Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Graig Meyer at Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate



Here’s the fifth of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.  We hope you’ve enjoyed learning from the outstanding tutors, mentors and sports coaches who we’ve highlighted today.  To receive additional strategies via e-mail each month, be sure to sign up for our “Superstars Alerts” on the right.

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The strategy below comes from Graig Meyer, the program coordinator at Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate, a program of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

The strategy will help you facilitate a meaningful “straight talk on race” with your student or mentee about the ways race and ethnicity are discussed and approached by book authors, screenwriters, song writers, media editors, and media producers.  It’s important not to rush this discussion.  You’ll likely facilitate it over a series of sessions.

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About Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate 
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate is the flagship mentoring program of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.  The program relies on the relationship between mentor-advocates and students as the foundation for providing a variety of individualized services. BRMA students benefit from mentoring, advocacy, tutoring, enrichment opportunities, leadership development, and college scholarships. One hundred ten mentor-advocates are serving with Blue Ribbon this school year.

Strategy #5!

Discussing How Race & Ethnic Issues Are Portrayed in Media

Created by: Graig Meyer, Program Coordinator, Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate
Topics: Discussions about Race  
Grade Levels: Sixth – Adult  
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group  
Materials: - “Straight Talk” article by Mitali Perkins

- "Black writers in a ghetto of the publishing industry's making" by Bernice McFadden (Washington Post opinion)

- The Seventeen Magazine Project

- Broadway Sees Benefits of Building Black Audience

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Situation: Guided by an editorial by author Mitali Perkins in the School Library Journal, this strategy is designed to help you have a “straight talk on race” with your student around how race and ethnicity are discussed and approached by book authors, screenwriters, song writers, media editors, and media producers. 

Note that while Perkins has a very strong opinion on the issues she addresses, you definitely don't need to share those feelings.  We also don't intend for you student to always experience media with a sharp lens towards how the media treats race and ethnic issues.

The point is to give your student an opportunity to think about these issues.  Consider studying opposing viewpoints as you discuss Perkins' arguments.

Setting Up the Discussion:

Read the editorial with your student and discuss any initial reactions your student has towards it.  (Note that these initial reactions may take up an entire session or more.)

Questions you may want to ask your student include:

  • As you read this piece, did you tend to agree with Perkins' arguments?  What did you agree with?  What didn't seem quite right? 
  • How would you go about proving Perkins right on any of the issues she raises?
  • Is Perkins exaggerating anything in the piece?
  • What would somebody who disagreed with Perkins argue?  How might that person try to prove her wrong?  How would Perkins respond?

Explain to your student that you'd like to review the five questions the editorial author raised in the article in terms of a book or movie that both of you are familiar with.

Ideally, both of you will have read (or will choose to read) one or more of the books the author mentions in the article.  If that's not a possibility, consider selecting a book or movie to analyze in light of the five big questions the author raises in her piece.

Even in the absence of racially diverse characters of the piece you and your student select, you can discuss this absence, the possible or actual intentions of the absence (if any), the meaning of the absence (if any), and the implications of the absence (if any).

Question 1: Are the nonwhite characters too good to be true?

Perkins writes:

Nowadays, though, many are overcompensating for the longtime exclusion of nonwhite characters in books and movies. Many writers and filmmakers are still using race as a tool to shape young audiences’ feelings about their characters. What’s the formula? White characters are equated with bad, and nonwhite ones are equated with good.

With the noblest of intentions, writers sometimes fall into this trap by making it clear that a secondary character is a person of color. These nonwhite friends or acquaintances often serve as literary foils for a white protagonist.

After re-reading this section with your student, consider discussing these questions:

  • Are nonwhite characters in the book/movie we're looking at too good to be true?  What details from the piece make you feel this way?  What about other pieces you've read or watched?
  • Perkins notes that some people believe that only people of a particular racial, cultural or ethnic group should be able to write about that group (e.g., only Jews should be able to write about Jews, and only Indians should be able to write about Indians).  How do you feel about that argument in terms of the piece we're looking at?  How do you feel about that argument in general?
  • Author Bernice L. McFadden wrote in this 2010 Washington Post opinion piece, "Literature about the oppressed written by the oppressor has a long tradition. The trend can be traced all the way to colonialism -- a movement that was not only physical but textual, the evidence of which can be found in the diaries, letters and journals of colonists, settlers and plantation slave owners."

