What is Leadership?

While cruising through some posts on Edutopia, I came across a thread on teachers as leaders.  Which, of course, got me to thinking…  what is leadership?

Leadership consultant Chuck Isen, I think, says it best:

I view leadership as more of an Art than a Science. It is the art of purpose and meaning. It’s orientation is to the future; a future that wasn’t going to happen but for your bringing it into existence as an idea or a vision. Leadership makes something possible that wouldn’t have happened in the normal course of events.

What a transforming way to think of leadership!  Apply it to those that work with children (especially in out-of-school-time, where we can work more freely with leadership concepts and character building).. and I think… these ideas are those that I want my staff to inhabit.  These are the ideas that I want for those that teach my own children!

Leadership is the art of purpose and meaning.

Bringing meaning and purpose into existence where it would not have existed but for your leadership… a truly noble calling.

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It’s the Hair that is the root of learning

"Tater Tot"'s hair is obviously too long for his own good.

It seems that Taylor “Tater Tot” Pugh has been suspended from his pre-kindergarten class in Mesquite, Texas.  What heinous infraction did he commit?  Stealing? Physical violence? Sexual inappropriateness?

Ah, no.  It seems that Taylor simply refused to cut his hair.

According to the online news source “The Sphere“, Taylor prefers his hair a bit longer and decided to let it grow past the legal limit for the Mesquite public school system.

Of course, as any educator knows, four-year-olds can not properly learn if their hair is too long (or is in any way disheveled or unkempt).  Just look at Einstein.  He was kicked out of school, too.  And would anyone like to be Jesus’ teacher?  He was a Nazarene, committed to never shaving or cutting hair.  Good thing he didn’t come to Dallas looking for an education.

The school will not budge.  They claim righteous truth on their side as they point to the holy scripture of their education code:

“students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live.”

Ah…. thank goodness the Mesquite School District has spoken… finally, we can understand that all our social ills can be solved if and only if we can jam each kid into the “acceptable and appropriate” mold.

Introducing Generation Four (G4) in School-Age Care

What do we mean when we talk about “Generation 4” – or G4 when it comes to the Out-of-School-Time profession?

G4 is a direct thought-line descendant from “Generation Theory”- work that was pioneered and authored by the Ollhoffs, et. al. at Concordia University’s department of After-School Time (a subdivision of their Education Department).

In a nutshell, Generation Theory traces the purposes and defining characteristics of School-Age Care programs. Generation 1 had as it’s focus a simple warehousing of children while parents worked- a utilitarian viewpoint. Generation 2 followed with child-centered and developmental activities. Generation 3 took the long view of the child, family, school and culture, and promoted School-Age Care as an integral piece to the overall socialization of children and youth.

Through the heyday of the Youth Development Movement of the mid-to-late 1990’s (and early 2000’s), Generation 3 and Youth Development Theories seemed likely to create a critical mass nationwide in Out-Of-School-Time arenas and were poised to win the day as the gold standard for Out-of-School-Time philosophy. The National Afterschool Association (NAA) published it’s “Purple Bible” for quality baselines in School Age Care. Concordia University in St. Paul rolled out its groundbreaking School-Age Care degrees, both for undergraduate and post-graduate work.

Then came the Bush years (and, in California, the Schwarzenegger years)… No Child Left Behind became law, and Prop 49 was passed in California setting in motion a conflict for the soul of the Out-of-School-Time profession. Should after-school (School Age Care centers and Out-of-School-Time-focused organizations) continue in the vein of the Youth Development philosophy, or should they be co-opted as second-fiddle actors in the rush to boost school-day test scores?

Today, we stand at that crossroads.

Generation 4 will either see the continued development and implementation of Youth Develoment strategies and professionalization of the after school field, or it will fall as we see Out-of-School-Time disappear and be co-opted into a longer school day. At this point, it could go either way.

Restarting the Conversation

Over the summer, we let the ball drop.

We have spent the past three (really? has it been three?) years working with the kids in our afterschool program in the context of the Josephson Institute’s CHARACTER COUNTS program.   At times using curriculum from the Instititute, and most of the time crafting our own relatable curriculum around the six pillars (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship), we’ve spent a fair amount of time engaging the children in the meaning and import of these abstract ideas.cc-bnr-6pillar

Then, for some reason… call it laziness, failure to plan, summer overwhelm, whatever… we stopped talking about the pillars this past summer.  And guess what?  The ideas and behaviors that had become a daily “given” at the site (older kids helping younger, sharing, and a sense of community) simply fell out of existence.

The beautiful thing is, now that the school year is underway, and we’re back to a more normalized (ritualized) schedule, the pillars have once again become part of the conversation.  We opened with our first “Word of the Week” (WOW) and we chose the one word that sums up what it is we’re up to as a group:  COMMUNITY.

Lo, and behold- as if a magic switch were flipped, the kids are back in the swing of things.

Or, I should say, the kids are back in the conversation.

Not a casual, one-on-one conversation, but the conversation.

The conversation is made up of all the hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller daily words, actions, and conversations between the teachers and kids (and the teachers and teachers and the kids and kids as well).

I once took a course that tantalizingly held out the maxim that “the only way to transform an organization, is to raise the level of the conversation.”  When we talk with kids and keep them in THE CONVERSATION, we keep our community in existence.  Instead of looking to find ways to make children “behave”, perhaps we should be looking for ways to raise the conversation.

