Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Building Strong Connections: An Interview with Lynn Johnson - Part 2

by Sam Piha

Lynn Johnson
Lynn Johnson is a Bay Area entrepreneur and theater artist dedicated to building strong connections with creative & compassionate people to bring about positive social change. She is the Co-Founder & CEO of Glitter & Razz Productions. Lynn took some time between theater productions, to answer our questions. 

Q: As a youth development specialist and a person who I would describe as a big thinker, what should we be thinking about as we strive to grow and improve the afterschool movement? 

A: I am personally very focused on the need for greater attention for the social/emotional health of young people.  We have all heard the stories of how bullying and relational aggression are ravaging our schools and other learning spaces.  We see kids all the time experiencing depression and disconnection and stress and anxiety and having very little resources to navigate these challenges.  I believe that, as our families and institutions and communities see more and more emotional pressures from issues related to the economy and the environment, it is taking a toll on our kids that we are not quite holding ourselves accountable for.  

We know that kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.  In youth development frameworks, providing emotionally safe places and spaces is foundational to the practice.  However, from what I have seen in the field, we don’t go far enough in actually providing the skills and the subsequent time to practice those skills that children and youth need to learn how to regulate their own emotions, to navigate risk, to stand up in support of themselves and each other.  I see a lot of people who care about youth and feel like that caring is enough to make kids feel safe.  It’s crucial, sure, but it’s not enough.  Young people feel lost about what to do with all of the feelings going on inside them because adults rarely give them the time and space to really honor and work through those feelings.  I believe that afterschool can provide that time and space as long as afterschool professionals understand how to teach the skills that will lead to good social/emotional health.  There are organizations that are steeped in research about how social/emotional learning leads to better academic performance and I think that the afterschool field should partner with organizations like these and understand this research. 

Secondly, as part of looking at social/emotional learning in afterschool, I think it will be very important for the field to look more into single-gender learning spaces.  More research is showing that both boys and girls are being limited by the current ways that classrooms are set up.  Boys, who tend to be more physical learners, are suffering through classes where mostly female teachers are expecting them to face forward and “pay attention.”  Girls, who tend to be more focused on relationships, are feeling a lot of pressure to succeed at all costs as they compare themselves to others. They are in classrooms that don’t often support their need to learn through relationships and collaboration.  These same studies are showing that learning can often come easier in single-gender spaces where teachers can be more sensitive to the specific needs of their group of girls or group of boys rather than just trying to play to the middle.  The flexibility that afterschool offers could make it the perfect environment for providing these kinds of dynamic single-gender learning moments.

Lastly, I also have to talk about the role of strong leadership in the afterschool movement.  I believe the field should put a lot of time and energy into promoting and supporting innovation and creativity among leaders and even making room to be influenced by the bold, brave thinkers from other fields.  There are a number of educational movements that I am inspired by right now – community schools, integration of technology tools in classrooms, social entrepreneurship, etc.  I think that any and all of these approaches can improve afterschool.  It doesn’t really matter which approach it is as long as there are outside-the-box thinkers involved at all levels – program, management, district, policy – who hold a strong vision with high expectations and are willing to stick to that vision even if it feels unpopular or uncomfortable to others. 

Q: You mentioned that you “design, create and deliver learning products and processes.”  Can you talk more about these and how afterschool professionals might access these tools?

A: In addition to sending Glitter & Razz teaching artists out to lead our methodology with kids in afterschool programs – like our Go Girls! Afterschool Clubs or our Active Imagination Program for Boys – it is also important to us that we provide opportunities for afterschool professionals to learn from our methodology to provide similar programs without having to bring someone else in.  We have a 2-Day Make a Play Change the World training workshop and a shorter 3 hour workshop called The Peace Place: Classroom Management through Rhythm & Ritual, both designed to help professionals access the arts to create more compassionate and connected classrooms.   

We are also excited that, this month, we are premiering a couple of brand new products for use in homes and classrooms.  Our first book, The Brand New Book: The Creative Kids’ Guide to Doin’ Tough Stuff and Lovin’ It will be out by the end of January and includes lots of activities for kids as well as a section for the grown-ups who love them.  We have also just released our Celebration Cards, a deck of cards that promotes the power of gratitude by helping kids and adults practice gratitude together.  We have both a home and classroom set of cards.  In the coming months, we will be creating more products and will keep your readers posted. They can also keep in touch with us on our website or on our Facebook page.

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Lynn Johnson is the Co-Founder & CEO of Glitter & Razz Productions. She knew that she wanted to be an actor when she was just 5 years old and has spent her whole life centered around the learning, teaching, and creation of theater.


After graduating from Northwestern University, she founded TurnStyle Teen Theatre, a multicultural teen ensemble. The company used the process of creating original productions to explore themes central to the lives of its members. Later, in Chapel Hill, NC she designed and directed a number of community-based educational programs that focused on literature, oral history, community building, and personal narrative.

Lynn transferred her direct youth service experience to work as a trainer and organizational development consultant at the Community Network for Youth Development (CNYD). Lynn is also a founding member of OutLook Theater Project (with Rebecca Shultz), a community-based professional theater company that explores social issues from a queer perspective.

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