Sunday, January 28, 2018

Permanent Families: Innovative Interventions That Serve At-Risk Youth

Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Serve At-Risk Youth."

We know from one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies on interventions for at-risk youth, that traditional interventions are not likely to work. Approaches like counseling, mentoring, homework help and camp, do have an effect. A negative one.

But that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Instead it means that we need to move from traditional to innovative approaches to support youth at risk.

This post is part of a series where we will look at innovative ideas that show promise for a supporting at-risk youth to realize their potential.

In this piece, we will look at an innovative approach to supporting children who have been placed in out-of-home protective care.

Traditional Approach: Foster Care / Group Homes

Traditionally, such youth were placed in foster care or group homes. However, the research shows that for youth who’ve grown up and out of the foster care system about half experience homelessness. 50% are unemployed. 70% of girls will have an unplanned pregnancy. 75% of boys will end up incarcerated. 50% become dependent on a substance. 25% are not able to receive a GED or graduate high school. Less than 5% will complete college over their lifetime.

Among the problems that providing temporary care in various homes or group homes creates is that these young people are not permanently connected to adults they can count on.  They lack models for creating resilient families, successful work lives, and strong cultural and ethnic identities. As they approach adulthood they lack a vital safety net.

Social Capital

Additionally, since they are not connected to a family they have not developed social patterns of acceptable behavior that support desirable outcomes for the family unit. As a result, according to social capital theory, these youth are more likely to make choices that have a negative long-term outcome.

High levels of social capital in a child's life have been linked to more positive life outcomes and productive personal outcomes such as occupational viability, individual health and psychological well being according to business Professor Wayne E. Baker who wrote the book on the subject. In their article on social capital in the Journal of Marriage and Family, sociology professor Frank Furstenberg and scientist Mary Elizabeth Hughes share that when parents make' social investments in their children and the community this increases children's odds of graduating from high school and attending college. Smaller social support networks (less social capital) are associated with higher likelihood of homelessness.

Traditionally the foster care system and independent living programs have not focused on connecting young people to caring adults who will continue to provide a supportive safety net.  

Innovative Approach: Permanent connections for older foster youth

Traditionally, by the time they became teenagers, adoption / placement with a permanent family was no longer even considered an option for children in foster care. When you take into account that the average age for financial independence from their parents in America today is 30, you can see one reason why expecting a young person to be on their own is problematic and results in the aforementioned consequences.

Turn Focus from "Placement" to "Connections"

An innovative approach is to turning the focus away from placement and toward connections such as those a family provides. In her article, Permanence or Aging Out? A Matter of Choice, Lauren Frey, MSW, LCSW suggests developing youth-centered permanency planning teams: an individual team for each youth; asking the youth to identify important members of their own team; making the youth the central team player on the team; joining youth, birth parents, foster parents, family members, and other important adults (teachers, coaches, guidance counselors) together with professionals on the planning team; and facilitating a proactive and continuous teaming process until youth reach permanence rather than episodic or crisis-driven meetings.

Move from "State as Parent" to "Permanent Families"

This moves from the traditional approach of state as the youth’s parent, to the each youth having a team of caring people who will serve in the role of permanent family.

Whether they are open about it or not, older youth want families as revealed in a survey on the nature of happiness conducted by the Associated Press and MTV. The 18 - 24 year olds who were polled, ranked “spending time with family” as their top answer to the question, “What makes you happy?” Youth want belonging, connectedness, and someone to care about them. They want an adult in their life who they can know, trust, and loves them unconditionally. The only way to achieve this is by helping them find care and a family not just until they are 18 or 21, but forever.

Call to Action

There are organizations like You’ve Gotta Believe that help any interested party become an adoptive parent. They follow a youth-centered-model to find homes for the teens or young adults who make up 25% of those in care. Innovative educators can help these young people by attending an orientation which happens across the year, to learn more and then sharing what they learn with prospective families in their school, home, or religious community.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The 3 Hottest Posts on The Innovative Educator

Haven’t been keeping up with The Innovative Educator? Don’t worry. That’s what this wrap up is for.
What’s hot? Students at the center, accessible images, and innovative approaches to serve at-risk youth.

At the top is a post that looks at ways to keep students at the center of learning. It includes tips like building learning networks and strengthening relationships. Are you ensuring your images are accessible to all readers? Did you even know that was a thing? If not, check out the post in second place to learn how to create accessible images and attract more readers.