The Adult-Driven School

Today, I was reminded of how adult-driven our school system is. My 8th grader brought home his syllabus from his science class, and (as per the instructions of the teacher), we read through it together.

What immediately struck me was half-way down the first page, written entirely in ugly capital letters (not like the pretty formatting here on WP):

YOU WILL COME INTO CLASS QUIETLY AND REMAIN QUIET
YOU WILL SIT DOWN AND NOT MOVE WITHOUT PERMISSION
YOU WILL NOT SPEAK WITHOUT FIRST RAISING YOUR HAND AND RECEIVING PERMISSION

The free-spirited hidden rebel deep inside me lurched almost perceptibly as I read these instructions. What kind of autocratic jerk would create such rules and write them down IN CAPITAL LETTERS? Ah, but then I remembered… this is how school ishand_raised. Maybe not how it should be, or could be, but, nonetheless, even if the other teachers aren’t writing it down in capital letters, it’s probably how most of them run their class: in a top-down, adult-driven, I’ll-talk-and-you’ll-listen-and-do-what-I-say mode.

And, as is usually the case when I come across items like this, I got to thinking. What would a school look like if it were driven by the desire of children to learn? Would the children learn, or would they just goof off given half the chance? Sociologists Judith Levine and James Kincaid have written extensively on the hidden loathing we secretly harbor when we regard our society’s youth (not usually our own kids, mind you, but youth in general)- I think this would explain why most adults would, off-the-cuff, say that the kids would just wind up screwing around. I know some charter schools at least attempt to have children self-direct part or all of their own learning; have these schools declined into chaos, or are they holding their own? Would a relaxation on the adult-driven model begin a slow decline into anarchy?

Disturbing Directions

The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is the largest professional non-profit serving out-of-school time providers in California and is also the state affiliate for the National Afterschool Association (NAA), the nation’s leading advocate for out-of-school providers.  Since its inception 26 years ago, CalSAC has provided California’s  out-of-school-time professionals with a pseudo-professional organization, giving them training, advocacy opportunities, and profession-related services.

Over the past couple of years, however, CalSAC’s general mission has been misguided.  CalSAC has recently shifted is focus away from professionalization and education of the field to other agendas.  Most recently, undue, almost catholic emphasis has been placed on equity, diversity, and anti-bias (or, in the words of some of the most aggressive employees and associates, “anti-oppression”).  While multicultural and social diversity is highly important in the training of out-of-school-time workers, it is not (and should not be) the “main course” of the diet of the professional.

What disturbs me most about the recent trends in CalSAC’s philosophy concerns the professionalization of the out-of-school-time field.  For decades, we watched the struggle of early childhood educators as they reached, struggled, and, to a degree, finally received professional status amongst educators.  This was brought on by powerful non-profit organizations (such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children – NAEYC) and tireless advocates who, for years,  spoke to anyone who would listen about the importance of preschool education and care.  The fruits of those labors have paid off.  Preschool educators are now respected, professional pay is rising, and governments have invested many dollars in the field.  Not surprisingly, NAEYC’s California affiliate, CAEYC, was one of the key players in bringing about this change.

All this happened while the out-of-school field was in its own “childhood” and looking on with hope and expectation that it was next to ride on the professional train.  For a few years in the 80’s and 90’s, it looked like that train might leave the station.

What happened in the in-between time could be the fodder for many more posts, so I will leave that topic unexplored for now.  What lit my fire to blog this post was what I read on CalSAC’s website today.  I will quote pieces, but it is too long to print in its entirety.  You can find the full text of  “The Challenge of After School Staffing” here.

The piece begins by asking the hypothetical question, “What if an industry the [sic] larger than the size of the 120,000-person telecommunications industry one day announced it would lose up to 40% of its workforce this year – and every year after?”  Good question.  The parallel waiting to be drawn here is with out-of-school care/enrichment programs.  The problem with the question is that the telecommunications industry (or any other large professional industry) would never have that kind of turnover.  It would find a way to save its jobs, come hell or high water.  Instead, we’re left to imagine that out-of-school-time is just a lost cause, not really a profession , so let’s look at how to live with 40% turnover.  That’s stinkin’ thinkin’ – especially so, because it is, however subliminal, the main premise of the article.

The article then goes on to describe CalSAC’s initiative which aims to bring in new workers to the field, not as professionals, but as entry-level grunts who are being primed to use out-of-school-time jobs as stepping stones to other related fields (by inference, one concludes that the best way to staff out-of-school-time programs is to bring in these “long-term temps” and just suck it up and accept that out-of-school time will never be a profession in and of itself).  To quote the conclusion of the article:

These workers, in turn, receive excellent entry-level job opportunities that mesh well with post-secondary education schedules and provide an ideal pathway into a job in education, social service, health, business, and a number of other sectors that require the human relations and job performance skills utilized in the afterschool field.

So this great initiative that CalSAC has put forward does nothing to stem the overwhelming turnover that plagues the out-of-school profession.  Instead, it perpetuates out-of-school time as a second-class field: a stepping stone for “real” lines of work such as social service, health care, and business.  All of which keeps the status quo firmly in place and ends up hurting children, youth, and families.

What if we could give our kids this?

This video is 16 minutes long, but worth every second spent.