality because it makes the concepts real to the participants. That's why I would rate it as a very good strategy.”  

Temescal Associates/LIAS offers the facilitation of LIAS learning communities for afterschool and summer practitioners. Alternatively, we have prepared CalSAC trainers to lead learning communities as well. 

Professional Learning Communities in the Expanded Learning Field

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Our Co-Director, Stacey Daraio, pioneered the use of learning communities to improve the practice of youth program practitioners in the 1990’s. Learning from her, I led a number of learning communities with the first California Afterschool Regional Learning Centers, the first cohort of high school afterschool programs (ASSETs) and the San Francisco Beacons. 

Temescal Associates &
LIAS Co-Director, Stacey Daraio
Currently, we are very involved with leading learning communities on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles

More recently, we have conducted training of trainer (ToT) sessions with the California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) to lead LIAS learning communities. This allows us to extend the reach of the LIAS project. This is a very effective and necessary approach if we are going to show success in actually changing practice. 

Thus, we were very pleased to see the release of a study of the effectiveness of professional learning communities (PLCs) by Public Profit entitled, Professional Learning Communities in the Expanded Learning Field

Below is an interview with the research staff at Public Profit regarding this study. In a subsequent blog post, we will interview practitioners who have been part of a learning community. 

Q: Can you help us with a brief definition of “professional learning communities”? 

A: PLCs are collaborative cohorts of professionals with a shared interest in improving their practice in order to better serve youth. They meet regularly to reflect, to review data, and to share and develop strategies to improve their professional practice. 

In the expanded learning setting, PLCs tend to follow one of two models: one, for front line staff, emphasizes improving the quality of content-specific activities through trainings on delivering curricula and facilitating group activities and on-site coaching. They can be broad, open to staff from multiple organizations, or narrow, open to staff from one organization. 

PLCs for managers in expanded learning programs focus more on innovative approaches to organizational and systemic improvement via discussion-based meetings and support for continued collaboration. These PLCs tend to be broadly open to mid-level and senior managers from multiple organizations. 

Q: What inspired you to explore this concept? Is this particularly relevant, given recent events in the ELP field? 

A: As interest in promoting quality expands throughout the field, more and more of our clients found traditional approaches to PD – like workshops and user’s guides – weren’t enough to really support sustained practice improvements.

Our clients in Oakland supported several Professional Learning Communities for expanded learning time staff at all levels, and asked us to evaluate several of them. We found that some really strong benefits for staff who participate (see below), and we wanted to share their successes more broadly.

Q: What are the benefits of participating in a PLC?

A: PLCs benefit participating staff in a number of key ways. Participating in a PLC can give staff increased knowledge in a specific content area, and in process-, role-specific knowledge. For example, a staff member participating in a PLC about wellness will build her knowledge in delivering wellness curriculum specifically, and in planning and delivering high quality activities more broadly. 

This happens because PLC facilitators model effective facilitation skills and engage youth workers in practical, hands-on approaches to learning that they can replicate in their programs. Giving staff the opportunity to network with peers and participate in ongoing professional development may even improve retention. 

Q: Can you describe some of the best practices of PLCs? 

A: Many of the best practices of PLCs are related to the pre-work needed before implementation. Assess organizational readiness by asking key questions about logistics and staff capacity. Budget for extra staff time so that participating staff can not only attend PLC meetings, but also can participate in coaching and practice-sharing with colleagues, and spend additional time planning. Create a process by which participating staff can document and share what they’ll learn in the PLC. 

Once the PLC is off the ground, best practices include developing the goals and structure of the PLC based on participants’ needs and ideas, implementing on-site observations and coaching, and leveraging partnerships to give participants access to experts and other resources. 

Q: Are there particular settings or situations that are well-suited to PLCs? 

A: There are some organizational conditions that can make a PLC more effective. To ensure that an organization’s PLC learning is planted in fertile soil where it can thrive, consider making the PLC a long-term professional development strategy complete with a multi-year commitment. Organizations thinking of taking on a PLC should also consider the implementation environment: will the program schedule accommodate new activities? Is there a sufficient budget for materials? Are staff consistently using positive youth development practices in the program? These factors all contribute to the success of the PLC. 

At the staff level, PLCs can be more effective if organizations choose participating staff carefully, making sure that any participants are equipped with strong facilitation skills and eager to grow in their practice. 

Q: How do you know if a PLC is working?

