It’s been a while

…since I’ve dug deep into my experience in youth development. Being an educator is hard these days; I think it always has been. Kids, parents, counselors, administrators, teachers face criticism every day. I was excited to share some time with a group of educators working to prepare young people for life.

Preparing for a workshop at Partnerships in Motion, the culminating event of a federal grant to STOP bullying in schools, was a pleasant excavation. My friend Cyndy Erickson recommended me to the planners as the expert in the field of youth-adult partnerships. Flattery will get you…

I have a lot to draw on from my years in 4-H Youth Development. The organization has a long history of involving youth as partners. Older kids help younger ones with their projects, lead group meetings, and finally grow up and volunteer to lead the 4-H groups of their children. It’s seamless; it’s expected and it works.

The Civil Rights movement of the mid-1960s was the impetus for extending 4-H to families of color in the northern states. It required the Land Grant System, created by Abraham Lincoln to extend 4-H to kids in cities and small towns, and the USDA provided funding for staff to do the work. That’s where I came in.

Bumper sticker that says, Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.

At ISU Extension I worked with kids who weren’t from traditional 4-H audiences. They didn’t think it was for them, and it wasn’t. There was a separate 4-H organization for Black kids in the south, established around the 1890 Land Grant Colleges, but not in Iowa. Extending Ithe 4-H program to those kids was hard because of its long history of just being for farm kids. Indeed, there’s still a belief among many that 4-H is just for farm kids. In the 1970s our tee shirts said, “4-H ain’t all cows and cooking.” But affirmative action didn’t last even a generation. By 1989, the only way to grow programs was through special funding.

So I started writing grants, negotiating contracts and agreements with other organizations. We did the hard work of collaborating with schools and other organizations. Cyndy was a big part of that work, as she was developing the SUCCESS program in Des Moines Schools then.

Through it all we wove the strands of positive youth development theory, and best practice. Our teams worked hard to involve our audiences in making the decisions that shaped the programs. We developed weekly family nights where we taught the kids cooking and child care skills so they could watch their younger brothers and sisters while their parents learned parenting skills.

We put experiential education to the test, for ourselves. Learning by creating new ways of reaching kids and their parents. Finding out what worked and what didn’t.

So, I drew on that experience to plan my workshop at Partnerships in Motion. I asked the teachers and school administrators and counselors to envision their students as the subjects, the actors in the drama of their education, rather than the recipients. I shared H. Stephen Glenn’s “Mistaken Goals” with them. And melded those mistaken goals with the Circle of Courage from Reclaiming Youth at Risk—Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.

Then we brainstormed how they can satisfy all those needs so kids don’t have to work for mistaken goals. We talked about developing systems that keep kids involved in the peer-to-peer and mentoring work they do, conversations and lessons they’ve implemented over the last five years. In the long term, this kind of work increases resilience of young people, making them resistant to bullying and violence.

Being an educator is hard these days; it was probably always hard. But change happens so fast, and everyone from parents to legislatures attack the teaching profession every day. I was really excited to be able to share some time with a group of educators who are working to prepare young people for life.

Storytelling with Drake Students

Martha and I bundled up on a very snowy morning in early January, and drove to the Hotel Pattee in Perry Iowa. Lopso, the resident dog greeted us warmly at the back door. His name complements the fact that he had three legs, making him lopsided. He became a caring presence to us and the students. Lopso wandered in and out of our session, and paused only for his hotdog lunch.

Carol Spaulding-Kruse had asked us to facilitate three hours of yoga with Drake students during a J-Term class, focusing on the intersection of yoga and writing. We focused our session on Hanuman, the monkey-faced god of the Hindu myths. Even though Hanuman’s story is centuries old, its lessons are still relevant today. The Ramayana is one of India’s most popular myths. In it Ram asks Hanuman to complete several difficult and challenging tasks, that he believes are impossible. Each and every time, Hanuman tells himself that he cannot accomplish such enormous tasks, and yet, he always does. He’s been telling himself a story that simply wasn’t true.

Lopso the three-legged dog at Hotel Pattee
Sweet Lopso approved our message, however he stood firm that he could not skip his hotdog lunch.

As we told Hanuman’s story, we asked the students to consider the stories they tell themselves. Martha and I urged them to note which stories are true, and which are not. Sometimes in our minds, we tell ourselves stories like, “I’m not funny” or, “I’m too shy.” Because the stories aren’t always true, necessary, or helpful, they limit our capacity to experience our full humanity. We told the Drake students some stories we’ve told ourselves, and how they’ve not always been helpful, true, or necessary.

Yoga asks us to occupy space, to relish in the full capacity of our humanity. Hanuman reminds us we can do hard–even impossible–things, even when we’ve been telling ourselves we can’t.

Validation and Inspiration

I’ve been feeling like I needed a reset for a while. Like my teaching wasn’t always hitting the mark. There were students in my classes that I just felt I wasn’t reaching. So, I’ve gotten my reset.

Schools starts tomorrow

And check out Next Step mindfulness & movement activities, the decks are on sale for just one more day— $15 each. There are about 50 activities kinda like the one above. Exercises to help you practice breathing, connecting, settling, playing, and more. And they’re not just for kids!

Change Your Perspective

It’s hard to believe, but some people say our smallest actions have an effect on our world; it sure can’t hurt to develop a positive relationship between our minds and our bodies.

How can you help?

Each day, new things jumped out at me as I moved around the school–respectful discipline to disrespectful students, help for students struggling with technology. Teachers took attendance, engaged their students in interesting lessons, and built meaningful connections.

Back to the Basics

We can return home to the basics whenever we’re ready to revel in their joy–we can stand outside with our toes in the grass, we can watch the clouds pass by, we can balance in tree pose and remember.