Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sharing Circles: Cyphers

By Guest Blogger, Johanna Masis, Program Director at Oakland Leaf

Johanna Masis
At Oakland Leaf, all of our programs incorporate the practice of Cyphers. We believe in the power of people's stories and life experiences regardless of how many years they have been alive.  There is a collective wisdom that exists and needs to be honored. When we practice Cyphers, or community circles, the benefits are immense. I have seen the culture of a 100 person program change for the better in less than a month by creating the space and putting in the work to Cypher. The benefits of this practice include increased familiarity with people's stories, empathy building, idea sharing, harm repair, healing for the individual who is hurting, and compassion building. The additional value add for our Newcomer youth is that they get to practice their English in a low-risk environment. 

Cyphers are used as a space to do intentional community building in the form of having a discussion on any topic.  The Cypher is meant to serve as an emotionally safe place for each participant to say their piece without interruption or judgment. Youth have very few venues where they can speak their truth without interruption, let alone without judgment. Make sure that if chairs are used, then everyone must have a chair. If you are sitting on the floor, then everyone sits on the floor. Everyone should be able to see each other. Sitting in the circle diminishes hierarchy and overall power dynamics. Everyone is equal. 

There has been mention of some intangible components of the Cypher such as the discussion, the shared values, and emotionally safe space. However, there are tangible components, too. They include: a centerpiece where youth may focus their attention; a talking piece that can be brought by the facilitator or made by the group; and something from nature (a plant, glass/bowl of water) to remind us that we are connected to the earth. I have seen youth bring a toy or a picture of their families to the circle as an offering to the group during the Cypher.

Cyphers are encouraged to happen at least once a week and many of our programs calendar them in so that youth know when they will occur. The values of the collective are held throughout the Cypher. I would encourage you to have youth share a value they bring to the first few Cyphers.  People do not have to speak but are expected to hold the talking piece for 5-10 seconds before passing the talking piece.  If there are people absent on the day of a Cypher, then a place is still held for them in the circle.

Photo Credit: Oakland Leaf

For those considering to integrate the practice they should:

  1. Model and practice with the adults and/or youth that will facilitate. Do not assume adults are natural keepers of this space. Practice with each other in staff meetings to increase comfort levels.

  2. Be honest about your role as facilitator. Based on the reason for the Cypher, if the facilitator has been harmed or has done the harm then they should not facilitate. 

  3. Use Cyphers for different reasons not just to repair harm. You don’t want to “anchor” Cyphers as these intense conversations that make people cry.

  4. Allow time for each person to share at least twice during a Cypher. If the purpose is to plan, then you may be able to have multiple Cyphers to accomplish the task. However, if repair is needed then allow a realistic amount of time for that type of Cypher.

  5. Be prepared for the vibe to get deep. Youth will share extremely personal experiences. Be prepared to sit in that discomfort. Hold everyone accountable to the values if they veer from them because of that discomfort. Remember: it may not be intentional to break from values. Defense mechanisms manifest differently for people.

  6. As the facilitator, have discussion prompts and reflection questions prepared. Sometimes a Cypher can take its natural course and as a facilitator you do not want to lose the capacity to close up the circle. 

The more often you practice having a Cypher, the easier it gets. Youth will come to expect it and for many of our youth in Oakland this is the only part of their day or week where they can speak freely. Honor each other’s voice and experiences. 

Johanna Masis majored in Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara and did her graduate work at Holy Names University in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). She started her career as a high school teacher and later joined AmeriCorps. She taught abroad in Japan and has, since then, dedicated herself to promoting creative ways for youth to learn in different capacities. Johanna first joined Oakland Leaf in 2013 and is currently the Program Director. She completed the CalSAC LDI 360/365 fellowship in March 2016, and she has since been an advocate for the powerful, learning experiences and network opportunities the fellowship provided. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Power of Sharing Circles

By Sam Piha

We know that bringing together young people and offering them the opportunity to have their individual voices heard in the larger community is an important practice. We are referring to “talking or sharing circles” - bringing youth together in a circle and asking each individual to speak while the rest of the group practices active listening.