    Let's imagine that people of a new race comes out of nowhere, and that for whatever reason, only white fiction authors put characters of that race in their their books.  It isn't until 50 years after the new race is born that people of that race start writing fiction with their own people as characters.  Are the pieces written by white authors automatically invalid?  What race/culture-related questions should readers be asking themselves as they read the pieces by the white authors?  What about race/culture-related questions to ask as one reads the works by people of that new race?
Question 2: How and why does the author define race?

Some books clearly define the race of characters, others leave it up to the reader's imagination.  Consider these questions:

  • How, if at all, does the author/screenwriter define race?
  • If race is defined, what was the purpose of doing so?  What, if anything, would be lost if the author had not defined race?
  • If race was not defined, were there signs that led the reader/viewer to know the racial or ethnic background of the main characters?
  • Perkins states that the race of characters who are not white is more often labeled than the race of characters who are white.  Do you agree?  If so, what examples can you think of? What would be some reasons for this practice?  Are those reasons acceptable to you?
Question 3: Is the cover art true to the story?

Perkins shows that the cover art of some books misrepresents the main character's race.  McFadden, in her opinion piece, wrote:

Kathryn Stockett and Sue Monk Kidd are living the dream of thousands of authors, myself included. But they are not the first white women to pen stories of the black American South and be lauded for their efforts. In 1928, Julia Peterkin wrote a novel, "Scarlet Sister Mary," for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Stockett's and Kidd's novels tackle racism and celebrate the power of friendship and acceptance. Both novels were given beautiful covers that did not reveal the race of the characters. Both books were marketed to black and white audiences.

My debut novel, "Sugar," was also published by a Penguin imprint. Set in the 1950s South, the story line deals with racism and celebrates the power of friendship and acceptance. The original cover depicted a beautiful black woman standing behind a screen door. "Sugar" was marketed solely to African American readers. This type of marginalization has come to be known among African American writers as "seg-book-gation."

Questions to discuss together:

  • What is the impact of this practice to individuals who are just browsing books in a store, in a library, or on the web?
  • How important was it for Perkins to change the ending of her story?
  • Does the cover of the book we're looking at together represent the characters appropriately?  Is the cover a result of "seg-book-gation"?
  • Should the characters who are written about the most in a book (or who are shown most in a movie) always be the most prominent ones in a cover/poster?  What if a sub-character in a movie is a bigger star than the lead, and that making the sub-character look like the main character will lead to more ticket sales?
  • Read the New York Times article, Broadway Sees Benefits of Building Black Audience.  Does "seg-book-gation" exist in the theater?  If it does, is that a bad thing?  How do the black theatergoers interviewed in the article seem to feel about some shows being marketed to African Americans?
Question 4: Who are the change agents?

Perkins states that a number of hit movies (e.g., Dances with Wolves and Freedom Writers) portray the white character as coming in to save the day.  Is this also true of books?  Here are some questions to discuss:

  • Who are the change agents in the piece we chose to look at?
  • Let's respond to Perkins' question in this section: "Is it easier for young white readers to connect to a story about poverty or suffering in a nonwhite culture if a white character helps solve the problem?"
  • If Perkins is correct on the whole, what impact does this reality make on individuals?  On society?
  • If you agree with Perkins, how do you think whites became the dominant change agents in books and movies?  Is this changing at all?
Question 5: How is beauty defined?

In many situations, beauty is defined by cultural characteristics (straighter hair, lighter colored skin, etc). According to Perkins, the idea that European features are “more beautiful” is true for people who are a part of a number of cultures.  She also argues that some people take specific actions to look more European (such as skin bleaching and hair straightening).  (Note that that these statements alone are topics that you may want to spend time discussing and researching with your student.)

What messages do we get in the media that determine our view of beauty?  To explore that question, Perkins recommends heading over to Media That Matters and watching the film “A Girl Like Me”. This short film re-examines an experiment done in the 1940's that evaluates children's perception of beauty and good vs. bad people.

You may also want to check out The Seventeen Magazine Project, a blog kept by Jamie Keiles as she followed Seventeen Magazine's tips for living over thirty days.

Watching the film and checking out the blog can inspire a conversation about what beauty is and looks like to your student.  Encourage your student to think about how specific books they read (or movies he has watched) have affected how he has defined beauty and how he looks at himself.

Additional questions to consider:

  • What do you think makes a person beautiful?
  • Who are some people that you think are beautiful?
  • Why do you think they are beautiful?  How did you come to shape your opinion?  How has it changed over time?
  • How is beauty portrayed in the book/movie we selected?
  • What does the media, as a whole, get right about beauty?  What does it get wrong?  
  • If you were the parent of a teenager, what, if any, steps would you take to help your child define beauty for herself?

