Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Remembering the Broad Shoulders of Richard Murphy


By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The field of youth development lost an important leader and friend recently when Richard Murphy passed away at 68. 

When I served as the first director of the San Francisco Beacon Initiative, Richard Murphy was an important mentor to me. As many people on the west coast may not know, Richard was a pioneer in New York City opening public schools in the afternoons and evenings to serve as neighborhood community centers for youth. He called these centers Beacons. 

Richard Murphy

One of the many lessons I learned from Richard was "when windows of opportunity to serve large numbers of youth open, don't think you have to have it all figured out. Jump through the window and you'll figure out how to land on the way down." This was very reassuring as the San Francisco Beacon Initiative represented an "open window", which many of us jumped through. I was reminded of this advice again with the launching of California's afterschool initiative that was funded by Prop. 49. 

The youth development and the afterschool movement owes a great debt to the creativity and courage of Richard Murphy. His passing is an important reminder that we all stand on the shoulders of leaders who came before. For a full obituary, click here. To read a fine remembrance by Karen Pittman (Forum for Youth Investment) and access other articles about Richard, click here



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

5 Ways to Give a Talk that Matters and Wows


By Guest Blogger, Lynn Johnson 


Lynn Johnson
I recently gave a “TED-like” talk at the How Kids Learn II Conference in San Francisco entitled "Igniting a Compassion Revolution". My 18 minute talk was about igniting a compassion revolution by putting girls center stage. Judging from the responses I got afterwards, I did a good job. I heard stuff like: “Stunning!” “A real highlight!” “You were so f#@ckin’ amazing!!”  More formal testimonials and video to come.  

I learned a lot.  I want to make sure I capture that learning so that I can do even better next time.  Hopefully, this learning can help you too.

1. Start Strong.  End Strong.  A good talk is a call to action; an opportunity to connect with future members of your tribe.  So, you gotta connect with them right at the very beginning.  Pull out all the stops.  But I don’t just mean with fancy technological bells and whistles.  Those are cool but it’s more important to connect with the audience heart-to-heart.  Same thing with the end.  Leave them wanting more of what you got.

2. Focus on your Why.  In my talk, I wasn’t just sharing the whats of my Go Girls! program, I was sharing the why.  When Simon Sinek taught me to “Start with Why,” I took it to heart.  Don’t just share what you do, share the underlying beliefs that inspire you to do it in the first place.  That is what will inspire your audience.

3. Tell the Truth.  I discovered yesterday that it is okay to make the audience a little uncomfortable.  I decided to start my talk by performing an original poem (see point 1).  In it, I allowed myself to get vulnerable as I shared feelings and experiences from my own girlhood.  Doing this made my audience trust me, even though I was saying things that weren’t so easy to hear.  And you don’t have to scream and be aggressive with the truth.  The truth is powerful enough by itself.  As long as you authentic, you can always make a connection.


4. Never Apologize.  Allison and I teach girls all time how important it is not to apologize for each and every mistake.  We women do this all the time.”Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to use this.” or “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t get enough time to practice.”  Or whatever.  Don’t do this.  Ever.  If a mistake you make hurts someone physically, emotionally or spiritually, then, apologize.  Otherwise, just let it be a mistake.  Let “oops” replace “sorry.”

5. Look Good. Just like you spend time crafting and rehearsing your talk, working on your timing, prepping your slides/cue cards, etc, you should also spend some time to work on how you will look while giving the talk itself. I know some of you won’t want to hear this but, believe it, this point is very important. But make sure you look like yourself. Don’t dress to look like some character of what you think you should look like.  Take my experience.  In my ongoing quest to become the bad ass power lesbian, Bette Porter, I had it in my mind to buy a suit.  That felt like what I should wear to speak in front of important people.  So,  I shopped everywhere. In stores.  Online.  Nothing looked right.  Then, I found a dress on the coolest website ever.  I bought it and it looked incredible on me.  The color, the fit, the style perfectly matched my body (which is nothing like Bette Porter’s) and my personality.  And I looked great.  So, I felt great.  And that always helps.  So, please, do yourself a favor and look good.
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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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer


By Sam Piha

I was honored to be a contributor to an important new book that was just released entitled Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success

This compendium was edited by Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D. and includes a number of studies, reports, and commentaries by "more than 180 thought leaders including community leaders, elected officials, educators, researchers, advocates, and other prominent authors. This landmark collection of nearly 70 articles is being met with great acclaim, as it presents bold and persuasive evidence and best practices from the field that quality expanded learning opportunities:


Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D.
• promote student success and college and career readiness,
• build youth assets such as character, resilience and wellness,
• foster partnerships that maximize resources and build community ties, and
• engage families in their children’s learning in meaningful ways". (You can view an email that describes this new release and share it with friends.)