In youth programs, these circle meetings are often called “sharing circles” or “community circles”. In the classroom, these are often called “morning meetings” (see video below). In our next blog post, Johanna Masis from Oakland Leaf will describe their circle practice called “Cyphers”.

There are many benefits of sharing circles that include:

1.  Promoting social and emotional learning (self awareness, social awareness, group belonging, etc.) 

2. Promoting a positive climate and learning environment.

3. Promoting emotional safety and youth voice (see California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs). 

4. Providing youth with the opportunity to express themselves and practice active listening. 

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1. Offer the circle leaders facilitation training to ensure that they are prepared to support their young participants and know how to handle difficult responses. These might be responses that are very sensitive, provoke difficult feelings of the other youth, or raise legal or ethical issues for the facilitator.

2. Decide the schedule and frequency of your circle time. Some programs do this everyday to open the group or once a week.

3. Establish group agreements that pertain to “circle time”. These group agreements can be created by the youth. The question is “what do you need to feel safe and supported when you are sharing?”

4. Discuss what is known as “active listening”. This is very important to promote a sense of safety and support for the group. 

Photo Credit: Teaching Restorative
Practices with Classroom Circles
5. Select a “talking object”. This is an object that each speaker holds when they are sharing, and they pass to the next person, which signifies a new person is sharing. These objects are often things from nature like a beautiful feather or a piece of driftwood. Some programs have several objects in a basket and one youth is asked to choose the talking object for that day. 

6. It is often recommended that the circle facilitator uses questions or prompts that young people can respond to. This can be very helpful for young people who are not accustomed or comfortable with sharing with others. Some programs have a jar of prompt questions which can be drawn by a young person for that day’s prompt. 


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Closing the Communication Gap and Finding Time

Katie Brackenridge
Katie Brackenridge is the vice president for programs for the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) and a leading member of the Expanded Learning 360°/365 project. At PCY, she oversees initiatives to improve the quality of and access to after-school, summer and community schools efforts in California. She also makes recommendations and advises decision-makers about policies related to the expanded learning field.

Katie is very active in promoting social emotional learning in classroom, afterschool, and summer learning settings. Below are two articles that she has published around these issues. 


Closing the Communication Gap Between School‑day and After‑school Teams

By Katie Brackenridge, originally published by Youth Today 

As a 23-year-old after-school worker in Brooklyn, New York, my “teacher” role was deeply intertwined with the personalities and interests of my kids. I wanted to know everything about what sparked the interests of each child in my room — what was funny, irritating, intriguing, intimidating.

I weaved this knowledge into the content of units and lessons, adapting as quickly as possible when they let me know that the activities were boring, easy or stupid. I used my relationships to understand when kids weren’t doing what I hoped they’d do.

Rather than enforcing what might have seemed like arbitrary rules, I circled back constantly to talk about how the rules did or did not support their needs or the needs of the group to get work done or to have fun. These practices were instinctual as a young adult with energy and optimism about the intrinsic ability of every child, and these practices were embedded in the youth development trainings I received.

Unfortunately, when teachers at the school saw my class in action, they often had concerns: Why are the children lying on the floor? Who will clean up this mess? What’s all this noise? These interactions intimidated me because I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what I was doing. I couldn’t affirm confidently that by creating a safe space, listening to students’ voices, offering authentic learning opportunities, I was helping them self-manage, be socially aware, have self-efficacy. In short, I couldn’t translate the youth development practices into school-day language.



Photo Credit: Edutopia

Finding Time: Leveraging After School And Summer Programs’ Social And Emotional Expertise

By Katie Brackenridge, originally published by Transforming Education

Because they understand the importance of out-of-school activities, families with resources pay for classes, sports, and camps so their children continue to advance in the 80 percent of time they are not in school. They know the exposure, skills, and experiences are essential for their children’s academic, social and emotional development. In fact, over the last 40 years, upper-income parents have increased the amount they spend on their children’s enrichment activities, like tutoring and extracurricular programs, by 10 times the amount of their lower-income peers. Students from low-income families have increasingly less access to engaging activities, new experiences, and caring adults outside their families, and fewer opportunities to build social and emotional skills. This unequal access has contributed to a widening opportunity gap, with immediate consequences for academic achievement and long-term consequences for success in work and life.

