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I'm grateful for the opportunity to host a Master Class on the topic of Strengths Based Leadership on Wednesday, April 19th from 2:30-4:30 pm during the BOOST Conference. In nearly 20 years of learning from and working for Gallup, I can't think of a more exciting and impactful topic to share with conference attendees this spring.

Gallup research proves that people succeed when they focus on what they do best. Each person has natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can be productively applied. Knowing your unique strengths and putting them to good use not only feels good – it has been proven to meaningfully improve performance in a variety of ways, as recently summarized at Strengths-Based Employee Development: The Business Results.

 

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More than 15 million people have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment since it was introduced several years ago. Learning about your strengths results is certainly a great experience, but it's simply the first step in a development process that continues well into the future. Strengths-based development continues beyond the identification phase as individuals take steps to integrate their strengths awareness into the way they view themselves. From there, real behavior change results in performance improvement across a variety of life and work domains.

 

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This Master Class is for you if you've never learned about your own strengths and would like to take the first step. It's also for you if you've already learned your strengths and want to learn from others along the journey. We will discuss best practices from educators within the room and across the country, leading to tangible takeaways that you can apply with yourself, your colleagues, and your students!

Hope to see you on April 19th from 2:30-4:30! Click here to register! 

Author and Masterclass Facilitator: Tim Hodges

Published in Breakfast Club

The past few weeks have been very fun and proud for me, as this baby of mine, this pet project, this seed of an idea that was planted more than three years ago, finally saw the sunlight.

 

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The interactive journal—the book born out of a weekly blog that I write—On Wings & Whimsy: Thoughts on Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary—was published as the first product of The Leadership Program for 2017. It's a journal designed for personal reflection and development, rooted in stories of mine that are designed to ignite reflection in others.

At The Leadership Program we focus on leadership development. We are rooted in our work with young people—helping them see, and step into, their leadership; as well as with the educators that work with those young people—helping them see, and step into, the best version of themselves so that they may be an inspiration to those young people. We are passionate about our work with businesses and professionals who are trying to elevate the level of leadership and culture on their teams. We eat, drink, and breathe leadership—and how to ignite it in anyone in our path.

So, it's no wonder I've had more than a few people ponder on what the heck Wings & Whimsy has to do with leadership? And how personal stories lead to professional leadership?

And my answer is simple.

Everything.

It has everything to do with leadership.

Not the kind of leadership you read about in business books, necessarily. No... this is different. This is magical leadership.

Wings is about inspiration and motivation—the things that lift us up. Whimsy is about joy and laughter—the things that lighten us. I talk about this in the context of life, but leadership is a part of life, right?

Think about the very best boss you ever had. Chances are, they did things to lift you up and to lighten you. Chances are, you felt seen and heard by them. Chances are, they filled your bucket instead of emptying it. Think of the moments when they thought of you when you weren't expecting to be thought about. When they went out of their way to make something just that much better than it needed to be. When they cared for the extras and the details. When they remembered that connecting and being human together is almost always more important than any deadline. That is someone who is practicing magical leadership. I'm sure you've seen it in practice by more than just a boss.

Magical leadership is about seeing people as people first, rather than employees. And magical leadership is about loving those people and making it your utmost goal to make their lives better, whenever possible. Magical leadership is about taking in every single ordinary moment and pondering what extraordinary just might be contained within.

Sounds easy, right?

But, it's just... thinking about magic allowed me to stumble across this quote from Nigerian writer Ben Okri: "Our time here is magic! It's the only space you have to realize whatever it is that is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is great, whatever is potential, whatever is rare, whatever is unique, in. It's the only space."

And I thought... well that's just it, isn't it?

There isn't one way to be a magical leader. My way is to literally include glitter. But your way might be totally different. There are as many ways to be magical as there are people contemplating it.

 

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That's why the personal stories matter. Magical leadership isn't meant to be contained in your workplace. There are opportunities for magical leadership everywhere. The key is simply to remain dogged in finding what's beautiful, what's true, what's great, what's potential, what's rare, what's unique. Try to find that in your people, in your workplace, in the world around you.


If you do, you'll start to notice differences in the way people respond to your leadership, I bet.
It just might start to feel magical.


For breakfast, I had coffee and a leftover half-eaten bag of goldfish that someone left out last night.

Published in Breakfast Club

Do you think email is the most important form of communication of the 21st century? Do you think that well-crafted emails are part of your organizations brand? Well, if it's not on your list as the most utilized form of communication, you might be doing something wrong. And let me tell you, if you want to run a top-level, competitive, and efficient organization in the 21st-century workspace, you better know the rules of email! The consequences can be crucial to your organization and culture's success.
Let's discuss what can go wrong with email. Let me count the ways...

