Where Knowledge is Teachable

This week I headed to New England on my helping youth thrive tour, and on Tuesday we followed Route 1 up the Maine coast from Portland to Orono, home of the university of Maine. As promised when we locked in the dates for this visit, the autumn splendor of the northeast was in full swing (I heard last night this this week is the peak of color for many locations). Seeing the New England fall trees is something I have always wanted to do, so a slow drive on a beautiful day was definitely a treat. Let’s face it, Oregon is a state full of natural beauty, but it simply can’t match the brilliant reds against the deep green pine among bursts of yellow and orange that is abundant in Maine right now. It was a breathtaking drive at every turn of the road.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of introducing the 4-H Thriving Model to the 4-H staff at the UM campus in Orono. As I have conducted these trainings I have learned over and over again the importance of grounding this academic work in the lived experiences and practices of real youth practitioners – the people on the ground, working directly with young people and witnessing the powerful effects that 4-H can have on them. To do this I start the day by asking them to reflect on four questions in small(ish) groups:

  1. What draws youth to 4-H
  2. What benefits do youth gain from being in 4-H
  3. What role do 4-H volunteers play?
  4. What makes 4-H unique from other youth-serving organizations?

After some discussion each group then prepares a poster that captures their discussion and answers to the questions.

At the end of the day, we return to the posters and I ask the groups to “code” their posters with little shiny stars, placing a different colored star on their poster where there poster illustrated each of the components of the 4-H Thriving Model. The result is a colorful poster covered in shiny stars – a perfect graphic portrayal of how they are already implementing the 4-H Thriving Model in the programming they are doing.

The question I ask the groups to reflect on is whether they see every element of the 4-H Thriving Model reflected on their posters. The answer is always “yes.” It is so rewarding for me to help these dedicated educators see the power of their own work. And also so see a palatable relief that the 4-H Thriving Model is understandable and not foreign to their everyday reality at all.

From here, the educators often feel empowered by the model, and excited to think about how they can use the model to improve what they already do – to make their educational efforts with youth even more effective.

By far, though, my favorite part is the end of the day when I ask the educators to reflect on the value of what we learned during the day. Everytime I so I learn something new. At the end of our time together in Maine one educator stated simply: “I now have clear knowledge of what I have to do to be an effective youth educator, and knowledge is teachable.” Meaning among other things, that gaining an understanding of the 4-H Thriving Model has given her the tools she needs to teach others, including her 4-H volunteers, how to do effective, research-based 4-H programs with youth.

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

Welcome to October everyone, and the start of a brand new 4-H (and academic) year. The unusual cold of the last few days in Oregon has definitely set the stage for the coming autumn, and with it all the excitement of a new year of learning as we work together to help youth thrive!

To catch you all up a bit, I took the summer away from the blog in order to re-energize and refocus after what turned out to be an unexpected and rather unwelcome rough spring. When spring turned into summer I jumped into my nine month sabbatical that is intended to accomplish a singular goal of advancing the 4-H Thriving Model across the national 4-H System. It is such exciting work, and I am so excited to get underway with the next steps of this project.

But this summer was an opportunity to take a deep dive into the current literature in youth development, as well as look more closely at one of the preeminent developmental scholars, Erik Erikson, upon whose work a great deal of our modern youth development theory and practice is based. It took a while to get through the dense but very informative biography entitled Identity’s Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson. I hope over the coming months to share the ways in which Erikson’s work influences our practice today.

I also completed a few manuscripts, including one on the first wave of research on the 4-H Thriving Model co-authored with lead analyst Dr. Ryan Gagnon, which will be published this month in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, entitled Illuminating the Process of Youth Development: The Mediating Effect of Thriving on Youth Development Program Outcomes. Another manuscript updating the 4-H Thriving Model and describing the next steps for advancing it is ready to send off for review. And another fun paper written with my colleague Jon Gandy was just published in the Journal of Extension describing a participatory evaluation project we did with some teens to get their take on the 4-H Thriving Model, entitled Youth Participatory Evaluation: Matching 4-H Youth Experience to Program Theory.

But by far, the bulk of my time was spent preparing to launch a task force chartered by the National 4-H Program Leaders Working Group (PLWG) to advance the 4-H Thriving Model across the national system. The interest in, and support of, the 4-H Thriving Model as the way we define positive youth development in 4-H has been wonderful, and at the same time full of challenges. Adopting the model with clarity and fidelity requires three things: (1) professional development for 4-H staff and volunteers; (2) further research on the model using a realistic evaluation approach: “What works for whom under what conditions;” and (3) organizational alignment across all entities of the 4-H program, focusing especially on helping the system understand that the 4-H Thriving Model is not a departure from other models we have used to describe 4-H.

The moment arrived last spring when it was clear I could no longer do this work alone. And the best news? I don’t have to because of the many talented and dedicated scholars and practitioners across the 4-H system who are willing to help guide the work.

Over the summer I put out a call for membership on this PLWG Advancing the 4-H Thriving Model task force and was delighted to receive applications from 55 people who want to participate. I am so excited to get underway with this work, and as we do, I will keep you informed on the blog.

So, welcome to this lovely season of fall. I hope you all get off to a successful start of the 4-H year. And to my colleagues here in Oregon, I look forward to working with all of you as we build forward from today together- with our singular goal of helping youth thrive.

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

Practitioner Tip Tuesday

On Establishing Positive Social Norms

Whenever I work with a group of 4-H youth I am reminded again what a wonderful job 4-H does at helping youth learn positive, respectful, and team-oriented behaviors. On the occasion that I work with youth who have not been in 4-H, I typically have to start with establishing clear expectations for the time we will spend together. In these cases I engage the youth in establishing a “community covenant,” which is the groups’ promise to each other about the things we decide are important for helping the group be successful. For Continue reading

Like many 4-H members who grew up participating in animal projects, my first idea for a career was to be a veterinarian. As I started my first year of college, however, two things got in my way: organic chemistry and a wee problem with getting lightheaded at the sight of blood. I had never given alternative career possibilities much thought, a classic example of identity foreclosure by the way, which we really don’t want to promote as youth development professionals! (Wanna learn more? Watch this!) As my freshman year in college came to a close I was at a loss of what to do when it became clearer that veterinary medicine was no longer an option. So with nothing better to fill my schedule that spring, I signed up for a course called “Introduction to the Behavioral Continue reading

Thriving Thursday: On Becoming a Growth Mindset Master at Camp

By Guest Blogger Virginia (Mom Bear) Bourdeau, State 4-H Camping Specialist

You can teach an old Mom Bear new tricks!  But only if she has a Growth Mindset!

When Mary Arnold introduced us to the Thriving Model one of the lessons was on Growth Mindsets.  People who have a growth mindset believe they can get better at things by working hard and putting in effort.  This theory excited me because it validated antidotal experiences I had as a 4-H parent, volunteer leader, and educator.  If you didn’t participate in Mary’s training series, or need a refresher, see Carol Dweck in this YouTube video.

Project-based 4-H experiences encourage youth to do their best when they exhibit their work at fair.  Some times their efforts don’t quite meet the standard 4-H has set for excellence, and they receive a red ribbon.  A red ribbon means “not yet.”  They can try again for a blue ribbon in the future, and this encourages a Growth Mindset.  Unlike school where youth receive a grade and move on to the next lesson, 4-H challenges youth to become better. In fact, it is in our 4-H Motto: To Make the Best Better! Continue reading