Fortunately, there is a resource—though often overlooked—to address this opportunity gap. Free or low-cost expanded learning programs (that take place after school and in the summer) can offer an additional 690 hours (or 115 days) of learning time.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Educational Trends and Terms

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
In America, educational trends and thinking don’t evolve. Instead, they tend to swing like a pendulum or cycle back and forth. To see a good example, just look at the writings of John Dewey from the early 1900s. 

Regardless of these swings, it is important for afterschool leaders to keep up on “new” educational trends and related terms. Below are some new terms and their definitions, as well as some resource links to learn more. 

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Trauma-informed practice involves adults recognizing the high likelihood that some (or many) youth participants have or are currently experiencing trauma. Skillful adult mentors possess a basic understanding of how trauma can impact children’s behavior and development and they strive to organize a program that is sensitive to the vulnerabilities and triggers of trauma survivors. 

They focus on providing a safe, supportive environment to promote healing from trauma and healthy development so youth may not only survive, but also thrive. They orchestrate activities and form networks of care aimed at restoring a sense of belonging to young people, their families and communities. (Dr. Marnie Curry, UC Santa Cruz)

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Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994).

Some of the characteristics of culturally responsive teaching are:

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Restorative justice aims to shift the conversation away from how a punitive legal system can enact retribution on an offender and instead looks to help the offender make reparations to their community, usually through justice mediation, counseling, or even reparations. (Scott Johnson, Social Solutions)

Competency-based learning is a student-centered approach to instruction and assessment where students advance upon mastery of a set of skills and knowledge as they progress through their education. (AYPF, Forum for Thought Blog)

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Personalized Learning is student-centered education that involves a significant amount of student voice and choice. Personalized Learning can be broken down into five principles: competency-based learning, flexible learning, student-driven learning, dispositions for learning, and authentic learning. (Center for Collaborative Education)

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. (

Character education addresses many tough issues in education while developing a positive school climate. Educators from a diverse array of schools have transformed their school cultures, reduced discipline referrals, increased academic achievement for all learners, developed global citizens, and improved job satisfaction and retention among teachers.Character education includes and complements a broad range of educational approaches such as whole child education, service learning, social-emotional learning, and civic education. All share a commitment to helping young people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens. (

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

SEL Drive in Schools Is Opportunity for Youth Developers

By Katie Brackenridge 

Originally Published in Youth Today

Katie Brackenridge
Schools are finally noticing what youth programs have known for decades. The way kids feel about themselves and how they connect with other people really matters. It matters narrowly for how they do in school and more importantly for their long-term choices and opportunities for a happy, productive, fulfilling life.

What we call youth development, the school day has started to focus on as social-emotional learning (SEL). Schools’ interest in SEL is a pendulum swing away from the No Child Left Behind focus on standards and standardized tests. This is exciting news for youth developers because we have expertise in this work. It allows us to partner authentically — not about homework help and test scores — but around the deep work of self-awareness, social connections, confidence and perseverance.

The drive for schools to embrace SEL is coming from a variety of national movements. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to define “nonacademic” indicators, giving examples like student engagement, school culture and climate, and staff engagement. This won’t feel different for many districts that have already noted the symbiotic relationship between SEL and Common Core-style teaching, both of which require and support collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

Photo Credit:
Rodel Foundation of Delaware
The shift is also driven by an extensive body of research showing that a foundational set of skills, beyond those traditionally identified as academic, are needed for students to really be prepared for the demands of higher education and the workplace. These skills, labeled SEL (or 21st Century Skills or noncognitive or soft skills), are ones that the education system had long taken for granted. When we look at them, they make perfect sense — the ability to control one’s emotions and behaviors, build relationships, feel confident in one’s ability — are skills that teachers and employers alike want to see in young people and adults.

