By Guest Blogger Mari Glatter, University of Maine 4-H

October 4-H Thriving Model Training in Maine

In October, the Maine 4-H team had the pleasure of working with Mary Arnold for an introduction to the 4-H Thriving Model.  Our staff had a blast diving into the background and structure of this positive youth development framework.  One of the key takeaways from that time was how we (as 4-H staff) were already doing so much of the Thriving Model, but that this conceptual model holds all of the practices in tension with the research. 

As much as our Maine team loved what Mary taught us we also knew that to truly incorporate the Thriving Model into our everyday 4-H work we needed time spent with the vocabulary, the lingo, embedded into the framework.  So, in December I had the thrill of leading our staff into another encounter with the words and concepts of Mary’s work – a retrieval practice of sorts. 

We also used this time to explore some technology platforms that might be helpful in different 4-H contexts.

We also used this time to explore some technology platforms that might be helpful in different 4-H contexts.  We started with a Kahoots competition where teams challenged each other on their memory of the parts of the Thriving model.  Then we talked through the Developmental Context, looking again at definitions of Youth Sparks, Youth Program Quality Principles, and Fostering Developmental Relationships.  Following that review staff, in their small groups, went over to Padlet to brainstorm one 4-H program area that connects with the Developmental Context. 

To work on the Thriving Trajectory, I created a document that staff had to hunt for the missing words by using a QR scanner and finding giant QR codes placed around the building.  Each QR code led to a unique pdf that had information about one of the seven markers of a thriving youth.  I had planned for us to create screencasts to describe the Developmental Outcomes but our time ran out. 

The staff concluded the professional development time by retaking the Kahoots quiz to assess growth during our re-investigation – great news, they jumped from 40% initial accuracy to 90% post PD!  The biggest impact for our staff team was comfort and familiarity with the specific terminology of the 4-H Thriving Model.  Understanding this terminology is crucial to implementation of the model in 4-H programming.

Mari Glatter is a 4-H Youth Development Professional in Maine.  Her primary duties entail coordinating and managing the 4-H education program in Aroostook County, with a special emphasis on 4-H STEM programming and technology integration.  Mari has 20 years of experience in education and volunteer recruitment and management.

My last blog post was written around Halloween from the NAE4-HA conference at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. The conference itself was an exciting whirlwind of teaching, networking, leading in my role as VP for Professional Development, and meeting a whole bunch of new people who want to help youth thrive! I came home to weeks of phone calls, meetings, and other things needed to set up the next phase of development on the 4-H Thriving Model. That time is a bit of a blur for me, but I also remember it as marked with the feeling of being in the flow like James Carse describes in Breakfast at the Victory, and loving every busy minute of it.

By the time Christmas rolled around I found myself reluctantly caught up in all the preparatory holiday things as we got ready to host family, which now includes two delightful (and very active) young grandchildren. I was definitely caught off guard this season, and found myself scrambling rather breathlessly as Christmas drew near.

One morning I found myself in Trader Joes, the feeling of being in the flow replaced by tension when I heard Kenny Chesney’s Christmas in Dixie coming across the store’s sound system. Now let me say straight up, I am not a country western fan, and while I had heard this song before, I had never heard the song before. When I got back in my car I pulled it up on my phone and found myself instantly in a better mood, with a feeling of the spirit of Christmas for the first time in the season.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is a sweet, if not a tad sappy, imagining of Christmas peace from sunny California to Memphis, Tennessee among other places. For me, that busy morning, the song evoked the special names, faces, and places I have encountered in my 4-H work, and how fortunate I have been to meet so many people and visit so many lovely places. I thought of all of you, my colleagues, getting ready for your own holiday celebrations all across the country, with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and good fortune. The network of 4-H professionals we have is inspiring, and I feel so lucky to call you my colleagues and friends.

Also inspiring, and very exciting, are the number of 4-H and youth development professionals from across the country who have stepped forward to lead the next phases of “Advancing the the 4-H Thriving Model,” which is now an officially sanctioned national 4-H Program Leader’s Working Group (PLWG) task force. Three sub groups are getting underway as we start the new year. One will focus on professional development for 4-H professionals and volunteers. The second will conduct additional research on the model to determine “what works for what youth under what conditions?” And the third will provide guidance for organizational alignment across our complex 4-H system to ensure a uniform understanding and implementation of the 4-H Thriving Model.

