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Professional Development

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Developing the Skills Young People Need to #STAYWOKE

Have you seen the animated whiteboard video of Sir Ken Robinson? With help from RSA Animate, Robinson explains the history of formal education and the necessity for Changing Education Paradigms.

A world-renowned speaker and educator, he notes, "we are getting our children through education by anaesthetizing them," and rather than "putting them to sleep we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves."

The mesmerizing video is totally worth a view, as Robinson provides a wealth of history, analysis and critique.

How does a shift in education paradigms relate to afterschool programs?

The video draws a clear picture of what's missing from formal education. It depicts the need for an adaptive approach: waking kids up through learning. Robinson calls for a shift from "factory line" schools toward creative and collaborative spaces that promote critical thinking and communication. Robinson's video speaks to these skills as essential to promoting learning, divergent thinking and cooperation; it also speaks to formal education's limitations, while highlighting the complimentary role afterschool programs can play in the new educational paradigm.

The afterschool field continues to redefine its contribution to the education and overall development of youth. Afterschool professionals are eager to define their work and refine their approaches to working with young people. Consistently, a pressing issue facing programs is how to best empower youth toward becoming productive contributors to society.

How do we keep up?

Throughout the afterschool world, youth workers are playing catch-up with a hyper-dynamic youth culture that redefines itself one viral social media post at a time. In Robinson's animated speech, he describes this era as "the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth. [Where children are] being besieged with information and calls for their attention from every platform—computers, iPhones, advertising, television—and we're penalizing them for getting distracted. [And] from what? Boring stuff at school, for the most part."

Over the past 20 years, the afterschool field has established its role in providing safe places for youth to learn and thrive. It's succeeded in improving participants' academic achievement and providing opportunities for exploration and application of the skills necessary for life success. Overall, programs that build these skills support youth through challenges, resulting in competent decision-makers and problem-solvers.

The afterschool world has rallied to engage young people in exploring and mastering these skills. Programs have turned to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) Framework for 21st Century Learning, which has gained regard due to its cross-sectional input from teachers, education experts and business leaders in defining skills and knowledge for youth success. The framework outlines four domains of outcomes:

(1) Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes
(2) Learning and Innovation Skills
(3) Information, Media and Technology Skills
(4) Life and Career Skills

P21 has emphasized Learning and Innovation Skills—the 4Cs—as being critical to young people's success as they advance in the workforce. It's no surprise that creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration can be agreed upon by the education, employment and afterschool sectors as strategic levers for preparing young people for the future1. The driving components of this approach include authentic decision-making, reasoning and critical thinking skills2.

"The problem [with education] is they're trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past. And on the way, they're alienating millions of kids who don't see [a future or] any purpose in going to school."

Beyond research frameworks, formal education and afterschool must realize we are stronger together. In the age of hybrids, the afterschool field must continue to establish itself as a viable setting for engaging young people in activities and projects that provide the opportunity to think divergently, ask questions, work with others and communicate effectively. Through the power of afterschool, we can engage youth in analyzing and developing solutions to the problems of a world they have inherited by focusing on the skills they need to #staywoke.

Contributed by Fausto A. López, M.Ed., Afterschool & Expanded Learning @ American Institutes for Research. This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of AfterSchool Today, the official publication of NAA.

1Lai, E. R., DiCerbo, K. E., & Foltz, P. (2017). Skills for Today: What We Know about Teaching and Assessing Collaboration. London: Pearson.
2Ricketts, J. & Rudd, R. (2002). A comprehensive leadership education model to train, teach and develop leadership in youth. Journal of Career and Technical Education.