A: We use a five-step framework from Thomas Guskey to think about PLCs, and have found it helpful in tracking the benefits of PLCs. The framework’s steps are:

  • Reactions – did participants find the PLC useful?
  • Learning – did participants gain new knowledge?
  • Organizational support and change – how did the host organization support staff in implementing new practices?
  • Behavior change – did participants effectively apply new knowledge?
  • Youth learning outcomes – what was the impact on youth?

Many existing evaluation tools can help address these questions, including session feedback forms, observations, and surveys of youth and staff.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

LIAS Effectiveness Study

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project was launched in 2010. In the summer of 2015, the LIAS staff conducted a LIAS Effectiveness Study to gauge our impact on the field and how best to further the project goals. The objectives of this LIAS Effectiveness Study were to:
  • Learn how effective the LIAS campaign was in reaching and impacting expanded learning stakeholders and program leaders;
  • Learn how effective the individual LIAS strategies were;
  • Improve the LIAS campaign going forward; and
  • Share with the larger field any learnings that may be helpful to future efforts to improve expanded learning program quality.

We collected 91 surveys completed by Regional Leads, those who oversee or
work directly with youth, or provide technical assistance. We also conducted follow up interviews with 20 afterschool leaders across the state. In terms of geography, most of the respondents are located in Regions 3, 4, 9, and 11. These four regions contain 57% of the total California ASES and 21st CCLC programs. (Source: California Afterschool Network). 

Below is a summary of findings from our study. To view the study Executive Summary, click here. To view the full report, click here

LIAS effectiveness
  • The LIAS project has successfully raised awareness of the LIAS principles across the state.
  • On average, 74% of respondents reported their contact with LIAS materials. Of those, 67% on average, rated their experience as a 4 or 5 on a 1-5 scale of effectiveness, with 1 being the lowest.
  • On average, only 30% of respondents reported an involvement with LIAS support activities. Of those, on average, 79% rated their experience as a 4 or 5 on a 1-5 scale of effectiveness, with 1 being the lowest.
  • Of those surveyed, over 84% reported that the LIAS materials and supports impacted their programs. They reported that the LIAS project either changed the way they talk about their programs (49%) or effected their program design (35%).

LIAS Strengths: Respondents reported that the language of the LIAS learning principles are clear and understandable (nearly 84%) and the LIAS learning principles can easily be applied to program design and improvement (nearly 69%). 

LIAS Weaknesses: A fair number of respondents (22%) thought that the LIAS project can do more outreach to educate practitioners about the LIAS learning principles. Nearly 46% of respondents replied, “No comment”. 

Challenges and barriers to program improvement: Respondents named staff turnover (92%), insufficient funding (86%), and insufficient time (80%) as the largest barrier or challenge. 

Objective 1: Learn how effective the LIAS campaign was in reaching and impacting expanded learning stakeholders and program leaders
  • LIAS outreach – The LIAS project has been very successful in spreading the word on the LIAS principles. The newly designed website and LIAS blog have been well received.  
  • LIAS impact – The LIAS project reportedly has impacted many by changing the way they talk with others about their program activities and/or changing actual day-to-day practice. Program leaders want more guidance on how to apply LIAS and character building strategies into practice. 
Objective 2: Learn how effective the individual LIAS strategies were
  • LIAS materials – The LIAS postcard has been widely distributed across the state and well received by program leaders. However, some of the LIAS materials such as the webinar, are not reaching a large audience. 
  • LIAS training opportunities – The LIAS orientations and introductory trainings are an effective educational outreach strategy. However, they do not go far enough in changing practice at the program level. The LIAS learning communities have been well received and judged as effective ways to impact program quality. However, they are not widely available due to issues of cost, commitment, and geography. 
Objective 3: Improve the LIAS campaign going forward
  • Diversify audience – It would be useful if the LIAS project could reach out to diverse audiences that impact young people’s learning. These additional audiences include youth program providers outside of the “afterschool circle”, principals and educational administrators, instructors in higher education, museums, libraries, and Parks & Recreation departments. 
  • Access to online tools – Because of issues of cost and distance, and because young workers grew up in the digital age, we have been advised to ensure that materials and tools include short videos of actual program practice, are accessible via the Internet, be multimedia, and viewable on smartphones and tablets. 
  • Integrate new concepts - materials should include the new state Quality Standards. They should also integrate 21st century learning skills, social emotional learning, building character skills, non-cognitive skills, growth mindsets, and foundations for young adult success. There is also the demand that programs respond to the new state Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs and the Common Core State Standards. While it is true that some of these are overlapping, they still present an overwhelming set of “lists”. The LIAS project has been advised to create an approach that integrate these “lists” and the Quality Standards.
Objective 4: Learnings that may be helpful to future efforts to improve expanded learning program quality
  • Cost as a barrier - Due to rising labor costs and stagnant grant awards, programs have cut the amount of resources for professional development and program tools. For all of us that work to improve program quality, we have been advised to consider the issue of cost – program materials and training - and even offer stipends to training participants in exchange for a commitment to attendance and program improvement efforts. 
  • Other barriers to program improvement – Any effort to improve program quality requires educational outreach that is ongoing due to staff turnover. In addition to continuing these efforts, we have been encouraged to target program leaders, who have longer tenures than frontline staff.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Introducing the Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project