When I began work on the 4-H Thriving Model in 2013 I had no idea this was where we were heading. In many ways the work is really just now beginning, but I can’t wait to see what happens as the working groups guide our next steps. What I do know is that I am relieved to have so many smart, creative, and dedicated colleagues working on the project now, and the gratitude I felt that rainy December morning in the Trader Joes parking lot is stronger than ever!

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

Mary E. Arnold, Ph.D.
Professor and Youth Development Specialist
Oregon State University

I am writing this Sunday night from the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) conference that begins tomorrow at the beautiful historic Greenbrier in West Virginia. I flew into Roanoke, VA on Friday night where I stayed overnight, then rented a car and drove the 8o miles or so on a crisp Saturday morning up to the mountains of West Virginia, where I attended the NAE4-HA Board of Trustees meeting yesterday and today. I currently serve as Vice President for Professional Development for the association, and as always, I enjoyed our two-day meeting as we dove deeply into how we can best prepare 4-H Youth Development practitioners for the work they do with youth- complex and demanding work to be sure.

For most of my journey East, though, I was pondering something that, well, haunted me. Haunted seemed the best word because it really had to do with something I witnessed on Halloween night as I walked my best buddy dog Romey around our neighborhood, long deserted of the the children that filled it just hours earlier.

I noticed that a fair number of houses had bowls of candy set out, with notes instructing the kids to take one candy each, and, oh, by the way, happy Halloween too!

I get it. I do. Our weeks are packed. Our days our long. The demands on our lives sometime leave little room at the end of the day for anything else than dinner and bed.

But here. In my neighborhood. Where the littles had dressed as witches, super heroes, princesses, ghouls, and yes, even a taco, not to mention a lion or two, there were many who did not greet their cheerful “Trick or Treat!!” but instead left candy to be picked up and taken home in a pillow case with no witness to bear to their creativity; their imagination. As if the candy was the most important part.

I didn’t miss one. Not one. I waited to open the door and looked forward to seeing the costumes and handing out candy. I shrieked at ghouls and bowed before princesses. I was humbled before lions, and marveled at super heroes. And I told each of them Happy Halloween!!! And as one whiskered little kitty said over her shoulder as she headed back down the driveway: “Thank you! Happy Halloween to you too!”

As I walked later that night around the neighborhood I hoped that the couple on the corner who are folk singers just might be singing tonight. But they weren’t. Their house, like the others was dark except for a few orange lights in the bushes. The neighborhood was telling the children it was time to go home. The imagination of childhood that could take hold for a night was over for this year.

One night, not long ago, I walked quietly past my singing couple’s house and stood in the shadows with Romey while they sang Puff the Magic Dragon together, that beautiful song of imagination. Song of and kings and princes , sealing wax, and valiant dreams. Of a dragon and a little boy that love each other, and kingdoms that are created in the world of the mind.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar

I could not help thinking of the candy left in baskets on steps, with no adult to open the door to enter into the magic of Halloween. Of the moments of imagination that are slowly dissolving in our world. It seems realistic. The next morning was a school and work day. There were things to be done and deadlines to be met. And sleep to be had before it all began again.

Before what began again, I ask?

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

My dad was affectionately known for a collection of sayings he had in response to all the situations my four siblings and I got into growing up. At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party my brother Steve made my dad cry when he (Steve) stood and read the list of all of the sayings we could collectively remember, and shared how much they meant to all of us. It was a remarkably long list.

I remember one in particular: “You’ve got to have rocks in your head!,” which was usually uttered whenever one of us made a less than stellar life choice. If I knew what I know now, I would have come back with: “No, dad, actually, I don’t have rocks in my head, it is just that the development of my prefrontal cortex has not yet caught up with my limbic system.”

This summer, the local news rocked with the story of a teen-age girl who impulsively pushed her friend off a high bridge into a river 50 feet below. Even though she was severely injured, the pushed girl survived, and the rest of us shook our heads in disbelief, repeatedly watching the video of the impulsive push. While not condoning the pushing girl’s actions in any way, it is important to note that the girl who was pushed was on the outside of the bridge railing apparently contemplating jumping, when her friend’s push made the decision for her. Public outrage was understandably swift, and the girl who pushed ultimately pleaded guilty to a reckless endangerment charge. And while I, too, wince when I remember what happened on that bridge, I still don’t believe it was because either girl had rocks in her head. I do think, however, there was some powerful misalignment between impulse and rational decision making going on.