Every article in the book is available for free download by clicking here and the entire book is available on hard copy through Amazon.com. Check it out! 


During my years at CNYD, I managed a team project to create a guide to introduce California's burgeoning afterschool movement to CNYD's youth development framework. That publication entitled Youth Development Guide: Engaging Young People in After-School Programming is now available as a free download. It is an excellent guide that has withstood the test of time.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paul Tough, How Children Succeed and Non-cognitive Skills

By Sam Piha

Reporter, Paul Tough, recently authored a book entitled How Children Succeed.  It has stimulated conversation among educators and afterschool and summer providers. This book can be ordered by clicking here, and Paul can be heard on a recent This American Life radio broadcast by clicking here
Paul Tough, Author, How Children Succeed

Mr. Tough was unable to attend our recent How Kids Learn II conference but offered the responses below, many of which are drawn from his own website

Q: What made you want to write How Children Succeed?

A: In 2008, I published my first book, Whatever It Takes, about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone. I spent five years reporting that book, but when I finished it, I realized I still had a lot of questions about what really happens in childhood. How Children Succeed is an attempt to answer those questions, which for many of us are big and mysterious and central in our lives: Why do certain children succeed while other children fail? 

Q: Where did you go to find the answers?

A: My reporting for this book took me all over the country, from a pediatric clinic in a low-income San Francisco neighborhood to a chess tournament in central Ohio to a wealthy private school in New York City. And what I found as I reported was that there is a new and groundbreaking conversation going on, out of the public eye, about childhood and success and failure. It is very different than the traditional education debate. There are economists working on this, neuroscientists, psychologists, medical doctors. They are often working independently from one another. They don’t always coordinate their efforts. But they’re beginning to find some common ground, and together they’re reaching some interesting and important conclusions.

Q: What’s new?

A: Until recently, most economists and psychologists believed that the most important factor in a child’s success was his or her IQ. This notion is behind our national obsession with test scores. From preschool-admission tests to the SAT and the ACT – even when we tell ourselves as individuals that these tests don’t matter, as a culture we put great faith in them. All because we believe, on some level, that they measure what matters.

But the scientists whose work I followed for How Children Succeed have identified a very different set of skills that they believe are crucial to success. They include qualities like persistence, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. Economists call these non-cognitive skills. Psychologists call them personality traits. Neuroscientists sometimes use the term executive functions. The rest of us often sum them up with the word character.

Q: Who are the big thinkers behind these ideas?
Economist, James Heckman

A: The central scholar in this movement is James Heckman, a Nobel prize–winning economist at the University of Chicago. He’s the one who did some of the first work identifying and quantifying these non-cognitive skills. And in recent years he has been working to pull together thinkers from lots of different disciplines — psychologists and economists and neuroscientists and geneticists — to get them to share ideas and find connections between their theories.

The book includes plenty of others doing important research, from Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies self-control and grit; to Michael Meaney, a neuroscientist in Montreal who found a remarkable connection between a mother rat’s licking-and-grooming habits and the future success of her offspring; to Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia University who has written about the unique stresses faced by kids who grow up in affluence.

Q: How do these ideas play out in the lives of actual kids?

A: There’s a lot of science in How Children Succeed, but much of the book is taken up with stories of young people trying to improve their lives, and the teachers and counselors and doctors trying to help them, often using unorthodox methods.

Sometimes these kids are achieving great things: Take James Black Jr., a student who just graduated from Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn. He grew up in a low-income neighborhood, he has siblings who’ve spent time in prison, and he doesn’t do great on traditional tests of cognitive ability. But he might be the best thirteen-year-old chess player in the country. I followed him for a year, trying to figure out why he’s so successful.
James Black, Jr. was featured in a recent documentary
entitled Brooklyn Castle

When I started my reporting, I thought what everyone thinks: that chess is the ultimate intellectual activity, a skill inextricable from IQ. But to my surprise, I found that many chess scholars now believe that chess success has more to do with non-cognitive skills than with pure IQ. James’s chess teacher at IS 318 is a woman named Elizabeth Spiegel. She’s a great teacher, and I think what makes her so good is that she’s able to help her students develop their non-cognitive skills to high levels — in James’s case, to very high levels.

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A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough is also the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, which focuses on the steps necessary to improve the lives and education of underserved children. Through the case study of the Harlem Children's Zone, Tough describes the inspiring struggle to establish a way to combat poverty that could be replicated nationwide. Tough has also contributed to This American Life and The New Yorker, where he has honed his focus upon education, poverty, parenting, and politics.