Sam Piha
By Sam Piha

In the last decade, research on learning and the brain, and the impact of social-emotional and character skills, has expanded our understanding of learning. Currently, we are witnessing a significant pivot from a narrow focus on academic performance, measured by standardized reading and math test scores, to a broader perspective of young people’s development that includes and promotes social-emotional and character skills.

This shift is based on recent research on the importance of social emotional learning, non-cognitive skills, growth mindsets, and character skills. Much of this is reflected by the new Common Core State Standards, the CORE Waiver’s focus on social-emotional accountability, and Expanded Learning Quality Standards being developed in many states.
In order to see this shift fully realized, a number of capacity building organizations came together to form a new project, entitled Expanded Learning 360°/365: Skills for Success in School, Work, and Life. These organizations include ASAPconnect, California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC), Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS)/Temescal Associates, and Partnership for Children and Youth.

This project is designed to help policymakers, district and school leaders and expanded learning providers better identify and integrate social-emotional and character skills into their work with young people. We will accomplish this by:

  • Clearly defining the role that expanded learning plays in social-emotional and character skill development,
  • Promoting that school and expanded learning leaders work together to integrate teaching strategies around these skills across the school day and into expanded learning time,
  • Working with policymakers and district leaders to integrate these ideas into the policies that guide and govern schools and expanded learning programs, and
  • Identifying and developing trainings and curriculum for school and expanded learning staff that include best practices for supporting these skills in their young people.

Because we have seen a recent proliferation of lists identifying critical skills for youth, it is easy to see why some afterschool leaders are confused – “Which list is most important; which list should I use?” The Expanded Learning 360°/365 project convened a research work group to distill these lists into a more useable list - a single list. We will share more in a future post. Meanwhile, to learn more, click here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr. Tony Smith - Former OUSD Superintendent Now State Superintendent of Education, Illinois

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

Oakland Unified School District lost a superb superintendent when Tony Smith left in 2013. He recently resurfaced as new State Superintendent of Education in Illinois this April 2015. A spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner said that Smith is "a transformational leader and has a proven track record of increasing student achievement, while successfully addressing fiscal and structural issues at the local district level."

While in Oakland, Smith talked about students being "community ready" as well as prepared for college and careers. Below we share an interview we did with Dr. Smith when he was in Oakland. You can also view this interview in a 2-part video with Dr. Smith by clicking here and here

Q: The LIAS learning principles were not intended to apply to strictly afterschool settings. In your experience, how are these principles, when taken together, relevant to young people’s learning? 
Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of Education, Illinois
Photo Credit: http://www.chicagotribune.com/
A: I think the principles about learning and afterschool time are really about engaging the whole child, which is what I think good educators do and good school systems should be thinking about all the time. The research that has been happening reminds us that young people are active learners in the larger world around them and that we, as adults and communities, must support young people in their learning as they become more pro-socially integrated into the life of our communities.

Q: How are these LIAS principles related to what we are doing in school reform efforts? 
A: The guiding principles that have been pushed forward recently in the afterschool time are helping us think more about the whole child, about community schools, and connecting the world that our young people and families live in with the school house. We have to get much more thoughtful by engaging with community. We want to advance reform so that it’s not just about school reform, its about changing our notions of learning, engaging and inviting a fuller experience for what learning can be. The afterschool time is really pushing that and helping change ideas about what we should be doing inside of school.  

Q: We are focusing our efforts on the idea of improving our approaches to how children learn. Do you see this as an important shift in how we talk about learning in afterschool and summer programs? 
A: The really exciting part of what’s coming from brain research and our knowledge of how young people learn is that we need to change the daily experience inside of school and also remember that kids are in school for only a very short amount of their time. So how are we supporting young people to know, learn, and be productive citizens? 