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Alexandria Murnan at Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County



Here’s the fourth of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.

The strategy comes from Alexandria Murnan, an ESL tutor and AmeriCorps member with Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County.

Below, you’ll get some great advice from Alexandria on how to teach adult ESL students to express regret in English.  It may not be the happiest of topics, but it’s a human one that ESL students need to master.

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About Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County 
Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County is a national service program that recruits recent college graduates to provide literacy services to adults, children and youth in our community. This "domestic literacy Peace Corps" contributes over 42,500 hours per year by tutoring and teaching, providing reading enrichment activities for children, participating in community service projects and recruiting community volunteers.

Strategy #4!

Reflecting to Recapture Focus & Positive Energy
(Learning to Turn a Day Around)

Created by: Alexandria Murnan, AmeriCorps member with Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County
(America Learns Network member since 2009)
Topics: Vocabulary Development
Listening & Speaking Skills
Grade Levels: Adult (ESL)  
Arrangements: Large Group  

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Situation: I knew my students were passionate about learning polite phrases for day-to-day conversation.  I decided to teach the appropriate language for interpersonal communication in regards to expressing regret.  They told me how much they enjoyed learning this topic for weeks after I taught it.  They found it practical and it made them feel as if they could express themselves properly during serious conversations.
Step 1: Read the following story aloud as an introduction to the topic:

"Steven's grandmother was recently very sick and in the hospital.  She was 85 years old and had the flu.  Steven's grandmother was sick for about a week in the hospital and was in a lot of pain from a bad cough.  On Sunday, his grandmother passed away.  Steven is very sad about his family's loss.  However, Steven knows that his grandmother had a long and wonderful life.  The family is holding a funeral on Thursday."

After you read the story, go over any words or phrases the students didn't recognize.  Review phrases such as "passed away", "family's loss", and "hold a funeral".

Ask your students to retell the story to you in their own words to ensure their comprehension.  You may wish to write certain components of the story on the board, or hand out copies of the story and read it aloud together so that they can see the words and understand the entire situation.

Step 2: Ask your students what they would say if they were having a conversation with Steven and he told them that his grandmother had passed away.  Make a list together of common things to say when someone tells you bad news.

This could include:

·  "I'm sorry to hear that."

·  "I'm sorry for your loss."

·  "That's a shame."

·  "If there is anything I can do, please let me know."

·  "Please send my condolences to your family."

·  "Your family is in my thoughts and prayers."

Step 3: Recite the following dialogue while the students listen.

Steven: Hello, Michelle.  How are you doing?

Michelle: I'm doing well.  How are you?

Steven: I'm alright.  My grandmother just passed away.

Michelle: Oh. I'm sorry to hear that.  How did she pass?

Steven: She recently had the flu and was sick.  The funeral is on Thursday.

Michelle: Please send my condolences to your family.

Steven: I will.  I'll talk to you later, Michelle.

Michelle: Alright.  See you soon, Steven.  I am so sorry for your loss.

Next, pass out copies of the dialogue to the students.  Read it aloud again and ask the students to follow along.  Ask the students to work in partners to recite the dialogue.  After, ask a few sets of partners to come up and recite it in front of the class.

Step 4: Discuss other bad news that people may bring up in conversation.  Make a list with the students.

This could include:

·  Someone gets fired from a job.

·  Someone gets hurt.

·  Someone breaks up with a significant other.

·  Someone is sick.

Discuss which phrases are appropriate for certain bad news.  For example, it is most appropriate to tell someone to send your condolences when someone has died, and not when someone has received a bad grade on a math test.   However, some of the phrases are appropriate in many regretful situations.

Step 5: Extension Activity:

If you want to give your students further practice with expressing regret to others, you could divide your class into small groups and instruct each group to create their own dialogues.  Give each group of students a sorrowful situation, such as those listed in Step 4, and ask them to work together to write and perform a conversation based on that situation.  Walk around to each group and help them think of ideas and check their writing.  At the end of each group's performance, ask the rest of the class comprehension questions about what happened in the conversation to make sure everyone pays attention!

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Danica Ancell at Long Beach BLAST!



Here’s the third of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.

The strategy comes from Danica Ancell, a thoughtful service learning student and mentor with Long Beach BLAST in Long Beach, CA.