Youth development programs — whether school- or community-based — offer an amazing resource for schools around SEL, but we need to be able to clearly communicate our value. The first and most obvious value is time. While schools last, on average, six hours per day and nine months of the year, kids are playing, learning and growing all day and all year. After-school and summer learning programs can offer an additional 690 hours (or 115 days) of learning time.

Another key asset is expertise in SEL. With deep roots in youth development, expanded learning programs help young people understand their potential and reach for it. Staff are deeply committed to creating safe spaces, giving kids the opportunity to learn and practice skills, encouraging their ideas and actions, and teaching them about their impact on each other and the world. The essence of youth worker skill is captured in the many after-school quality standards that many states including California have adopted.

In California, the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) has gathered best thinking from partners and stakeholders across the state to be as clear and concrete as possible about what expanded learning has to offer. A foundational document — Student Success Comes Full Circle — explicitly maps California’s quality standards and practices to defined SEL outcomes. Finding Common Ground clarifies how SEL is already embedded in many existing initiatives and practices — from youth development to Positive Behavior Intervention Systems to restorative justice. These reports may be helpful messaging tools in your community.

Beyond the reports, PCY has been running a learning community for nine districts and their after-school programs for the past three years. They are working together to plan and implement concrete strategies for better coordination and better programming in both the school day and expanded learning. The work is not easy, but districts and their partners have succeeded in creating joint staff development, shared meeting and planning time, assessments to measure and improve quality, and most importantly, a deeper understanding of the value and potential of each other’s work. Ultimately, we expect these steps will result in kids having a consistently positive SEL experience from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and throughout the year.

As SEL momentum grows across the country, we must seize the opportunity to communicate the value of after-school and summer learning, and become authentic partners with the school day. This work will stretch our own SEL skills, as well as our students’, as we find new ways to collaborate, communicate, think critically and be creative. The time is ripe for expanded learning programs and the school day to leverage each other’s expertise, resources and time so every child succeeds.

Katie Brackenridge is the vice president for programs for the Partnership for Children and Youth. She oversees initiatives to improve the quality of and access to after-school, summer and community schools efforts in California. She also makes recommendations and advises decision-makers about policies related to the expanded learning field, and is a member of the Expanded Learning 360°/365 project

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Worth Noting

By Sam Piha

Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week is a joint effort of community partners, afterschool programs, youth and child development workers and individuals who have committed to declaring the last full week of April each year as a time to recognize and appreciate those who work with youth during out-of-school hours. Join us for celebrations and display your appreciation to thank afterschool professionals who make a difference in the lives of young people. 

- National Afterschool Association 

Photo Credit: National Afterschool Association
For more information and full toolkit, click here.


Diane Ehrensaft
Better understanding the issues surrounding gender, LGBTQ youth, and particularly transgender youth, is important for youth program leaders. 

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D. has helped us better understand these issues by contributing to our LIAS blog and by presenting at the How Kids Learn V conference in San Francisco. Ms. Ehrensaft is a developmental and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Director of Mental Health and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, a partnership between the University of California San Francisco and community agencies to provide comprehensive interdisciplinary services and advocacy to gender nonconforming/ transgender
children and youth and their families. Her most recent book, The Gender Creative Child acts as a guide for parents who are raising children in a time of progressive change in cultural, medical and legal ideas of gender and identity.

For those who would like to learn more from Ms. Ehrensaft, she will be appearing at an upcoming City Arts & Lectures forum on June 13, 2018. For more information, click here


In our LIAS blogs and our How Kids Learn VII conference, we featured the issues surrounding childhood trauma and trauma-informed practice. We were very happy to learn that Oprah Winfrey is taking this on as an important issue for all communities to be aware of. View her 60 Minutes segment and CBS This Morning segment.

