Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Youth Development 2.0

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Not that many years ago, we defined young people as “problems about to happen”. These problems included juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, gang membership, school failure, and on. Youth programs presented themselves as able to prevent these problems and program providers chased funders that were structured around these categories. Research focused on “risk factors” - family and environmental factors that could predict future youth problems. 

Then, for those of us at the ground level, we noticed two important things: 1) We found that most of the kids that had these risk factors were not showing problems; and 2) Regardless of the categorical funding focused on preventing problems, we tended to attract the same kids and successful programming was based on providing safe environments, forming positive relationships, and offering activities that were meaningful to young people. We moved away from deficits and began seeing young people as assets. Soon, the focus was positive youth development instead of prevention, thanks to the pioneering work of people like Michele Cahill, Karen Pittman, James Connell, Sylvia Yee, Carla Sanger, Sue Eldredge, and others. 

Photo Credit: CNYD Youth Development Guide

In 2001, the Community Network for Youth Development, in partnership with the California Department of Education, published the Youth Development Guide: Engaging Young People in After-School Programming. This guide offers strategies for designing youth programs around the issues of promoting a sense of safety, encouraging relationship building, fostering meaningful youth participation, providing opportunities for community involvement, and creating learning experiences that build skills. You can download it here or view it in a magazine-style format by clicking here

Despite the fact that this was published 15 years ago, the framework is heavily aligned to today’s California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs. What was revolutionary about the youth development framework (created by James Connell and Michelle Gambone) was that it promoted shared responsibility of not just the youth worker, but the provider organization, as well as funders and policy makers.

In recent years, we have been introduced to new research and new terms - many of which are products of a positive youth development setting. They include growth mindsets, non-cognitive skills, social emotional learning, soft skills, 21st century competencies, grit, character building, pro-social behavior, and more. 

Many say that the new research and terms are an extension of positive youth development. We can call them Youth Development 2.0. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Social Emotional Learning: How Do We Best Communicate What We Do in Expanded Learning Programs?

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
There has been a great deal of research and conversation about the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL). There have also been a number of terms and lists that are close cousins to SEL: non-cognitive skills, grit, growth mindsets, and others. How can practitioners sort all of this out and how best should we communicate with our K-12 colleagues and parents?

The Wallace Foundation recently commissioned Edge Research, Inc. to examine “the linguistic landscape of the many terms used to describe non-academic skills and finding some familiarity with ‘social and emotional learning.’” The primary goals of this research included:
  • Understanding the landscape of terminology from the perspective of key stakeholders
  • Understanding what motivates K-12 public school, Afterschool and Policy leaders to be interested in the topic of SEL
  • Helping the field develop a common vocabulary on the topic of SEL
They conducted a review of the literature, gathered surveys, and held focus groups with K-12 educators, afterschool leaders, and parents.

Photo Credit: Edutopia.org

The key findings of this marketing research were:

1. There is no “silver bullet” term, but across the research phases, “social and emotional learning” emerges as one that is familiar and clear for Policy, K-12 and Afterschool leaders. It also tests well in parent focus groups.

2. Over the course of research, we moved away from terms that had strong, ancillary or even negative connotations (21st Century Skills, Whole Child Development, Soft Skills, Character). We also eliminated familiar terms deemed too generic for this topic (Youth Development, Success Factors).

3. In framing this issue, a concept that speaks to “Gains” for children has traction. Specifics about SEL skills (i.e. building positive relationships, navigating social environments), plus positively asserting that all children benefit, make this frame popular across stakeholder and parent audiences.

4. Other frames include language that resonates. Consider the right time to weave in themes and ideas about: all adults having a role, the learning equation, children realizing their potential, future citizens and the opportunity gap.

5. Despite agreement that SEL should be a priority, challenges exist for the future. The field identifies training and professional development as much-needed. Parents are wary of school and afterschool overstepping their bounds.

Edge researchers, Pam Loeb and Stacia Tipton, presented their study in a webinar sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. We urge field leaders in expanded learning to give it a listen by clicking here.