Below, you’ll learn how Danica created a strategy at the beginning of the school year to begin learning about her students.  Her “mandala” strategy gives tutors and mentors a huge amount of information that can be used to make future sessions relevant and meaningful to students.

About Long Beach BLAST
Since 2000, Long Beach BLAST has placed approximately 4,000 service learning college student mentors with K -12 students at risk of academic failure. Some service learners provide one-on-one tutoring and homework assistance. Others offer rich lessons in technology, science, and the arts. The service learners function as role models, opening the doors to the possibility of higher education and careers.

Strategy #3!

Dream Mandalas
(Learning How Students See Themselves and Their Futures)

Created by: Danica Ancell, service learning student and mentor with Long Beach BLAST 
(America Learns Network member since 2003)
Topics: Getting to Know Your Student  
Grade Levels: Fourth – Eighth  
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group  
Materials: - Magazines
- Card stock or poster board
- Glue
- Scissors

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Situation: Using a Dream Mandala can be a GREAT way to get some students to identify where they are and where they would like to be in life. 

The mandala creation process not only gets your students thinking about their futures, but also gives you information that you can use to frame your sessions around your student's goals, motivating your student to really get on board with the time you spend together.

Step 1: Give each student a piece of card stock or poster board, and instruct them to draw a large circle on it.

They will need to bisect the circle as well...into two even pieces (with pen NOT scissorsimage

Step 2: Explain to the students that they can flip through the magazines and find pictures that represent who they are today.  They will glue/tape those to one side of the mandala.

If your students cannot find pictures that resonate with them, they can draw their own pictures, find art online, or use words.  They definitely should not post pictures that really do not resonate with how they feel about their present.

Step 3: Your students will then look for or create their own pictures/words for the other side of the mandala.  These images or words will represent who they want to be in the future.

Be sure to define what the “future” means for your students.  Does that mean next year? In five years?  In 20 years?

Remind your students that they don’t only have to focus on professions.  They can focus on the roles they want to play in their families and on personal characteristics (e.g., “honest,” “caring,” “understanding”).
Step 4: As the mentor, you can work on your own mandala or you can help your students look for images and words.

As you notice their selections, take the opportunity to ask questions that allow you to learn more about each student, such as:

  • What led you to choose that picture to represent your present / your future?
  • How are you working to make what you hope for your future happen?
  • What steps do you need to take to make what you want for your future to happen?  (If your student doesn't know the steps he should follow, you’ll find a number of strategies here (for America Learns Network members only) to help you create a game plan with your student and to check in on his progress regularly.)

Obviously, do not not criticize your students’ present or dreams.  If anything comes up that concerns you, connect with your supervisor or program coordinator.

Step 5: Use what you learn from this exercise to shape your future sessions so that you can make them relevant to your students. 

Your students will love hearing the following at the beginning of a mentoring session: “I learned so much about each of you when we made our mandalas.  A number of you are planning to become doctors or scientists, so during today’s session, we’re going to focus on some important information that you’ll need in order to reach your goals.”

You might also bring out the mandalas every few months and ask your students if they want to change anything.  Perhaps some of what they noted for the future can be shifted to the present, or perhaps they have completely new thoughts for their futures.  Let your students know that it’s perfectly okay to change how they see themselves in the future.

Strategy Tuesday! Spotlight on Sara Smith at Girls Inc. of Alameda County



Here’s the second of five strategies for this Strategy Tuesday.

The strategy comes from Sara Smith, an awesome AmeriCorps member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County in San Leandro, CA.

Below, you’ll learn how Sara taught her students how to turn around days that aren’t going so well.  Please let us know how you use or adapt this strategy for the children you’re working with!

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About Girls Inc. of Alameda County
The organization is dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.  In 2007, Girls Inc. of Alameda County served 7,000 girls and their families through year-round academic, enrichment and skills building programs, as well as counseling services. The purpose of these programs – specifically designed for girls ages 5-18 – is to expand girls’ capacity for confident and responsible adulthood, economic independence, and personal fulfillment.

We’re fortunate to work with the organization’s AmeriCorps program, which is made up of the following components:

AmeriCorps members deliver a dynamic and structured after-school literacy program for girls in grades kindergarten through third.  The members also provide one-on-one and small group assistance to students during the school day.

AmeriCorps members deliver an afterschool enrichment program that has been designed to increase 4th and 5th grade girls' levels of engagement with their families, physical fitness skills, literacy skills, and self-esteem.