Photo Credit: CBS News

Milbrey McLaughlin

Milbrey W. McLaughlin is a leading researcher and advocate for youth development programs and the community schools movement. She is the David Jacks Professor Emeritus of Education and Public Policy at Stanford University, and the founding director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Dr. McLaughlin served as MC for our first How Kids Learn conference and is a frequent contributor to our LIAS blog. A future blog post will feature an interview with Milbrey regarding her work. 

Dr. McLaughlin authored a new book entitled You Can’t Be What You Can’t See. The result of a five-year research project, the book documents what happened to more than 700 Cabrini-Green youth two decades after they attended the Community Youth Creative Learning Experience (CYCLE), a comprehensive after-school program offering tutoring, enrichment, scholarships, summer camps, and more. Through data collection, and in-depth interviews with participants and staff, she finds that almost all had graduated high school and escaped poverty, and so had their children.

McLaughlin describes the design principles as well as the core features of the program that participants say were key to their success: mentoring, exposure to activities and resources beyond their neighborhood, and a culture of belonging in which staff committed to “never give up on a kid.” You Can’t Be What You Can’t See offers lessons for policy makers, educators, community activists, funders, and others interested in learning what makes a youth organization effective for low-income, marginalized children. To learn more, click here


Jane Quinn
Jane Quinn is Vice President and Director of National Center for Community Schools at the Children’s Aid Society. She has been a leading voice advocating for youth development programs for several decades. Ms. Quinn was a presenter at the How Kids Learn II conference in San Francisco and a frequent contributor to the LIAS blog.

Over 25 years ago, Ms. Quinn led a team at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which released a report entitled, A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Nonschool Hours. This report pointed out how the hours outside of school provided a major opportunity to address some glaring needs of young people. It changed the national conversation about the needs of youth in the out-of-school hours and the value of afterschool programs. To learn more, click here.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Maker Spaces in Expanded Learning Programs

By Sam Piha

Ilya Pratt
The Maker movement is not new. In fact, one of the founders of the Maker movement, Dale Dougherty, was featured at our How Kids Learn III conference in 2013. However, with the growing interest in growth mindsets, STEM, and social emotional learning, maker spaces are being incorporated in both schools and expanded learning programs. 

Below is an interview we conducted with Ilya Pratt. Ilya was a Maker Leader for Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Project Zero, Agency by Design, and currently the Director of Park Day School’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop. Ilya and her colleague, Paula Mitchell, will lead a Bay Area Speaker's Forum on May 7, 2018 in Oakland. 

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Q: Can you briefly describe the "maker movement" and how this relates to "maker spaces"? 

A: Over the last 8-10 years there has been a revival of interest in making and repairing things for oneself or others. Early on in the movement, the question “Can I fix this broken thing rather than just throw it away?” was asked—and along with this, there was a rejection of the consumer habits so common to our larger culture. In addition, engineering companies in particular realized that their engineers lacked intuitive understanding of the materials and concepts critical to their field. This missing knowledge base was described as that which you learn through tinkering—more often in dad’s garage and while playing in nature, for example. 

Meanwhile, digital fabrication has become more accessible to school and home due to simplified programming options and consumer-scale machines. This convergence has drawn attention to the fact that an immense amount of learning, sharing knowledge and cooperation are a part of making. At its best, this learning is about children developing agency—a belief that they can make change in their world. It is very in sync with our democratic ideals! And of course kids, with few exceptions, love making things. Which has led to the question, if there is so much learning—and social emotional learning—happening while making, how can we provide students with these opportunities? 

Why maker spaces? They offer dedicated space, materials and tools to support these interactions. Their ethos is reminiscent of the neighborhood garage or corner coffee shop—there is an open invitation to come on in and pursue your dreams!

Q: We believe that the expanded learning space is perfectly positioned to offer strategies related to maker spaces. Do you agree and if so, why? 