Photo Credit: http://www.techbridgegirls.org/
Adults  have to start thinking differently. All of us need to stay close to learning theory and realize that there is more to learn about learning. If we can continue to basically teach and help people who are responsible for education know that they have to be learners themselves, I think that helps us change the conversation. I think staying grounded in the research and talking about the ideas of learning help to change the conversation over time. Then, with more evidence, we can change our behaviors and begin saying, “Hey the whole community should be the learning environment”. We should have more structured opportunities for kids to take the lead on stuff and bring what they’re learning outside of the school back in. That way, I think educators can be the learners also.  

Q: Can you speak to one or more of the LIAS principles that most resonate for you when you think about creating learning environments and activities for kids? 
A: I think the guiding principles are essential. I think it’s so important to have a set of core ideas that you can work around. The way these principles have been compiled are really important. 

Obviously the work of being in a relationship with people, working deeply on stuff, really stuff you care about, matters.  The principle that is fundamentally important to me though is about expanding horizons, about the opportunity for young people to see possible futures. Sometimes, particularly in the urban setting or quite frankly in any setting, young people don’t have folks around them that are helping to expand the notions of what’s possible for them, who are looking into their eyes and saying, “I see greatness in you, and I see more than you see in yourself right now”. 

I think that afterschool time should offer those opportunities. Those in afterschool are less tethered to the school building, can do other stuff, can get further a field and actually get into some uncomfortable and different situations that provoke “huh, I never really thought about it like that”, or maybe “I could”, or “I really liked when we went there”. I think that when you have young people who only know a few square blocks, exposing them to new things can be fundamentally transformative. All of the other guiding principles are really important, but taking seriously that we have a responsibility to encourage, activate, and energize notions of possible futures, expanding horizons, that’s the one where I really think afterschool is uniquely and importantly positioned to do. 

Photo credit: http://content.time.com/
Q:What happens when we structure youth programs without paying attention to these learning principles? 
A: I think when we don’t pay attention to what really works for young people - about developing mastery, about caring about things, about working closely with others - then we create the conditions for young people to disengage.  This idea of young people dropping out of high school is a slow process of pushing kids out of the system.  If we don’t pay attention to what we know works for human beings, what we’re learning about human development, and all the learning research, then we’re responsible for making it less likely that young people realize their potential, that they’re connected, that they take leadership in positive ways.  

Young people are powerful and they want to have agency and exert energy on the world. Unless we’re helping them do that, working together, and helping with some boundaries,  I think we’re responsible for young people checking out and being outside of the system. 

Q: Which principle do you ultimately want every student to walk away with, more than any other principle?
A: At the end of the day, there’s no excuse for a young person or anybody not developing mastery over time. Many of these principles are facilitating conditions to develop mastery over time.  If in fact we don’t hold ourselves as a community, as adults, as educators, responsible for ensuring that people develop mastery, then we’ve failed in our responsibility. Having some sense of strength and agency is critical for every young person. It is not about seat time, it is about competence. It’s not about how long you did it, it’s about how well you do it. And we need to find ways to help every young person be great at something. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Afterschool Learning and Digital Badges

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
If the growing afterschool movement is to prosper, these programs must be recognized as important places of learning. The use and awarding of digital badges to recognize the learning that takes place within these programs represents an excellent strategy to accomplish this. 

Digital badges can be used to recognize exemplar programs, staff trainers, program staff who have completed professional development sessions, or youth who have acquired new knowledge and skills through participation in afterschool activities.  

We believe there are many benefits to the awarding of digital badges for learning. Some of these are articulated below: 

  • Because program leaders must think through and explicitly state what learning will go on in specific program activities or clubs that is being recognized by a digital badge, this specificity raises the bar for learning accountability. 
  • The awarding of digital badges defines the learning that goes on in programs for outsiders, which is vital if afterschool programs are to be recognized as important places of learning. These badges are important, visible evidence that afterschool programs take learning seriously. 
  • The adult program staff members often acquire important knowledge and skills through professional development and years of experience. Youth acquire valuable skills and knowledge through their participation in specific afterschool activities. Both deserve an artifact that documents their learning and—importantly—can be shared with peers, future employers, and those allowing admittance to higher education. 