Super Stars: 
AmeriCorps members deliver a dynamic and structured after-school literacy program for a co-ed group of kindergarten, first and second graders.  The members also provide one-on-one and small group assistance to students during the school day.

Strategy #2!

Reflecting to Recapture Focus & Positive Energy
(Learning to Turn a Day Around)

Created by: Sara Smith, AmeriCorps member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County 
(America Learns Network member since 2010)
Topics: Behavior  
Grade Levels: Fourth – Sixth  
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group  

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My group was have a rough day with their behavior management.  One girl was sent home, and another was removed from the group for the day.  There were lots of conflicts and they were having trouble following directions.

The most frustrating part was it was the day we had planned a special cooking project in celebration of the three really good days they had previously.  I was feeling discouraged that we might not be able to do the cooking project because the group wasn't earning it.

Step 1:

I gave them one last chance to show me they were ready by taking some time out for reflection. 

Each girl was given her journal and asked to write about something positive she did that day.  It could be before school, during school, or so far in the after-school program. 

Step 2:

Then, they were asked to write about how it made them feel to do something positive.

Step 3:

Next, we took about five minutes to quietly reflect on that feeling and try to mentally return to that place in our minds, despite what else might have happened during the day.

Step 4:

We talked about how reaching a certain consequence doesn't mean you should feel bad about yourself and that you can still turn your day around.

By the time we were done, the girls' attitudes were completely different and they were clearly ready for the activity.  Several girls stated that they felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.  We completed the cooking project, and they did a fabulous job.  They really enjoyed the project, and we ended our lesson on a very positive note.

Welcome to the First Ever Strategy Tuesday!



You survived Black Friday.  You conquered Cyber Monday. 

It’s now time for the first ever STRATEGY TUESDAY.

Yes, we’re starting a new post-Thanksgiving tradition here at America Learns.  From today forward, on the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving, we’ll be sharing five of the best strategies that have been contributed by superstars at the amazing education and human development organizations that we have an opportunity to serve.

The line-up for today is below.  The strategies will be posted throughout the day.

  1. One-on-One Game Debrief – Check this out below!
    By Shannon Burns, a coach and AmeriCorps member serving at America SCORES Bay Area through Coach Across America

  2. Reflecting to Recapture Focus & Positive Energy (Learning to Turn a Day Around)
    By Sara Smith, a tutor and AmeriCorps member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County

  3. Dream Mandala (Identifying One’s Present and Envisioning One’s Future)
    By Danica Ancell, a service learning student and mentor with Long Beach BLAST

  4. Learning to Express Regret
    By Alexandria Murnan, an ESL tutor and AmeriCorps member with Literacy AmeriCorps Palm Beach County

  5. Discussing How Race & Ethnic Issues are Portrayed in Media
    By Graig Meyer, the program coordinator of Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate

Strategy #1!

One-on-One Game Debrief

Created by: Shannon Burns, Coach & AmeriCorps Member at America SCORES Bay Area through Coach Across America
(America Learns Network member since 2009)
Topics: Giving Feedback
Engagement & Motivation
Grade Levels: Third - Fifth  
Arrangements: Small Group; Large Group  

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Because the children are quick to disperse after games, I wanted to make sure I was giving each girl feedback on how they played: their strengths and improvements as well as areas of growth that we would focus on in the future. 

By taking time over the weekend to do a quick write-up for each girl and then meeting with each one briefly on Monday to go over what I wrote, they see that I am paying attention to them and care how they are performing and learning.  Having documentation of how they've improved throughout the season also helps me cater practice to meet their needs.

Step 1:

Take some time after each game to jot down some notes for each player.

Make sure to highlight some things they did well or that you noticed improvement in, along with a couple things you see they could continue to work on.  Also think about about how each player affected the overall team’s performance and attitude/energy.

Step 2:

During the first practice after a game, have a brief meeting with each player to go over what you noticed. 

My players are thrilled to see that I pay attention to their individual performance.  By mentioning the positive things I recognized first, any improvements I suggest are more aptly received than they sometimes are out on the field.

Step 3:

Date the notes you jot down about your athletes, and keep track of them. 

This way, you can mark their progress and continue to see where the team as a whole could use the most growth.  This can help you plan out future practices or coaching strategies during the games.

Step 4:

Take advantage of this one-on-one time by allowing each child to give you any feedback, as well. 

They may have valuable insight into the game or the team dynamic that you didn't catch, so ask questions like:

  • What did you do well last game? 
  • Based on last game, what do you want to improve at? 
  • What did the team as a whole do well?  Were you able to contribute to that effort?  How?
  • How does the team as a whole need to get better?  How can you help the team get better?