A: Absolutely! Expanded learning programs are perfectly positioned. They offer blocks of time unencumbered by state curriculum standards and standardized testing! To some degree, making has already been happening in many expanded learning programs, more often in the form of simple crafts. One push we need to make is to increase the complexity of the offerings. Students can do amazing things when they have the resources. Give them simple electricity parts and they will figure out how to light up a bulb and make their own flashlight. More importantly, there is subtle work on the part of teacher education that needs to be done. Shifting adults’ mindsets that all students will make the same thing to one of open-ended expectations is critical. Recognizing the leadership that students can bring to the group and each other—rather than the teacher always leading--is a game-changer!

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Q: Can you briefly describe what you think are the major benefits of offering young people opportunities to create within "maker spaces"?

A: Opportunities to pursue their own passions, to lead, mentor and collaborate. To learn with their hands and develop an intuitive sense of how the things in their world are made—including increasing their understanding of materials properties and physics, electricity and electronics concepts that naturally come up when making. There are also opportunities to explore coding and physical computing—interacting with the computer in ways well beyond its typical and basic use as a productivity tool. There is so much more.

Q: Within the K-12 range, do you believe that maker spaces are appropriate for all ages? Or just some? 

A: ALL. If you’re worried about safety, please, please accept that with proper training, kindergarteners (and middle schoolers!) handle sharp tools very appropriately! Maker spaces are, in fact, excellent places to learn how to be safe and to learn the repercussions of violating community safety rules. 

Generally, there are opportunities for all ages to do so many things—and often with students younger and older than themselves.

Q: Of the "We are, we belong, we can" SEL categories, which do you think maker spaces best address? 

A: I believe maker spaces can support all three categories well. Maker spaces demand from their users a high degree of self awareness, and an awareness and support of others. There is an emphasis on community. “We can” is at the heart of the spaces. We can figure out how to do what we set out to do. We will learn what we need to learn to make it happen and learn from our mistakes along the way.

Q: The California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs have identified six point of service standards. Which are best served by maker spaces? 

A: Maker spaces score 6 out of 6 of the Point–of-Service Standards. Yup, no question about it. That list could have been written in response to a survey of maker spaces!

Q: There is both a growing emphasis on STEM and on building the skills of girls. How are these served by young people participating in maker spaces?

A: The hands-on learning that happens in maker spaces is a terrific foundation supportive of STEM skills. Math, for example is everpresent in making. Engineering as well. Many maker spaces prioritize coding and digital fabrication in their programs. There are “fablabs” that are all about digital fabrication. These maker spaces, and any space that provides access to digital design and fabrication resources, should have the supportive ethos common to maker spaces. Everyone is in learning mode—figuring things out both independently and together. Risk taking is rewarded and failures are perceived to be learning moments. 

Q: For expanded learning programs that want to learn more, what do you recommend? 

A: Check out the resources at They have been working hard to gather resources supporting maker space development, curriculum, etc. There are many other online resources now, as well as some good books that provide curriculum ideas and educational reflection on approach and learnings. My favorite book is Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds (Clapp, E., et al) because it both covers the teaching and learning strategies common to maker spaces, and it offers educators a framework to use to explore the thinking dispositions of makers and designers.  

Q: For expanded learning programs that want to integrate maker strategies, what are the greatest challenges? 

A: Two challenges stand out: First, do you have a key program staff member who has a making passion that they can share and build upon? Do you have a teacher who can say, “I don’t know, we’ll find out how to do that together? Let’s look on the internet!”

Second is the obvious—Resources. Making things takes stuff, and some stuff just has to be purchased. We can do a lot with recycled materials such as cardboard and food containers, but you’ll also need scissors, steak knives or another type of cardboard cutter, and connectors such as tape or zip ties.


About Ilya Pratt: At the heart of Ilya’s educational practice is a deep curiosity about how things work, whether it is a child’s approach to problem solving or an engineering design solution. Ilya has worked with children and educators for over three decades, in school and non-school settings. As the director of Park Day School’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop, Ilya provides integrated and collaborative programming supporting STEM, community service and social justice curricula. 