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A constant topic of discussion about communication in the 21st Century is that... we are having fewer face-to-face meetings (and that's a whole other blog). We no longer just pick up the phone when we have a question. Instead we go straight to email or text. And as the world of technology helps us become faster and more competitive, email has become the main source of communication on a universal platform. Problem is, there isn't a holistic approach where we all learn email etiquette and can communicate efficiently on a UNIVERSAL PLATFORM. Even when adult learning classes are offered teaching email standards, they differ from each other. What a drag! And if email communication is the primary way we 'talk', we better get it right!

In the out-of-school time field, we are often working with frontline staff who will climb out of the field and into our offices. These are often our best staff, who have little or no formal education pertaining to office etiquette (I was one of these people). Now, when I consult for small businesses, one of the first items I discuss with the CEO, Exec Director, or President is branding. I ask, "Where do you see branding as a representation of your organization or company?" If they don't mention email, I say, "Well, we have work to do. Your organization's brand is in everything and email is a major part of it. Here's why..." As discussed earlier, if email is the sole source of communication for your organization, your brand lives there. If your brand isn't clear, and if your brand isn't consistent, you've got a problem (and that's another blog as well).

Below there are 19 email tips (from a list of 35) that I have evolved and delivered to businesses, organizations, with mentees, and frontline staff while consulting. Sometimes, I even enjoy starting a business/staff meeting with focusing on the value of email/company branding and effective communication.

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19 Most Important Email Etiquette Tips

1. Be brief and to the point.
Do not make an email longer than it needs to be. Email is meant to be a quick medium. Remember that reading an email is harder than reading conventional printed communications. An overlong email can be very discouraging to read. Stakeholders, clients, parents just won't read it if there's too much text.

2. Answer all questions, and preempt further questions.
If you do not answer all the questions in the original email, you will most likely receive further emails regarding the unanswered issues -- which will not only waste your and your customer's time, but also cause considerable frustration. Moreover, if you're able to preempt relevant questions, your client will be grateful and impressed with your efficient and thoughtful service. Imagine for instance that a client sends you an email asking how to find the address of your location. Instead of just sending a link, add the address, phone and the link for more information. They will definitely appreciate this.

3. Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
This is important because improper spelling, grammar, and punctuation give a poor impression of your company. It is also important for conveying the message clearly. Emails with no full periods or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes even alter the meaning of the text. And, if your program has a spell- checking option, why not use it?

4. Make it personal.
Not only should the email be personally addressed, it should also include customized content. For this reason auto replies are usually not very effective. However, templates can often be used effectively in this way. See next tip.

5. Answer swiftly. (Again)
Your stakeholders send an email because they want to receive a quick response. If not, they would send a letter or a fax. Therefore, each email should answered within at least 24 hours, and preferably within the same working day. If the email is going to be complicated, just shoot a quick reply back to the sender saying that you have received their email and that you'll get back to them asap. This will put the stakeholder's' mind at ease -- and usually they will then be very patient!

6. Respond with a 'thank you' or 'got it.'
This helps strengthen communication when you respond and helps colleagues, supervisors, and directors know you have received their information or action items.

7. Use a meaningful subject line.
Create a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself. For instance, when you send an email to a company requesting information about a product, it is better to mention the actual name of the product (e.g., 'Product A information') than to just say 'Product information.' And mention the company's name in the subject. Also, ask for a response in the subject line if you need one. For example: 'Event Details -- Response requested'.

8. Do not attach unnecessary files.
By sending large attachments you can annoy customers and even bring down their email system. Wherever possible, try to compress attachments and send them only when they are productive. (Note: You need to have a good virus scanner in place since your customers won't be very happy if you send them documents full of viruses!)

9. Don't leave out the message thread.
When you reply to an email, you must include the original mail in your reply. In other words, click 'Reply' instead of 'New Mail'. Some people believe you should remove the previous message -- since this has already been sent and is therefore unnecessary. However, I disagree. If you receive many emails you obviously can't remember each individual one. This means that a 'threadless email' will not provide enough information, and the receiver may have to spend a frustratingly long time tracing the context of the latest email. Leaving the thread might take a fraction longer in download time, but it will save the recipient much more energy in looking for the related emails in their inbox.

10. Reread the email before you send it.
A lot of people don't bother to read an email before they send it out -- as can be seen from the many spelling and grammar mistakes so often contained in emails. Also, reading your email as if through the eyes of the recipient will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments.