As you talk, be sure to ask each athlete if they can share specific examples to back up their observations (and jog your memory!). 

This is a great way to get to build stronger relationships with each athlete.  Your athletes will really appreciate knowing that you’re watching and care about their progress, that they are being heard, and that the have a say in what they are learning.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October’s Superstar: JP Mason Knows How to Build Strong Teams



AmeriCorps Minnesota


Minneapolis Public Schools Special School District 1

Most of the challenges that AmeriCorps members run into while tutoring and serving as school-based mentors don’t have to do with content issues, but with interpersonal ones.

In fact, if you study the 28,896 reflection & reporting logs that AmeriCorps tutors and school-based mentors completed on the America Learns Network between September 2004 and September 2010, you’ll find that the great majority of members identified their most pressing goals and challenges as ones relating to behavior (which, of course, can be triggered by academics-related issues, difficulties that members have in connecting with their students, or a plethora of other variables).  Some of the other top issues revolve around group cooperation, engagement & motivation, and conflict resolution. (Contact us if you’d like to learn more about this research.)

JP served with City of Lakes AmeriCorps last year as a service learning coordinator at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School and is currently a VISTA at the same school, working to build community partnerships while establishing an outdoor learning classroom. 

This past spring, JP found himself needing to create a more cohesive team and work atmosphere among his students.

To address his challenge, created a strategy called A Piece of Peace, a simple, brilliant, effective way to help students hold themselves and their group members accountable to working together effectively and with respect for one another.   We have a feeling that we’re witnessing the blossoming of an incredible leadership development coach.  Learn why by reading his strategy below.

When we interviewed JP via e-mail, he began with, “I absolutely loved my job last year, and this year is no different…. I am a strong proponent of mandatory national service.”

He continued, sharing, “People don't like the word mandatory, especially when it is in reference to something like national service, but I can't imagine any better means of addressing the grievous social inequalities and environmental problems we face.”

JP’s Advice for New AmeriCorps Members
“It's strange to say, but I did a lot of growing up last year by going back to middle school…. Last year, I learned more from listening to and observing students, staff and parents than I did from anything else, and if I ever had to give anyone advice from my year last year it would be just this: to go into your year of service with fewer expectations and to take your time at the beginning of the year to observe and ask questions of yourself before you start asking questions of others.”

JP’s Strategy

A Piece of Peace
(Helping Youth Build Stronger Teams)

Created by: JP Mason, City of Lakes AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topics: Group Cooperation
Team Building
Grade Levels: Fifth - Eighth
Arrangements: Small Group; Large Group
Materials & Resources: - Foam Board
- Velcro
- Multi-colored Paper

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Situation: I work with small groups of students to build teamwork, conflict resolution, cooperation and leadership skills in a program titled Lead Peace.

I needed a tool that would reward teamwork -- a tool that could be used to help my students really see how the group worked well when certain practices were adopted by the group’s members.  I developed "A Piece of Peace" as a tool to track and give visual feedback to students regarding their impact on the group’s process.

Step 1: Identify 4 - 6 components of a successful team/group.  This could be done with the youth, or chosen by you ahead of time.

Components may include:

  1. Mutual Aid
  2. Accountable Talk
  3. Effort
  4. Respect

Don't stop at just naming the components.  Ask students questions about what each component really looks like to them.  Share your own perspective as well.

For example, "Respect" in your group could mean that:

  • Students do not interrupt you or one another
  • When somebody has a question, students take time to listen and respond to that question
  • No name calling
  • Taking care of materials

It may help to do some role playing with your students.  Regardless do not move forward with this strategy until you know that each student has a firm grasp of what each component means and looks like in practice.

Step 2: Select the components that you want your students to focus on.

Cut out a corresponding number of pieces of paper, so that all pieces join together to make a complete wheel, and so that each piece is a different color of paper.

Step 3: Attach Velcro to the back of each piece of the wheel.

It may help to laminate the pieces of paper first. Attach the corresponding piece of Velcro to a piece of foam board.

JP's Piece of Peace Puzzle

Step 4: Explain to the students in the group that a successfully functioning group/team demonstrates all of the components, and that their goal is to make sure the wheel is completed each day.

