Over the years, I have worked with many teens helping them develop an “elevator speech” as part of their community action work. For those of you unfamiliar, an elevator speech is a short synopsis of something that is important to you, and something that you can share in the time it takes to ride an elevator- that is, it is … short. We train youth to be able to talk about what is important to them this way because it is often the case that we only have a few minutes to share with another; to make an impression that what we are saying is worth considering.

For all my years of teaching youth this preparedness technique, I had never, actually, well… given an elevator speech myself. Until two times recently.

The first was in Washington DC last summer where I was attending the Coalition for Juvenile Justice conference. There was another conference of medical doctors taking place in the same hotel, and I found myself getting on an elevator with a couple of doctors from Norway as we all headed up to our rooms. One of the doctors asked me what the juvenile justice conference was about and I immediately thought: “WOW! This is a real elevator speech about to happen!” But I was prepared, and as I spoke about alternatives to incarceration for young people, alternatives that research shows have the power to save young lives, ensure equity, save money, and enhance communities, the doctor was listening hard. When the elevator reached his floor, his fellow doctor stepped out, but the doctor I was visiting with waved him off, saying ” I want to hear more about this… I’ll be right back down” as the door closed and he rode up to my floor with me so I could finish my story.

The second elevator speech opportunity happened last fall, not in an elevator, but in a hallway at the Greenbrier in West Virginia during the NAE4-HA conference. I ran into Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of National 4-H Council, outside a ballroom where she introduced me to her mother, a long-time educator, who was attending the conference as Jennifer’s guest. Her mother asked me directly: “so what is it that you do for 4-H?” And again, I immediately thought “elevator speech! Sans the elevator!”

I said simply that I work to figure out how 4-H works its magic with young people, and then I help others ensure that they are doing all they can to make that 4-H magic happen. With a warm smile and a twinkling eye, she nodded and said: “well good. You keep doing that and all will be fine.” I could not help but smile in return.

++++++

At the end of January I had the opportunity to travel to Kansas, just east of the big snow storm that landed on the western half of the state, to introduce the 4-H Thriving Model to the Kansas 4-H Team. It was a lovely morning general session, where I presented an overview of the model, followed by two more in-depth sessions in the afternoon. As I made my way though the morning presentation I became aware of something that I thought I could articulate better, and that is the understanding the difference between content outcomes and 4-H’s magic.

4-H Thriving Model fun with colleagues in Wichita Kansas

This awareness was raised again last week when I was visiting with a group of 4-H evaluators who are interested in helping support future research on the 4-H Thriving Model. As we shared our experiences with evaluation in 4-H, it became apparent that most of that experience is related to measuring content outcomes, and not on how 4-H works its magic.

At the heart of the 4-H program we work with youth and their interests to provide educational programs for them to learn content; Computer science, animal science, cooking, horticulture, civic engagement, leadership, you name it… we do it. The goal of the content area of 4-H programs is to build skill, mastery, and efficacy – all critically important to healthy youth development. Since we started evaluating 4-H programs in earnest in the early 2000s, our focus has been largely on measuring these learning outcomes.

While learning outcomes are important, measuring them alone does not help us understand how 4-H works its magic. For that we need to probe differently, into the process of what happens while youth are engaged learning the content of a particular program. This process is where youth development, as opposed to content learning, happens. It is the magic that happens when a young person joins 4-H to learn about bunnies as a 10 year old, and “graduates” from 4-H 8 years later having achieved key developmental outcomes, confident, responsible and ready to step into the next stage of life. If we do our job well, youth learn a lot of content in our programs, and in the process (note that word again) a whole lot of youth development is taking place too.

So the 4-H Thriving Model, at its heart, show us the process of youth development in 4-H – it describes how 4-H works its magic. The model also sets the stage for us to measure the magic in ways we have not been able to do so until now. Being able to measure the magic and the content outcomes that youth learn allows us to collectively tell the story of the impact of 4-H on young people. And this story should be one we all have ready in our elevator speeches! You never know when you might need it.

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

Last month I traveled to Billings, Montana where the National Extension Conference on Volunteerism was taking place. I was invited to facilitate a pre-conference workshop on the 4-H Thriving Model with 4-H Volunteer Specialists from around the country. After a whirlwind morning where I left home at 3:30am to catch a first-of-the-morning flight to Salt Lake City, and then on to Billings, I arrived at lunch time and was ready to go by 1pm. I was excited to get to spend the afternoon with the group of people who will lead the way in preparing 4-H volunteers to help youth thrive.

Since many of the people who would be there had never heard of the 4-H Thriving Model, I knew I wanted to spend a good portion of the time we had together making sure everyone understood the model and how it describes how 4-H works its magic with youth. Doing so would take a good portion of the afternoon, but it also meant that everyone would be on the same page and ready to move forward together.

While I always enjoy sharing the 4-H Thriving Model with others, I was most looking forward to the second half of the session, because, let’s face it, I had a captive audience of creative and experienced professionals who could develop wonderful learning activities to teach the 4-H Thriving Model to 4-H volunteers! So later in the day the group split into smaller teams and tackled how they would teach some of the 4-H Thriving Model concepts to volunteers. I walked away with a whole stack of creative, quick, and fun ideas for teaching volunteers! And, with the gracious A-OKAY from the volunteer specialists, I get to share them here on Practitioner Tip Tuesdays!

So, let’s start with this idea on how to introduce Developmental Relationships:

Don’t Be Puzzled by Developmental Relationships

This activity is useful for teaching in groups of 10 or more, but can be adapted for smaller groups.

Materials:

  • Create a large jigsaw puzzle of card stock or other heavy paper that has five pieces.
  • Write one of the five components that make up Developmental Relationships on each piece: Expressing Care, Challenging Growth, Providing Support, Sharing Power, and Expanding Possibilities

Activity:

  • Break into five groups
  • Give each group one of the puzzle pieces and ask them to share a personal experience of the concept. For example “when was a time that you felt supported by an adult when you were young” or “did you ever have an adult in your life who challenged you to grow?”
  • After the groups have had time for discussion give each group a copy of the Fostering Developmental Relationships Handout and ask the group to read the handout, focusing on the component their group discussed.
  • Ask groups to discuss how they could foster their component when working with youth.
  • Put the jigsaw together by asking each group in turn to share one of their personal experiences and their ideas for how they can use the idea when working with 4-H youth.
  • Finish by pointing out that all five components are important to make the “whole” of a developmental relationship with youth.

Thanks to the following 4-H professionals for this wonderful activity:

Chris Mullens, Kansas; Shane Potter, Kansas; Pat McGlaughlin, Illinois; and Cathy Johnston, Nebraska

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

Arizona February

This week I hit the road (or the skies, really) to talk thriving with the Arizona 4-H team. It was a bit of a long journey as I woke Tuesday morning to snow and ice for my pre-dawn trip to the airport. The Willamette Valley of Oregon is so temperate that we don’t have very many mornings like these, so I gave myself plenty of time. The weather messed with many trips that day, resulting in sitting for some time on the tarmac in Seattle where a long line of planes was trying to navigate the snow delays. Once we finally left Seattle and made our way to Phoenix the day felt impossibly long, but it was worth it as I looked forward to a full day on Wednesday with the Arizona 4-H team.

Wednesday morning we headed out on an hour-long journey to the meeting site, stopping of course at Starbucks on the way (the Arizona 4-H program leader now understands the basic requirements of my day). Arriving at the Maricopa County Extension office, we were greeted with a Continue reading