In addition, Ilya is a member of the Agency by Design Oakland leadership team, facilitating a teacher fellowship in maker-centered learning classroom practices. Ilya was a Maker Leader for Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Project Zero, Agency by Design, a research project exploring the promises and practices of maker-centered learning. She has also been an instructional coach for the HGSE online course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

HEARTSET: Transforming Teaching & Learning

By Guest Blogger, Stu Semigran, President and Co-Founder of EduCare Foundation

Stu Semigran
Have you ever thought that the challenges that educators face today are different from any in modern time?  With political and social unrest creating a stressful environment, how can we best uplift ourselves and assist our young people deal with life and learning? 

Here’s an idea for you to consider: If we deeply intend to give the best to our students and teach them so they are prepared for going out into the world, what if the first ones to give to and teach is ourselves?  What if, in order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves? And in taking care of ourselves, we automatically promote and influence positive change around us.

This is not necessarily a new idea. I’m sure you’ve heard, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." How many people do you know whose email signature includes, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”?

But how do we take care of ourselves such that we and our young people benefit? I suggest that we develop a positive, Growth HEARTSET in ourselves so that we can support those we teach in developing theirs.

EduCare's Growth Heartset Professional Development

What is a HEARTSET? 
Most people are familiar with the idea of a mindset- a frame of mind that has a significant correlation to one’s motivation, effort, and approach to life’s challenges.

HEARTSET is a frame of heart. 

Have you ever walked into a room or a group, where listening to different points of view is the norm? Where mistakes are tolerated and understood as part of a learning process? Where support and encouragement is common among people? Where there's joy, acceptance, consideration, and kindness? Where love is felt and shared—it's in the air? It is these foundational elements of a Growth HEARTSET—that lay the nurturing soil from which the seeds of vibrant curriculum and impassioned teaching and learning sprout. 

A Growth HEARTSET is a kindness of heart. It establishes an energy field of self-awareness, non-judgment (acceptance), peace, caring, positivity, giving, forgiving, and compassion that allows us to more freely and proactively be a force of good. A Growth HEARTSET creates an emotional environment in which we and the young people we teach can flourish in spite of the uncertainties and challenges that are so prevalent today.

EduCare's ACE Program

Recently, after one of EduCare’s ACE (Achievement and Commitment to Excellence) students success programs that promote Growth HEARTSET, a high school principal shared, "Well, you've opened my students’ hearts and now we can capture their minds." He recognized that when the heart is “set” in a healthy and compassionate place, the mind is more open and prepared to learn.  

How do we create a Growth HEARTSET? 

We can set or reset the "heart" through self-awareness, a clear intention, and practicing habits of a Growth HEARTSET. There are many effective teaching approaches and ways to assist you in moving along that trajectory that will be the subject of subsequent blogs and articles. 

By creating a Growth HEARTSET—first in yourselves so it infuses your relationships and teaching—a greater “field” or culture of caring and loving can be known, felt, and shared. This Growth HEARTSET then serves as the foundation for effective teaching and social-emotional learning (SEL) that not only enriches your teaching experience but also captures and expands the hearts, minds, and imagination of your students. 

View EduCare's Program Impact infographic here.

Stu will be leading a Speaker's Forum on Growth Heartsets in Fresno, CA (April 18, 2018) and Modesto, CA (April 19, 2018).

Stu Semigran is the co-founder and president of EduCare Foundation and the executive director of EduCare’s ACE (Achievement and Commitment to Excellence) Student Success Program. Currently serving more than 45 high schools and middle schools in Southern California, EduCare also is the grant manager for the ASSETs after school programs at 17 LAUSD Beyond the Bell high schools and 1 middle school. Over 30,000 students are served each year through EduCare afterschool and youth development programs.

Stu’s book, Making the Best of Me: A Handbook for Student Excellence and Self-Esteem is used in schools worldwide. He currently serves on the CA Department of Education Expanded Learning Division’s SEL Planning Team and LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell’s “Take Action Campaign” Steering Committee. In 2012, Stu was recognized as a David Chow Humanitarian Award Foundation recipient for his service to youth.