Rounding out the top is a post that is part of a series designed to explore innovative approaches to serve at-risk youth.  

So what are you waiting for? Now's your chance. Take a look at the articles below and click the link to read one(s) that looks of interest to you.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Youth Village: Innovative Approaches To Serve At-Risk Youth

Editor's note: This is part of a series entitled "Innovative Approaches to Serve At-Risk Youth."

We know from one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies on interventions for at-risk youth,
that many traditional approaches don't work. Surprisingly, while approaches such as counseling, mentoring, homework help and camp have an effect, it's not what you'd expect. It's a negative one.

But that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Instead it means that we need to move from traditional to innovative approaches to support youth at risk.

This post is part of a series where we will look at innovative ideas that show promise for a supporting at-risk youth to realize their potential.

In this piece, we will look at a youth village and how it moved the lives of at-risk youth in a positive direction.

Traditional Approach: Boarding Schools for Privileged Youth

Traditionally, boarding schools are an option chosen by wealthy parents to provide more opportunities for leadership for children in a supportive environment. It is also a great step toward independence before graduating from high school. Those parents generally have the financial means to make such an experience possible for their children. However, such opportunities should not only be available to children who were lucky enough to be born into families who could afford this. Research and evidence show that students living in poverty could also benefit from such an experience.  

Innovative Approach: Boarding Schools for At-Risk Youth

Education researcher James Coleman showed that schools’ have minimal impact on students who live in poverty. This is because problems are systemic. However, the American Psychological Association points to one strategy that has been proven to work. That is to improve student’s settings and the conditions within them.

That is exactly the approach taken at Mevo'ot Yam Youth Village. It looks like a tropical resort, but it’s not. Instead it is home to disadvantaged youth who build crucial life skills such as goal setting, endurance, and inner confidence by learning to ride the waves on a surfboard, navigate the sea on a boat, and study to improve marine life.  

The Youth Village serves as a boarding school not to the rich and famous, but to about 400 children from families living in poverty. While children are encouraged to spend weekends and holidays with families, they are no longer constantly surrounded by an environment where they face adverse conditions such as hunger, drug abuse, lack of supervision, or domestic violence. They are surrounded by faculty and staff that emphasize the importance crucial life skills like goal setting, endurance, academic success aligned to talents and interests, teamwork, meeting challenges, and helping others.

Under the guidance of the school and Village staff, the students are responsible for creating their home by the sea. They also work with experts from Universities and organizations to solve real problems today. They are assessed by how they work to solve these problems, creative dialogue they engage in about these problems, and their ability to present their findings and solutions in real world contexts. The youth is know they play a part in the shaping of the sea and thus making the world a better place by tackling important ecological issues.

Students graduate with specific skills that prepare them for success in academic studies or careers in areas such as marine biology and/or the naval services. You can watch this video for insight into the student experience.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

4 Rules for Accessible Images That Will Get You More Views

Innovative educators understand that when posts have images they receive more views and provide a better experience for the reader. What they may not realize is that is only the beginning. You also should describe your images. There are two primary reasons for that. 
1) Search Image Optimization (SEO)
2) Accessible to those who can't see images because they are visually impaired or because of bandwidth issues.
Here is how to do that on Twitter and blogs.

1) Alt text tags

Describe your image with short, concise, descriptive language like Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing now that Rob Long told him he should
Lin-Manuel Miranda's Facebook post confirming to Rob Long that he will use alt text on Twitter
Visit Rob's Tweet to learn how to add alt text  

2) Title Text

Your title text is what shows when someone hovers over an image. This means you may want it to have a call to action. For example, you might say to click the image to learn more about the topic. Here's what that looks like on blogger.

screenshot of what title text and alt text look like on blogger

3) Caption

The caption is the slightly more thorough description of your image for all readers. Another advantage is that captions are more likely to be read then your post. It also provides more context for search engines to understand what you are sharing. You can also use the caption to link to other important information.
Two females at the beach with their dogs: A mini schnauzer and a poodle mix.
Lisa with her friend Brandi and their dogs in Delray Beach.
Lisa's mini schnauzer, Otto has his own Facebook page

4) Image Name

When you save an image, it receives an ugly, nonsensical name as you can see in the image below.
Screenshot of what an image name looks like before you give it a name.

