Friday, December 13, 2013

Engaging Board Members, Business Leaders in "Deeper Learning"

When someone asks, "Who is my audience?" I respond, "Everyone." That's true, but it's a challenge, too. I've created a web library with links to more than 2000 resources and to hundreds of articles with my own ideas, but it is so large it overwhelms most potential users. I was reminded this in a discussion with a volunteer this week, when he said we need a separate marketing plan for each major audience. I agree. I've been looking for a way to create navigation paths that would tailor to the interest of different visitors. Thus, I updated this village map, with links in each node to articles that might be of interest to people in that group.

I've led a non-school volunteer-based tutor/mentor program for more than 35 years and I've come to the belief that any of these programs can look at the research showing how kids might learn better and develop programs and activities that implement those long as they have access to talent and dollars to do that work.

They can take a "buck stops with me" responsibility for the future of the kids they work with.

Thus, I was really excited to attend the Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) Annual Meeting last night and see this in practice. CYC has 40 business and civic leaders on its Board of Directors and most were at last night's meeting. The Board President described how many of the board members were more active in the past year, personally and as donors, and how many had participated in a two day November 2013 retreat to build a new strategic plan.

The guest speaker was Scott Brody, owner of a camp for boys in Wilmot, NH. He talked of how camp, and out of school time programs, like CYC, offer the potential to help youth build learning and life skills that don't get taught consistently in public schools. Among the resources he referred to were The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the American Camp Association and the Hewitt Foundation's work around the concept of "Deeper Learning". I already had a link to the first organization in my web library and I looked up the other two and added them to the web library today.

I point to more than 200 youth serving Chicago area organizations in this link on my web site. I wonder how many board members of these organizations are spending time listening to people like Scott talk about concepts like "Deeper Learning". I wonder how many are going to websites where they can read more about this concept and incorporate it into the ideas they apply in the organizations they lead?

One of my interns created this animation to illustrate the idea of volunteer-based tutor/mentoring as a form of service learning. Every time a volunteer connects with a youth in a tutor/mentor program they learn more about the challenges that youth faces. If a program encourages volunteers to build empathy and dig deeper into online materials, such as in my web library, they are doing what CYC and its board have been doing. They are expanding the understanding and involvement of people who are not part of the traditional education system, and who can make innovative learning experiences available in non-school hours and via well-organized non-school tutoring and/or mentoring programs.

Here's another graphic that illustrates this concept. If volunteers and board members dig deeper into all of the articles that are available showing ways to help young people learn 21st Century Skills, improve the US workforce, reduce violence, etc, by improving the skills and habits of young people, they will have more ideas, and a deeper commitment to implementing those ideas. They will become advocates who reach out to expand the support youth programs require to build and sustain constantly improving programs that help youth from birth to work and beyond.

I also encourage leaders to involved youth in their programs, and in high school or colleges, who create strategy visualizations that help adults understand this material. This page shows work interns have done with me since 2006 which could be done by youth from many different places.

If CYC and other youth serving non profits were to create a network analysis map, showing the business interests of their board and volunteer base, it would look something like this. In my networking last night with several CYC board members, and in ongoing discussions with others, I encourage leaders to support the growth of company teams who dig deeper into this information, then take on a role, similar to the corporate office of a big company, in helping mentor-rich youth programs grow in all parts of a city, not just the single program they are part of.

This ROLE OF LEADERS PDF and this VIRTUAL CORPORATE OFFICE PDF provide ideas that these leaders could use to launch their company teams.

Engaging busy volunteers and board members in this form of "deeper learning" is not easy. In the requirements to be a member of the Board and Advisory Council at the tutor/mentor program I led from 1993-2011 was a requirement to spend 4 to 6 hours a month reading the material on the organization web site and in our blogs. In our weekly email newsletters to volunteers and youth in the program I regularly pointed to links that would provide more ideas for the volunteers to use in work with their teens, and for volunteers to use in expanding the network of support for the organization.

I wish I could say that many took this role on a regular basis, but I have no evidence of this becoming an ingrained habit of my organization, or of any other volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago or any other city.

Thus, while we seek ways to engage youth in neighborhoods across the country in "deeper learning" we need to also innovate more ways to engage adults and decision makers in this learning. It can help solve many social and economic problems, not just the education and workforce readiness problem.

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