The past 20 or so years of research has unveiled a great deal about adolescent brain development, illuminating for us the wonderful complexities of the adolescent brain, and underscoring the opportunities those of us who work with youth have to shape healthy brain development by providing programs and settings that support positive risk taking. An important aspect of this work is understanding the difference between impulsive actions – which are based on an insensitivity to risk, and impulsive choices – which focus on choosing immediate small gains, over long-term better choices. Pushing someone off a bridge is an impulsive action. Choosing to jump off the bridge, for the short term reward of the thrill of doing so despite the possible negative outcomes, is an impulsive choice.

Research has revealed that impulsive actions in adolescence are often correlated to problems with self-regulation in childhood, highlighting again why helping children and youth develop important self-regulatory skill is an important part of the work we do to help youth thrive. Impulsive choices, in contrast, decline from childhood to adulthood as the development of the limbic (impulsive) and prefrontal (rational) regions of the brain come into better balance. As we get older, our thrill seeking choices are tempered more and more with a rational exploration of the potential (negative) consequences.

Taking risks is a natural part of being an adolescent, and developmentally, it makes sense. Adolescence is all about trying new things, taking new risks, exploring new opportunities and possibilities, and the developing adolescent brain allows this exploration to happen more easily. As youth development professionals we play an important role in scaffolding opportunities for positive risk taking during the period where the systems of a young person’s brain are not quite in alignment.

We can start by teaching youth about the difference between impulsive actions and impulsive choices. We can challenge a young person to try a new challenge, and keep a safety net below them at the same time- creating a safe space for positive risk taking. We can also focus on building skills for self-regulation to protect against impulsive actions, taking the time to talk through the possible outcomes of an impulsive choice. And we can teach adolescents about their own developing brain functions and how such functions affect the choices they make

So, I am curious, how have you helped a young person navigate the period of life when it looks like they have rocks in their head?

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

For most of the summer, except when I was traveling, I had a regular schedule to my days. I usually started with an early morning walk to Starbucks with my little dog Romey (whom, while I got my coffee enjoyed a cookie from his friend Steve who is always there before 6am, leaving a cookie by the pole where I tie Romey if we arrive too late). Then we headed home to do some reading before hitting the computer to continue the work on advancing the 4-H Thriving Model.

Most days I looked up from my computer near 10 or 11 am, and needing a break, Romey and I headed back to Starbucks (this time across the field rather than the long way around) for a second cup of coffee to sit and think through the morning’s work and make a plan as to where we needed to head next. But as summer turned into fall, it was later and later before I headed back for that second cup of coffee – everything in the morning was taking more time and thought to accomplish before I felt I could take a break.

And so it was that I found myself as September rolled around, arriving for my second cup of coffee closer to 3pm than 11am. Never mind, though. I enjoyed the break whenever it came, and one particular day tucked a new book in my backpack as I headed across the field – a new consensus study report from the National Academies that I had eagerly been awaiting entitled The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth.

At Starbucks I got my late coffee, and tucked into a quiet corner to dive into my new book. And then…before I finished the first page, a ka-zillion girls came in, enjoying their stop for a treat on the way home from the middle school up the road. My quiet reading corner was assaulted with giggles, texts, and frappacinos, shattering my usual quiet reading time. School had started.

Here I was wanting to read about the promise of adolescence while at the same time being quite annoyed by the abundance of adolescents around me! The irony of my irritation was not lost on me. When I realized the reality of the situation, I invited some of the girls to share my table, which they did with sweet smiles, and healthy chatter of school, activities, friends, and families. It was a lesson in remembering what our work is all about!

But about the book… it is written by the Committee on the Neurobiological and Socio-Behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and its Applications, with the assignment to “synthesize these exciting advances in the science of adolescent development and draw out their implications for the social systems charged with helping all adolescents flourish.” Of note is the statement that this knowledge “has not yet penetrated the everyday understanding of informed citizens and policy makers, including many who serve young people.”

Indeed it is a rich and complex time of scientific discovery in child and adolescent developmental science; science that must inform our everyday practice as we work together to help youth thrive. As the youth development program of the Extension Service, 4-H practitioners have an obligation to bring the emerging science in child and adolescent development from the university to the people with whom we work. And with so much unfolding about youth development, this obligation is perhaps more important than ever.

So look forward to more on the topic of the promise of adolescence as we head into the 4-H year. I’ll share what I am learning with the hope that you as practitioners can turn that learning into practice. As we do, I invite your feedback (and blog posts!) on how you are using the information to help youth thrive.

Until then. Thriving on,

Mary Arnold