Give your image a sensible names with a few words to describe it. Think of it like a file you are uploading. 

That's it. Follow these four rules and it is a win win. You'll receive more eyes on your post not only because the SEO is increased, but also because those who can't see adequately with their eyes will now have access to what you shared via a screen reader. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

When Helping Hurts. Innovative Approaches Needed to Serve At-Risk Youth

In a world where so many right-hearted people spend so much time and money on social interventions meant to help, doesn’t it make sense to figure out which ones work and which ones don’t?

That’s the question economist Stephen J. Dubner explored on an episode of his Freakonomics radio show called “When Helping Hurts.”

Dubner took a look at a longitudinal study that began during the Great Depression and is still going on today. Back in the 1930s, Dr. Richard Clark Cabot commissioned what came to be known as the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study. The study looked at the effects of common interventions such as mentoring, counseling, homework help, and summer camp.

The results are surprising.

They show that these supportive programs actually do not have the intended consequences of helping at-risk youth. In fact, it is quite the contrary: These programs actually hurt those who receive services.


The short answer is these programs don’t change the circumstances of their target audience. Yes, they are exposed to better opportunities and are receiving intermittent support, but at the end of the day, they don’t have the full structures and systems set up for success. Another factor is their environment. These programs don't change the fact that for most of the time they are continually surrounded by others who share their circumstances, poverty, crime, joblessness, lack of education, incarceration, absent parent(s).

Certain interventions like group therapy or summer camps have a particular negative effect which is likely the result of something called contagion or deviancy training.  This means that if a youth is talking about something like using drugs or shoplifting, others might respond by smiling or acting in an encouraging, rather than disapproving, manner. The research shows if such conversations and responses occur, there will likely be an increase in those behavior in the future.

Ultimately, the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study showed that on all seven measures (longevity, incarceration, mental health, drug/alcohol use, physical well-being, job satisfaction, relationship satisfaction), the treatment group who received interventions did statistically, significantly worse off than the control group. Not only that, there was also the dose effect the longer the intervention, the more likely the damage would be done.

Does this mean we should just stop interventions for at risk youth?

The Verdict?

It depends.

If we have research showing a certain type of intervention makes no positive difference, and in fact worsens someone’s situation, then, yes. We should stop.

Stop the mentoring, the group counseling, the summer camp programs if we have no evidence of effectiveness.

But then what? Do nothing?

Of course not. But before we do something, we need to look at what works for at-risk youth, then we need to measure its effectiveness.

The good news is there are innovative solutions that have been proven to work. Maybe these are even solutions you are implementing where you live or work. Want to know what they are? That is what we'll look at in a series of future posts called: Innovative approaches to supporting at-risk youth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Introducing Students & Parents to the @ISTE Standards for Students

The ISTE Standards for Students names practices in which many innovative educators are already engaged. It gives a standard language for educators to speak to each other about their work. It also provides language and justification for doing this work when speaking with administrators. When implementing standards with students, it is also important to introduce them and their parents to the standards which you are working towards.

To help with that, ISTE teamed up with Flocabulary to create this video. 

7 Ways: The ISTE Standards for Students Music Video

The poster below illustrates the seven standards highlighted in the video. 

Download this poster for free from the ISTE site.

Bringing the Standards to Life in The Classroom

When implementing lessons that bring these standards to life, think about how this might be reflected for students.  Here are some ideas:
  • Have student digital portfolios set up by the standards. 
  • Have classroom bulletin boards that represent each standard. On the bulletin board, provide sample student projects that come to life with QR codes.
  • Let students know what standards they are addressing in their work.
  • Showcase student work organized by standard on your teacher website.

Your turn

What has your experience been with introducing the ISTE Standards? Have you tried any of these strategies? Have you tried something not listed here? If you have yet to introduce the standards, do you think you might use some of the suggestions here?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

5 Ideas for Keeping Students At The Center of Learning #TLTechLive

Image result for continuum of voice
Personalize Learning, LLC designed Continuum of Voice adapted from
"Motivation, Engagement, & Student Voice" by Toshalis & Nakkula
from Students at the Center @StudentcCntrHub - Visual designed
by Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth
For those who work in the field of education, it seems obvious that we would keep students at the center of all that we do, but often this is forgotten. When it is forgotten students suffer.

So how do we make sure we put students at the center of all we do?

This was one of the topics discussed by a group of innovative district leaders who came together from around the country to explore important issues in education at the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.  Here are some ideas these leaders shared to ensure students remain at the center of our work.

1) Align learning to student preferences

How are you designing opportunities in alignment with the way students learn best? At the Phoenix Coding Academy they use a tool called Indigo (similar to Thrively or Naviance… aka Myers Briggs for young people). As a result educators and students can use these profiles to customize their school work to ensure what they do best matches the needs indicated in their learning profiles. The profiles also help students see the type of career that might be best matched to their strengths.

2) Relationships are key

When using technology, it is imperative to remember that the relationship between teacher and student is still key. An advantage of technology is that it can replace some of the work typically done by a teacher such as providing instant feedback, lectures on demand. Some administrators see this as an opportunity to pile on the number of students a teacher has. Administrators who understand the importance of relationships know that this shift in responsibilities should result in the teacher being able to provide more time and individual focus on supporting the students in front of them.  Models like Big Picture Learning ensure that teachers have very small class loads because only by building relationships can we really meaningfully impact children.

3) Build learning networks

Traditionally teachers with their teacher’s guide in hand had the power to dole out information to their little disciples. That should no longer be the case in our information rich, connected world.  Today, the teacher should no longer be at the center of instruction. Instead, the teacher should be guiding and empowering digital learners who are the center of their own learning network aligned with their passions, interests, and abilities. This means supporting students in safely connecting to a network of people who can help guide and support their learning goals.  While this can certainly mean people from within the community, with technology there are no geographical boundaries.  So this can mean helping them connect with experts, authors, and others who share their interests from around the globe.  You can read more about how to do this in the books The Educator’s Guide to Creating Connections and Supporting Student Personal Learning Networks.

4) Give students opportunities to hold leadership roles

Not only should students be at the center, but students can be empowered to have leadership roles. For example allow students to lead digital citizenship initiatives. Create a student tech support team at your school where students are given leadership roles. Does your school have a leadership team that helps to make important decisions? Make sure students are on that team.  

5) Involve students in all aspects of their education

It is essential that we communicate with the people that ultimately will be impacted and give them a platform for input. This means they should be a part of conversations about curriculum design, classroom environment, facilities, purchasing, etc. This isn’t a one time conversation. It is ongoing. Bring everyone to the table at regular intervals to not only to develop a clear plan, but also to discuss issues that come up during implementation and execution and come up with solutions.

Your turn

What do you think? Are there some ideas shared here that exist where you work? If not, why not? Are there some you may be able to introduce? Are there ideas you use that are not mentioned here? What are they?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snow Day Or Not? It's Not That Hard.

save imageNew York City is the City that never sleeps and if you can make it here you'll make it anywhere. We have a reputation to live up to. Perhaps this is why the snow day thing is so difficult for our mayor and chancellor to call.  

No matter what they decide, some people will be mad. We all know for the most part teachers and students celebrate snow days. But for others it's a headache!

Childcare and Meals

In NYC, as in other places, a layer of difficulty is that parents depend on schools for childcare and meals for their children. Taking off of work for some parents is not really an option because they might not get paid for that day, or worse. They could get fired. 

So what is a chancellor, mayor, or in other districts a principal or superintendent to do?

Have a plan.  

It goes like this...

Have fewer schools open because there will be fewer staff and fewer students so you only need fewer schools and fewer meals.

The schools are the same schools used as emergency shelters.  Teachers and students are pre-assigned to their emergency shelter school. They also can indicate if they are likely to come in or not should various scenarios present themselves i.e. snow day, hurricane.

It's not that hard

If you are thinking this would be too hard to figure out, just stop.

This is the 21st century and we live in a city where we have Computer Science for All.  An algorithm makes this elementary.

Everybody Wins

The result is this:
Students who need a place to go have one.

Teachers who are in danger commuting don't have to come in. Teachers who are not, come in. Those teachers who come in receive comp time in the form of a few extra prep periods. Good principals know how to do that at no expense to the school i.e. field trip, assembly, etc. etc. There are lots of other cost neutral options as well, but that is fodder for another post. 

This shouldn't be that hard. In fact it should be a formula based on predictions by the National Weather Service by noon the day prior. If it's wrong, it's wrong. That's how forecasts are today, but still, a plan is in place and everybody wins.