To promote the use of digital badges, Temescal Associates and the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Project has launched the Center for Digital Badges (CDB). You can visit our website to access several informational articles and videos, see a gallery of badges we have designed for several afterschool partners, and review case studies. These case studies document how afterschool programs, training organizations, and regional work groups have used digital badges to recognize the learning of afterschool staff and youth participants, as well as exemplar afterschool programs. 

We believe that the digital badge revolution will serve the afterschool movement well. To ensure a growing understanding and valuing of digital badges, we have formed a statewide committee of afterschool organizations to develop an educational campaign. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Quality Standards, Program Improvement, and LIAS Learning Principles: An Interview with Michael Funk, California After School Division Director (Part 2)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The afterschool and summer learning movement has evolved under the new leadership of Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Michael Funk, Director of the After School Division. Below is part 2 of an interview we conducted with Michael Funk. 

You can view a video that reviews the new California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs by clicking hereYou can view a brief video of Michael's remarks at the recent How Kids Learn IV conference by clicking hereYou can also view a video of an interview with Tom Torlakson on Learning in Afterschool & Summer by clicking here

Michael Funk
After School Division
Q: The new expanded learning Quality Standards have been released by CDE. How are you hoping that the field of school-based afterschool programs respond to this list of standards?

A: I have already seen a very encouraging response as I have gone out to different programs and different parts of the state over the past few months and have had conversations and conducted workshops with program leaders about the new Quality Standards. We have been clear about what the standards are and the intended use of the standards. 

Leaders who have been in this work a long time have described the new Quality Standards as affirming, validating, and exciting. Many have exclaimed, “Now we really know that what we believe is important is also important to the California Department of Education.”  What I hope for is that these standards will be embraced and they will be welcomed, not as an intimidating compliance measure but rather, as a welcome framework for continuous improvement and quality. I also hope that the way programs engage with those standards will actually be organic and from the bottom up. Whatever we can do from CDE to support and give guidance on how sites are in compliance with the continuous improvement process would be just that, guidance and encouragement, and that the real driver for adopting and embracing these Quality Standards would be at the ground level.

Q: Programs are asked to use data to develop program improvement efforts that are in line with the new Quality Standards.  What kind of data gathering tools are you hoping that programs use?

A: We’re in the midst of trying to figure that out now.  In fact, in the next couple of months we’ll be working on a draft of the guidance for implementation of SB 1221, which includes the answer to that very question.  But I can tell you that intent of the language of the bill was that local decisions, communicated to CDE staff, would be our goal. We could offer examples of tools that we feel are relevant, but there are also a variety of other approaches. One program might use a very sophisticated tool. However, another small program with a small number of students and a small amount of funding might use another less sophisticated tool. There are different ways to do surveys and focus groups with students and parents and pull together information with the standards as the framework for that conversation. And so it could range widely, but there will most likely be a process where the grantees will communicate to us in advance their plan and what data they plan to use. We’ll have a chance to see what the trends are and what tools programs are finding most helpful. 

Q: How will your department consider ensuring that there’s education opportunities for programs to learn more about these new Quality Standards and processes for data-driven assessment to help drive program alignment to these standards?

A: One of our four strategic initiatives is to overhaul the system of support, as we know it. I’m hopeful that through the process we will be able to really target experiences, ranging from workshops to onsite coaching, that really help programs to engage in an authentic and effective cycle of quality improvement. There are plans to do regional-based conferences that will be focused on the standards and the implementation of SB1221, including the continuous improvement process. We will use targeted funding and ask those in our system of support to fully address this in their work plans. Over the past couple of years our regional teams, which include County Office of Education Regional Leads and CDE staff, have developed a data-driven process to identify sites that are struggling and at risk of low attendance. Using the Quality Standards in a quality improvement process will be one of the primary technical assistance strategies that these teams will use with those sites.

Q: You have been a strong supporter of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles.  How do you see these reflected in your visits around the state and in the Quality Standards? 

A: The group that pulled together the Quality Standards, which included Temescal Associates, agreed at the onset that the LIAS principles would be embedded and foundational to these new standards.  You don’t see them listed as you see them listed on the postcard with five in a row, but they are definitely there and foundational to the standards. 

As I visit different regions and talk to large groups of grantees, I explain that the standards are not meant to replace the LIAS principles. You need to think of both of them as part of the same mosaic. In essence, the LIAS principles, the Quality Standards, the standards in action, the crosswalk, the passage of SB1221 - these are all things that are intentionally designed to fit together. There will be times when it would be much more effective and strategic to train using the five learning principles than it would to do train using the 12 Quality Standards, or vice versa. I see them interlinked by design.