A piece can be added to the foam board either by the teacher or by the students if the rest of the group agrees on the decision.  When it's added, the person who adds it needs to describe what she observed or experienced that led her to add that piece.  Like in Step 1, it's not sufficient to simply say, "I added ‘respect.’"  Instead, one might say, "I'm adding respect because Jose did a phenomenal job of really listening to me today when I had questions about the activity.  Even though the activity was easy for Jose, he answered each of my questions and helped me to succeed.  Thank you, Jose."

Important Time Management Notes:
This process shouldn’t interfere with your group’s progress on a project.  It may be best to designate “check in” times for the group to consider adding pieces, or you may just wait until the end of the day.

If this process is too much for a daily activity, consider doing this at the end of the week.  You and your students will reflect on the entire week. 

Step 5: Extension Activity:

At the end of each session or each week, give each student their own puzzle pieces and ask them to connect those pieces that represent how they participated in the team that week.  They can then discuss with a partner or journal about their participation during the current week, how they applied any teamwork lessons from the prior week, and how they hope to improve the next week.  Remind students who have a complete puzzle that there's always room for improvement.

One Last Note: Definitely be consistent in your use of the tool.

This is advice I probably need to listen to as well, as it is not always easy to call attention to the fact that someone is being respectful or helping another person out. Do your best, but don't obsess.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

September 2010: Special Edition > Data-Driven Superstar at PUC Schools


September's America Learns Strategy of the Month 
PUC Schools

We have three big goals over here.

  1. To make sure that every tutor, mentor and coach we serve is getting the personalized support they need to deliver the best services possible.
  2. To make sure that every tutor, mentor and coach we serve is making time for meaningful reflection and planning.
  3. To make sure program staff members are getting the information they need for reporting, tracking, grant writing, evaluation, and, most importantly...constant program improvement.

Our clients want to use data the way their students and mentees  want them to use it: to constantly make programs even better for students and mentees.

The Challenge
With smaller budgets, longer hours and more responsibilities, how can we find time to regularly use data to improve our programs, not just before the next program year begins, but throughout the year, for the CURRENT group of individuals being served?

Kelly Montes de Oca Kelly Montes de Oca, this month’s Superstar, at an extended day tutor training earlier this year.

Meet Our “Data-Driven Superstar”
Kelly Montes de Oca, PUC Schools’ Chief Academic Officer in Los Angeles, knows how to use data to constantly improve the lives of PUC’s students.

Check out the PowerPoint deck below to see how Kelly uses information coming in from her tutors’ weekly reflections and reports to structure high impact training and support workshops that are aligned with her tutors and students’ current needs.

We hope that Kelly’s work will inspire you think about how your program can use data this school year to constantly improve programming.  Definitely contact us if you’d like a free brainstorming partner in that effort.

Kelly’s PowerPoint Deck

The big deal: Kelly asks her tutors to reflect upon and share their weekly, most pressing goals and challenges.  Rather than solely presenting her tutors with a predetermined training curriculum, she uses the goals and challenges that tutors report to help shape her ongoing support and training workshops throughout the year.  Again, this isn’t a one-time practice.  It’s a constant practice, driven by the desire to always be improving programming for the current group of students being served.

Take Note…

  • Notice how Kelly shares her tutors’ aggregated data with them (slides 4 and 5).  If you ask your tutors, mentors or coaches to complete regular reflection & reporting logs, the practice of sharing and discussing their aggregated data is a great way to communicate that their data isn’t going into a black hole.  You’re paying close attention to their experiences and to their goals and challenges.  Of course, paying attention is not enough

  • Notice how Kelly details what she’s going to do with the data (slide 6).  Building on the practice discussed above, Kelly not only says, “We hear you.”  She then communicates, “…and we’re here for you.”

Learn more about Kelly’s thoughts on data-driven training by watching how she trained her tutors to use the America Learns Network.

Attend a Planning & Action Hour!

We lead free, web-based Planning & Action Hours each month to help youth and adult development and education organizations to take stock of and make concrete plans to strengthen their operations in specific areas.

This month’s Planning & Action Hour:

Planning & Action Hour Process

Friday, May 21, 2010

Special Post: Middle School Girls & Body Image

It’s rare that we post anything on our Network Superstars blog beyond our more formal, monthly celebrations of the amazing volunteers, AmeriCorps members, coaches, and student teachers we serve; but, the following PowerPoint deck just came across our computer screens, and we think it’s worthy of a special mention. 

Recently, Girls For A Change coaches Gloria Downey and Michele Robertson were preparing to work with their eighth grade girls on a project around how the media shapes girls’ ideas of how their bodies should look.  To help get the conversation started, Gloria and Michele created the following PowerPoint presentation.

Here’s what Gloria wrote about the PowerPoint when she shared the strategy on the America Learns Network: “We wanted to show the girls what some celebrities are doing to change how body image is portrayed in the media. We did research and created the attached PowerPoint.”

Check it out.  You may find it to be a terrific resource to launch conversations around this extremely important issue.

Stars We Love, by Girls For A Change

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 2010: Eleanor Rouse – Somatic Strategies Superstar


April 2010 Strategy of the Month


Girls For A Change logo

Eleanor Rouse has almost single handedly built up the somatic (mind, body, and heart) side of the America Learns National Strategy Library.

During the 2009-10 school year, this Girls For A Change coach created a number of innovative, effective strategies to help middle school girls focus and center themselves, ultimately leading to greater concentration and teamwork throughout each session. You’ll see one of those strategies below.

Like Megan Conners, who we’re also celebrating this month, Eleanor is one of the few individuals we’ve served since 2003 who has shared three or more strategies that were promoted to the America Learns National Strategy Library.

Eleanor Rouse

Eleanor didn’t pull her strategies out of thin air. On top of her work in the nonprofit space (she has managed two arts organizations and raised more than $5 million for a number of organizations, including Girls For A Change), Eleanor coaches and facilitates workshops for clients who are interested in connecting deeply with their authentic selves and their own concept of a Higher Power.  From that place, her clients create greater fulfillment in life, work and relationships.  Learn more about Eleanor’s company.

When we asked Eleanor to share some advice that others can use as they try out her strategies, she noted that, “The girls think I'm crazy when I try somatic coaching practices with them; however, I always notice a difference in their own presence and energy, even if we do it for just a few seconds. Particularly for middle school girls, it helps them become ready to listen to each other and to participate with a bit more concentration during the meeting.”

Not Familiar with Girls For A Change?

If you’re not familiar with the work of Girls For A Change, invest 60 seconds in a video that was recently produced by TNT.  We’re so proud of (and blown away by) the amazing accomplishments and impact that this organization continues to have around the world.

Eleanor’s Strategy

Presence Practice
(Centering & Grounding for Girls)

Created by: Eleanor Rouse, Girls For A Change
(America Learns Network member since July 2008)
Topics: Check In/Check Out
Activities to Begin Sessions
Grade Levels: Sixth - Eighth
Arrangements: Small Group; Large Group

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: Our middle school girls have a lot of physical energy after school, so we wanted to try out a grounding practice to see what the impact would be on their ability to channel their energy and to be present for themselves, for each other, and for the meeting.
Step 1: As an intro to check in, we had them stand in a circle feet hip width distance apart (a good solid stance). 

We then asked them to close their eyes.  Girls who are uncomfortable with closing their eyes in the group may stare towards a single spot on the floor.
Step 2: Said to the girls, "Feel tree roots coming out of your feet, grounding you into the floor and the Earth. Raise one of your hands above your head and pull a string as if you were pulling the top of your head to the sky. Feel your length."
Step 3: Then, "Open your arms and hands wide to the side. Breathe into your heart, your belly, your chest. TAKE UP SPACE. Take up your rightful space in this room, on this team. Feel how wide you can be."
Step 4: Next, "Now imagine you have a dragon tail coming off the back of your body 30, 40 feet long. Big fat, heavy, scaly. It can be any color you want it to be -- green and scaly, purple with sparkles etc. Imagine this tail holds everything you've lived in your 11, 12 ,13 years. Now lean back against it. Let it hold you up."
Step 5: Lastly, "Breathe deep into your belly. Let your belly get very big as if you were pregnant. As girls and women we're always told to hold in our bellies, let it out. Breathe low and deep."
Step 6: We debriefed with them about how creating social change (a core focus of the Girls For A Change program) means we have to be very grounded in our own bodies and have the presence of a leader.

Then we had them do check in without words -- acting out with their bodies what animal they would be.  It was challenging for some of them to not use words and to not be self conscious but they all did it.

The rest of the meeting felt far more calm than usual.  And we pulled "centering and presence" back in later in the meeting when we asked them to visualize their neighborhoods and feel what they want to be different.

Attend a Planning & Action Hour!

Individuals attend these sessions to reflect upon, take stock of, and begin making concrete plans to improve their tutor, mentor, and/or coach training, monitoring, and support practices.

The session is ideal for administrators and coordinators of volunteer-, AmeriCorps-, and service learning-driven organizations.

>> Learn more & reserve your spot today.