11. Do not write in CAPITALS.
IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying and might trigger an unwanted response in the form of a flame mail. Therefore, try not to send any email text in capitals.

12. Do not overuse 'Reply to All.'
Use it only if you really need your message to be seen by each person who received the original message.

13. Take care with abbreviations and emoticons.
In business emails, try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of the meanings of the abbreviations, and in business emails these are generally inappropriate. The same goes for emoticons, such as the Smiley :-). As a rule of thumb, if you're not sure your recipient knows what it means, it's better not to use it.

14. Be careful with formatting.
Remember that when you use formatting in your emails, the sender might not be able to view it as it was sent, perhaps seeing different fonts than you intended. When using colors, use a color that is easy to read on the background.

15. Do not ask to recall a message.
Chances are that your message has already been delivered and read. A recall request would look very silly in that case. It's better just to send another email saying that you have made a mistake. Better yet, call and speak to the person directly. This will look much more honest than trying to recall a message.

16. Do not copy a message or attachment without permission.
If you do not ask permission first, you might be infringing on copyright laws.

17. Do not use email to discuss confidential information.
Sending an email is like sending a postcard. If you don't want it to be displayed on a bulletin board, don't send it. Moreover, never make any libelous, sexist, or racially discriminating comments in emails, even if they are meant to be a joke.

18. Avoid using URGENT or IMPORTANT as an attention-getter.
Even more so than the high-priority option, you must try to avoid these types of words in an email or subject line. Only use them if it is truly an urgent or important message.

19. Keep your language gender-neutral.
In this day and age, avoid using gender pronouns, as in: "The user should add a signature by configuring his email program." Apart from using he/she, you can also use an impersonal construction: ''The user should add a signature by configuring the email program."

 

For breakfast, I am still drinking a veggie and fruit shake every morning, but now I have added chia and flax seeds thanks to my awesome wellness coach!

Published in Breakfast Club

I will assume that most of you reading this post, like me, applauded Governor Brown's September, 2013, decision to sign into law a bill that will raise California's minimum wage from $8 to $9 beginning on July 1, 2014, and then to $10 beginning on January 1, 2016. And I will also assume that most of you figured the primary beneficiaries of this decision would be minimum wage workers – like the folks who say "Welcome to Walmart" or "Do you want fries with that?"

While a minimum wage increase certainly creates pressure to move everyone up the pay scale, my own non-scientific assessment (based on conversations with purely subjective colleagues) leads me to believe that the majority of our after-school workers make more than $9 per hour, and so I didn't perceive any immediate fiscal impact from this new policy.

But what I didn't know, until recently, is that an increase in the minimum wage also impacts the salaries of full-time "exempt" employees – professional staff who are exempted from overtime compensation. Here is an excerpt from California Labor Code (Section 515):

"The Industrial Welfare Commission may establish exemptions from the requirement that an overtime rate of compensation be paid pursuant to Sections 510 and 511 for executive, administrative, and professional employees, if the employee is primarily engaged in the duties that meet the test of the exemption, customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment in performing those duties, and earns a monthly salary equivalent to no less than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment."

The organization I work for, THINK Together, along with several other community-based organizations operating after-school programs under contract with local education agencies, employs full-time exempt Site Coordinators. This has been identified as a best practice to ensure effective articulation between the instructional day and expanded learning time. Offering full-time positions to Site Coordinators helps to professionalize our field while also serving as a valuable retention strategy. The current minimum salary for full-time exempt employees in California is $33,280 (or $16 per hour X 40 hours per week X 52 weeks per year). Beginning in July, this rate will increase to $37,440. On January 1, 2016, it will raise again to $41,600, a total gain of 25% over an eighteen month period.

This is good news! I believe wholeheartedly that our Site Coordinators deserve a starting salary comparable to that of a classroom teacher. However, without commensurate increases in program revenue, it would be impossible for most providers to accommodate these increased salaries.

Our state funding source, the After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program, sets limits on the grant amounts each site can receive, based on a daily funding formula of $7.50 per student. Sites are also required to staff programs at a ratio of not more than 20 students to one employee, and, again, best practice dictates that Site Coordinators serve outside of that supervision ratio. It is not uncommon for ASES programs to allocate more than 80% of grant funding to personnel costs, leaving very little room for supplies, materials and other operating expenses.

The increased minimum wage, therefore, creates an unfunded mandate for after-school programs that, if not addressed, will necessarily result in staffing reductions and/or reductions in services to students, neither of which were intended by the lawmakers who supported, and continue to support, this policy.

When you do the math on increasing the minimum wage just one dollar, the typical elementary school program (receiving $112,500 to serve 85 students) could incur up to $10,000 in increased personnel costs. The aforementioned full-time Site Coordinator would cost (with full benefits estimated at 25%) an extra $5,200 per year, and four part-time program leaders making an additional dollar per hour would cost another $4,800 (with payroll taxes and insurance estimated at 15%). Therefore, in order to maintain an equivalent level of service, programs would need be funded at $8 per student/per day (calculated at $122,500/85 students/180 school days) to offset the difference.

On February 3, Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill (SB 935) that would raise the minimum wage incrementally to $12 by 2017 and tie it to inflation thereafter. Let me repeat myself. This is good news! But with no mitigating action taken by the Legislature, it is clear that ASES programs will quickly become financially untenable.

One simple and reasonable solution to this problem would be to index the ASES funding formula to the state's minimum wage. For every dollar the minimum wage increases, the ASES funding formula would increase by fifty cents. School site grant limits and the total ASES appropriation would increase proportionally. This would translate to approximately $36.6 million in additional funding for every dollar the minimum wage raises above its current level.

Members of the California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance (CA3) are engaged in an informational campaign to make lawmakers in Sacramento aware of this issue. With the full-throated support of California's expanded learning field, we hope to see a fiscal solution implemented as part of the FY 2014/15 budget process. Key legislators with influence over this process are:

Senator Darrell Steinberg (Senate Pro Tem)
Senator Mark Leno (Budget Committee Chair)
Senator Marty Block (Budget Sub-Committee on Education Chair)
Senator Carol Liu (Education Committee Chair)
Assemblymember John Peréz (Assembly Speaker)
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (Budget Committee Chair)
Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (Budget Sub-Committee on Education Chair)
Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (Education Committee Chair)

This blog post is intended to raise awareness among our expanded learning community, and to enlist your support in promoting our proposed solution.

For breakfast this morning, I had coffee and an English muffin topped with almond butter. Not that that's any of your business.

Published in Breakfast Club

When I started out in the afterschool field 30 + years ago I never envisioned this work as a career. I had taken a position as the Outreach Director at a YMCA in New Jersey. One of the many items on my job description was operating the After School Kare (ASK) program at one school site. Fifteen years later when I left the Y the ASK program had grown to 32 sites in 7 school districts with 1600 children. Since that time I've worked as a state contract administrator, trainer, and evaluator for afterschool programs. But most surprising of all my son is now working in an afterschool program while he's taking the LSATs and applying to law school. Our dinner conversations have been very interesting as he tells me his perspective on working in a program like the ones he attended as a child. I have met other afterschool staff members who grew up in these programs and they bring a unique perspective to the movement.

As an evaluator I constantly review best practices based on research. The discussions with my son reflect the spirit of what research tell us about voice and choice, student engagement, and the importance of play. My son's undergraduate degree isn't in education so his interactions with students are based on his life experiences. I'm sharing his perspective on afterschool based on our talks. You may find them insightful.

Moving from Participant to Staff:

As a former participant, what do you think are important elements of an afterschool program?

After a long day at school, kids need to have some down time to relax. They also need choice instead of being required to participate in activities. Obviously homework is important. Kids resent staff who have favorites so being fair and consistent is essential.

What is your approach to discipline?
Most of our kids are in 1st and 2nd grade so we don't have many problems with discipline. I usually remind them of the rules or ask them "What do you think I'm going to say?" I know what the kids like to do so if there's a reoccurring problem I'll take away privileges for a day or two. Every once in a while I use the "Dad" voice when they could hurt themselves or another child.

What do you think is different about afterschool today as compared to 15 years ago?

The extent to which the staff can physically play with kids has changed a lot. Staff have to be so careful about their interactions. I don't play tag with the kids for this reason. Technology has changed, but our site only has access to one computer for homework assistance. Personally I think it's a good thing for our kids because they have to play with each other.

What do you think is the same?
I am amazed at how many of the toys and games that I played with are still popular. The boys still love Legos and Pokémon cards and girls love to play school. Everybody plays Uno. I wish we could do cooking, it was my favorite afterschool activity in middle school.

What advice would you give to staff who have not worked in afterschool programs before?
Always get involved with the kids and play with them. Don't just stand on the sidelines and watch. The staff that left the most impressions on me were the ones who were engaged.

We got a high powered blender for Christmas so for breakfast today I made a raspberry/blueberry smoothie with yogurt, cranberry juice and almond butter. Healthy and yummy!

Published in Breakfast Club

Most school-based efforts to introduce students into the workforce take the form of job fairs that promote traditional careers, but by all accounts, ten years from now the job market will look noticeably different than it does today. Some traditional jobs are likely to disappear. Others will survive, but the job descriptions and requirements will change. Some new fields, such as "green" technology, will evolve into major employment sectors. Entirely new professions will emerge, ones that we haven't even imagined yet.

Facing challenges such as climate change and energy independence will take scientific expertise and innovative thinking. Rapidly and ever-changing technology will require the ability to easily adapt and assimilate new processes. And, the information explosion will offer opportunities for workers who can amass, comprehend and act up on large amounts of data. In short, success in the future work force will require not only technical knowledge, but also vision and creativity.

Ironically, Newsweek magazine recently published an article titled "The Creativity Crisis," which reported on research showing a new trend: in the past decade American children's IQs have gone up, while their CQs (creativity quotients) have gone down. In other words, for the first time, kids in this country are getting smarter yet becoming less creative. Researchers attribute this, at least in part, to teachers being overwhelmed by having to meet curriculum standards. The resulting emphasis on accumulating facts has eclipsed any focus on creative thinking.

What does this mean about the future of American's workforce, and as afterschool providers, what can we do? According to the experts, the decline in creativity is not irreversible. They suggest educational models that incorporate problem-solving exercises and project-based activities – exactly the kind of thing we love in afterschool programs. That puts us in a unique position. We have the programming expertise to respond to the creativity crisis, and in so doing, we can help develop the future workforce. In the short term, we can:

  • Use project-based learning to promote STEM skills, without duplicating the school day. As an example, at Woodcraft Rangers we offer a bike club. Students in the club build customized bikes, many of which are intricately designed to incorporate sophisticated accessories such as speakers and video equipment. To successfully complete a project, participants must understand bicycle mechanics and be creative enough solve problems related to engineering, technology and aerodynamics.
  • Introduce students to careers they wouldn't think of as careers. Look for opportunities to put students' creative work into practical contexts. Arts students from one Woodcraft Rangers program painted a commissioned mural on a wall inside a neighborhood restaurant. Through this project they learned how to work with a client, to manage a project, and saw that art can be a job as well as hobby.
  • Bring in guest speakers who work in non-traditional fields and have them explain what they do.
  • Encourage individuals to think about their "Life Path." In afterschool programs we have the luxury of having one-on-one relationships with our students. Through those relationships we can encourage them to think about their interests and their abilities and guide them to imagine how they might add to the workforce.

As a more long term goal, if we are serious about our commitment to job readiness, I would like to see us form a think tank composed of afterschool and workforce development groups. By combining afterschool providers' programming experience with the knowledge workforce development groups have about the gaps in employees skills, we could initiate widespread, systemic change -- change that results in a forward thinking definition of work readiness that will serve the future and position the children we serve for the success we want them to have.

(Breakfast for me was fruit!)

Published in Breakfast Club

A career? After School? What?! Yes folks, believe it or not, the career pathways in youth work are out there! It is not an esoteric profession that only a few elite have access to. It is much attainable for anyone that is willing to work, network and advocate for youth. However, there is a sub-culture among the youth work movement that has been lost in the bureaucratic educational methods of the past and is unable to create a new definition of the craft. This discernment of the 'work' is not sustainable, and can possible 'kill' the new intentional and transformational design of youth work that is currently happening in many parts of the world. While previous youth workers have challenged the dysfunction of certain "Best Practices" and the decadence of their predecessors, today the neophytes of youth work are at risk of mirroring the doomed shallowness that our education system in California finds itself in.

We can no longer wait for the field to mainstream a career pathway for line staff and site managers, when we know that one can create their own pathway using the simple formula: work hard and do the right thing. It is ironic that we find the solution in the daily talks we have with youth. I define working hard by accepting that you will always be a learner in this field. Whether it is from your own mistakes, your peers, the youth you serve, or trusted mentors along the way; we must always have a Beginner's Mind as we move forth. Along the way you declare and model that message along to your colleagues that share the same raw, organic passion about youth work that you possess. Always remembering that the most fascinating aspect of your work is that a community will continue to thrive whether you are there or not because of your leadership.

"You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through." - Rosalynn Carter

It is time to dig deep and add fuel to your fire! We cannot let this imperative profession become another failed attempt to emancipate youth of mental slavery. We can no longer be a complacent group of people that are desperately clinging to anything that feels real in this field, but too afraid to become it ourselves. Instead of waiting for the pioneers of this field to create our future, we take the torch and become the new pioneers. A few heroes have pushed forth and started the revolution...it is our turn to organize it.

Oh, and for breakfast I had blueberries and a homemade green veggie drink!

Published in Breakfast Club

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