Q: How have the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles been accepted by the field?

A: Everywhere I go it’s becoming the common language. I was at a high school afterschool program in San Diego and I walked into a weight room where there was a group of high school kids participating in a weight lifting and wrestling program. I was introduced to the activity leader. He looked at me and said, “Have you ever heard of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer principles?”  I smiled as he described to me how he has integrated them into his program, and how every club on the campus uses them. I think that’s more the norm from what I’m seeing, than not.
Michael Funk, a practitioner and policy advocate for after-school programs in California, is the Director of the After School Division at the California Department of Education. Before joining CDE, Michael was the Founder and Director for 16 years of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, a program of Aspiranet, a human services and after-school provider. He was also Director of Aspiranet's After School, Youth, and Community Development Division. Funk received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho. 

Expanded Learning, SB 1221, and More: An Interview with Michael Funk, California After School Division Director (Part 1)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
California's afterschool and summer learning movement has evolved under the new leadership of Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Michael Funk, Director of the After School Division. Below is part 1 of an interview we conducted with Michael Funk. You can read part 2 of this interview on the LIAS website/blog.

You can view a brief video of Michael's remarks at the recent How Kids Learn IV conference by clicking here. You can also view a video of an interview with Tom Torlakson on Learning in Afterschool & Summer by clicking here

Michael Funk, Director
After School Division, CDE

Q: The term “expanded learning” is used differently by different people in different parts of the country. Can you give your definition of “expanded learning time and programs”?

The California Department of Education defines expanded learning as "Before and after school, summer, and intersession learning programs that develop the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs and interests of students. Expanded learning opportunities should be hands-on, engaging, student-centered, results-driven, involve community partners, and complement learning activities in the regular school day/year."

Q: In your mind what is the difference between the terms “expanded learning” and “extended learning”?

This is a discussion that continually takes place because for those of us in the expanded learning movement, we see a large difference between those two. Extended learning is sometimes viewed in a negative way because it typically refers to doing more of what the students have been experiencing all day, more time in traditional classroom settings.

Expanded learning really means expanding the opportunities and the way kids learn, not just more of what they’re experiencing for most of the day. Even if what they’re experiencing during the school day is high quality and kids are learning, that doesn’t mean more of it in a longer day is effective. We all know that kids and adults need the type of learning experiences described by the 
Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles and demonstrated in quality expanded learning programs - learning that also complements what happens during the school day.

Q: Are you hoping that the field begins using "expanded learning" programs to replace "afterschool and summer" programs?

 Yes. You’ll see that in our statewide strategic plan it is an expanded learning plan, and in our vision statement it talks about California’s expanded learning programs.  So to the extent that it’s helpful, we are trying to use that phrase.  But we also have to be mindful that if we’re trying to communicate to parents or people who are not familiar with the term "expanded learning," the brand that is recognizable is still afterschool and summer programs.

Q: The California legislature recently passed 
SB 1221, which focuses on ASES, ASSETs, and California’s 21st Century Learning Centers.  What do you believe are the most important changes as a result of this passage?

I think there are two significant shifts. The first is that SB 1221 takes out some accountability language for outcomes that were not really effective in driving or even measuring quality for expanded learning programs. This bill replaces the old accountability outcomes with a requirement that every program conduct an annual, data driven, quality improvement process based on California’s newly-released Quality Standards for expanded learning. For those of us that have been afterschool practitioners for decades we know the incredible value of the cycle of quality improvement as one of the characteristics of a high quality program. In essence SB 1221 is laying the groundwork for programs to do this across the state. Many high quality programs already do this in some way. This emphasis on the Quality Standards and emerging and existing tools can help them think of a way to do this process with more intent and even better results.  

The second important change is that SB 1221 really incentivizes year-round programming in a variety of ways. 

The mechanics of both of these changes are in the process of being worked out, but those are the primary features.  There are some other features that deal with data collection and a biennial report to the legislature. There are also some very specific, targeted pieces to benefit very remote, rural programs related to minimum grant size and transportation funding assistance.
Michael Funk, a practitioner and policy advocate for after-school programs in California, is the Director of the After School Division at the California Department of Education. Before joining CDE, Michael was the Founder and Director for 16 years of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, a program of Aspiranet, a human services and after-school provider. He was also Director of Aspiranet's After School, Youth, and Community Development Division. Funk received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho.