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Meditation as a Practice in the Classroom

September 30th, 2015

My colleague, Jacquie, shared with me that at her school, a fellow teacher daily starts his class off with a slower pace. As students enter, calm music is playing. He tells the class to simply breathe for one minute, eyes closed or not. Students are then invited to journal for three minutes on whatever is standing in the way of their connecting with class. (It’s good old-fashion brain dump.) If there is still time left before diving into class, then two minutes are dedicated for students to share with a partner or in a group.


Peter’s practice is brilliant for various reasons.


  1. He creates a bridge into an emotional safe space and invites youth to be actively present in class, present to relationships in the now. Basically he honors the fact that they may have things swirling in their heads that needs to be dealt with before they can move forward.
  2. He is introducing a form of meditative practice that they can use throughout their lives that will help them learn to control their own emotions, deal with them and restore balance. Breathing techniques and brain dumps are both great ways to slow down storming thoughts and return to a calm center.



Meditation is an increasing practice that youth workers are using not only to feed into brain development but to help with social-emotional balance and learning to control emotions. Once associated only with Eastern religions, many diverse people are now realizing the power of meditation is in the act of slowing down, regulating breathing and calming crazy, out-of-control thoughts. A practice we can all benefit from!


Do you use any form of silence, focused attention on a positive thought or breathing, or journaling in your program? If you have a story of how mediation has helped your youth, share it with us!

Enhancing the Brain through Meditation

September 23rd, 2015

One of the most fascinating books I read on brain development was written by Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman, authors of How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. I’d recommend their book to anyone interested in learning more about how the brain works and the impact that meditation has on the brain.


The impact of meditation on the brain was the happy jewel I found in their well-written, easy-to-read book. Consider their findings:


Newberg and Waldman’s research proves that meditation can help change brain pathways and enhance brain functions. In one of the researchers’ groups, participants who meditated only 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks showed improvements in cognitive skills. They were able to alter the normal function of their brains. The group was specifically focused on memory recall, concentration, and verbal fluency. These results indicate that the practice of meditation is worth sharing with young people, who can benefit from strategies for relaxation, focus, memory retention, and learning to control emotions in times of conflict. Newberg and Waldman shared that research supports the use of meditation techniques with youth to improve academic performance through “decreased test anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and concentration loss,” as well as impacting “absenteeism, school rule infractions, and suspension days.” And, as can be expected, youth reported an increased sense of well-being and in one study even showed improvement in spatial memory.


Want to learn more about meditation? Our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, offers tips and supportive video clips to back-up this useful youth development and brain development strategy.



Brain Enhancers and Creating an Environment for Learning

September 16th, 2015

As we wrote our book Groups and Troops, one of our priorities was to take research chunks that match well with the idea of positive youth development and connect the research to ideas adults working with youth can use in their classrooms and programs. One of our research sources was John Medina’s work on the 12 Brain Rules (www. ). Medina offers key insights into what the brain needs to be healthy. We took those rules and applied them to the youth world.


Assess your work with youth: Do you use movement as a method for teaching content? Offer challenge or opportunities for them to explore new things? Do you focus their attention and give them opportunities to repeat what they’ve learned to help engage short-term and eventually long-term memory? Do you keep the stress down?


We offer practical strategies for these brain enhancers – and others from other researchers in the field – in the book. Consider this visual of what it looks like to create a welcoming environment for the brain:


Fourth-grade teacher Linda Tupper of Columbia, Tennessee, is deliberate when it comes to preparing her youth for standardized testing. She knows that her students will be sitting for a great length of time and need all the brain support they can get. While she can’t control the length of time they have to spend taking the tests each day, she does what she can to boost brainpower and help them recover as quickly as they can. She focuses on creating a supportive environment before, during, between, and after test taking. She has water and healthy snacks on hand, plays music, leads planned exercise breaks, and has puzzles and coloring pages set up around the room. Linda knows how important healthy development is, and over the years her youth have earned some of the highest standardized scores in the school.


How much attention do you pay to the environment you create for your youth?


Little Eyes See Everything

September 9th, 2015

We laughed as Heather shared what she had learned about herself from her nine month old daughter. Evidently, Heather says “mmm” after she drinks something. One day, Lilly said “mmm” along with her after Heather pulled the cup away from her mouth. Lilly next mimicked her mom when pulled away from breast feeding and said “mmm.”


This cute, funny moment was such a vivid reminder that kids are watching us at every moment – even as young as nine months! Yikes!


If that doesn’t send a clear message that we need to be aware of our words, actions and behaviors, then I don’t know what will convince us of the importance of our role modeling.


As Ann and I were writing Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, we talked a lot about the importance of being the caring adult and creating spaces where youth can thrive. We challenge readers to look at their own attitudes, where they might fall a little short of their own expectations and where they shine. And, we provided stories and tips for really connecting and engaging with youth on a deeper level beyond simply knowing names and smiling at them.


As Lilly’s actions remind us all, they are watching and paying attention. We may not always think that’s the case, but it’s true. They are watching and they want to see that we really care about them, who they are and what’s important to them.


The question simply is: are we up to it? Are we living as caring adults and being the role models they’ll be proud to say they knew? The ones they knew loved them and believed in them? Or are they simply passing through our space without us alertly making the most of our time with them?


If you want to learn more about increasing your impact with youth and ideas on how to expect and bring out the best within them, then consider getting our book. It’s chock full of ideas for working with youth from the viewpoint of finding and building on their strengths.

Kids are Just Kids – A Lens for Looking at our Different Abilities

September 2nd, 2015

Recently I was asked by two different groups to research strategies for working with youth who have learning differences. As I sat for coffee with a counselor friend, I was curious to hear what she would say – if she had strategies she recommended that was different from what I would suggest. She didn’t. In fact, she echoed much of what Ann and I wrote about in Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.


Since I encountered two different groups (within a week’s time) who wanted the same thing, I thought I’d share an excerpt from our book here for reflection:


No matter what the issue or difficulty, they don’t want to be treated or seen as different. A child with a mental illness is just a child. A child with a physical challenge is just a child. A child with a learning difference is just a child. They have special needs (we all do!), but they just want to be seen as normal people. Keep them in mind first: see them, not the issues they are struggling with. Don’t let a person be defined by their circumstances or their challenges. Look past the exterior casing to focus on the heart, the core of who each person really is.


My friend, in our chat, unprompted, reiterated the importance of seeing them as kids and treating them as kids – no different than anyone else because “different” is what they’re very aware of and experience from peers. The gift of being able to be a person is the greatest gift we can give them.

6 Tips for Dealing with Conflict with Youth

August 26th, 2015

The book Building Developmental Assets in School Communities offers tips for dealing with conflict one-on-one with the instigator to help influence behaviors in a positive way. We adapted and expanded a few of their ideas included below:

  1. Use their name. This communicates respect and attention.
  2. Identify the inappropriate behavior. Stick with facts in this reflection—no shaming or expressing your own feelings. Don’t, for instance, say you were disappointed or worried, which only tends to add to the negativity.
  3. Indicate that the behavior does not match up with how you see them. Emphasize the good and the potential that you know is within them. In The Dark Knight Rises, there’s a scene where Batman asks Cat Woman, a burglar, to help people in the city escape. She responds by asking why she should help or get involved and declares that she’s not that good of a person. He responds by saying that she is stronger than that. He lets her know that he sees something valuable within her (even though she doesn’t see it in herself). In the end, she lives up to what he believes about her. Look for the good within. Mirror it to the young person.
  4. Ask them what happened. Indicate that you understand but that what they did was inappropriate. Give them the opportunity to share and think through their actions. Reiterate what is wrong and why.
  5. Model a different way. Ask them to show you an appropriate way to respond, a better way to handle the situation. If they get stuck, ask them if they want you to model a response.
  6. Encourage them. Always close tough conversations with a word of encouragement and thanks. Thank them for listening and express your belief in them to do things differently and better next time: “I believe in you.” “I know you can be the child you want to be.” “I’ve seen you make progress in this area, and I know you’re going to grow more and more.” “I care for you, and I will walk with you as you struggle with this issue. Know that you won’t be working on this alone.”

This is an excerpt from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Cultural Diversity and Youth Power

August 19th, 2015

Outwardly, I fit the blonde, blue-eyed barbie image. And yet, I have Cherokee Indian, Irish, and Scottish blood in my background. I found that out when I was in middle school. What did it mean that my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee? I read everything I could and told myself that it explained a lot about my natural inclination to liking wolves (I was in middle school – of course I made that kind of conclusion!).


Seriously, what does it mean to who I am today to have connections to three different groups of people? Fast forward to today and the increase in cultural connections – be that biological or the neighbors who make up your street or the friends your youth have on-line.


Our world is huge. Young people today have more opportunities than any other generation to reach out and interact with others around the world. Cities are changing. Neighborhoods are changing. And, our groups are changing. Various cultures offer opportunities to expand the world-view in our classrooms and programs. As adults running programs, we have to become more adept at juggling values and cultural norms.


And, young people have their own culture. They embrace the digital age and are often bi-lingual. Youth culture is also characterized by their interest in certain music, food, dress, language, and the arts.


What an opportunity to learn and grow! Ask them to teach you from their perspective and understanding. In our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, we collected tips from colleagues and combined them with our own to provide ideas for guiding your work in today’s youth culture and its various identifying elements.


What is a “norm” of your family? Your generation? Your culture? How does it play out against other norms you encounter?


8 Ways to Publicly Honor Youth Leaders and Contributers

August 12th, 2015
  1. Hang pictures of youth and their achievements in your building
  2. Nominate them for awards and scholarships; even if they aren’t selected, you can announce the nomination
  3. Ask for a proclamation (recognition) from the city council/mayor’s office
  4. Submit an article for a newspaper, professional magazine, or the local TV news
  5. Give youth job titles (displays importance of roles; can use on resumes)
  6. Describe their work in the company newsletter or through a display
  7. Brag about them on social media—Twitter, Facebook, Flikr, or YouTube videos (double impact because it promotes your organization as their friends see the content)
  8. Invite them to speak on behalf of your agency at public events

These ideas are from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

129 Happy Songs

August 5th, 2015

Have you ever asked someone what makes him happy and he replies “uhmm . . .” and continue to hem and haw before looking a little puzzled over how to answer?


We made that question a little more specific and asked youth what songs make them happy simply when they hear them come on. The response was immediate! One hundred and twenty-nine “happy” songs were provided to us to share as we worked on our book Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth. Knowing that music can lift a spirit and put a smile on the face, we hope you will enjoy the happy tunes on our book’s complimentary playlist at


Turn to them – or your favorites – as often as you need to keep your foot tapping and a smile on your face. If music is the one of the things we know can make us happy, why not tune in?

Focus on 5

August 2nd, 2015

Gratitude is an active practice that can change your focus everso much to what’s right and good with life instead of what’s wrong. Being grateful can change an entire situation because you’ve changed the most important thing in a bad situation: you! Your attitude, your perspective, your choice on how you will respond.


Focus today on 5 things you often take for granted but for which you are really and truly grateful. Perhaps it’s that cup of coffee that brewed automatically while you were still trying to wake up. Or maybe it’s the hot shower that brings life. Or you got your favorite parking spot in the garage (the one you grumble about if you DON’T get it). Note the small things that make your life richer and that when absent, you are extremely aware. And give thanks with a smile. Life IS good.


Want to learn more about how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis and how that helps you in your work with young people? Check out our book Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.

Words from Youth Workers: Developmental Assets

July 29th, 2015

Developmental assets remind us that it’s the little, everyday things that are important with kids: listening, playing, having conversations about the things that are important to them.  Assets keep us REAL and connected.”  YMCA youth worker, Nashville

Wanna know more about the assets?  Ask us about connecting you to literature or workshops to help your organization understand and utilize the framework or Developmental Assets.  It’s not an add-on – it’s a way of living and being and talking together!

Words from Youth Workers: Positive Youth Development

July 22nd, 2015

“Always look for any strength and build on it.  Let one thing be the beginning building block.”

youth worker, Nashville


Make a habit to find one good thing about every person you meet.  Say it outloud to the person you meet.  You might be the only one who has noticed a good trait in him/her for a long time!  This is the basic foundation of positive youth development.

Words from Youth: Diversity and Acceptance

July 15th, 2015

“Respect my ideas and listen to me, even when they’re different.”

youth leader, youth development center in Nashville


Ask a young person how well you are doing in the respect department.  What about people that are different from you?  What about people with different ideas than you?  How could you be more accepting of youth around you?

Youth Heroes: Glories Happy Hats

July 10th, 2015

The Urban Passage serves youth held in custody at the Northern VA Juvenile Detention Home. They partner with community volunteers to teach, inspire and mentor youth in custody.  Their goal is to be a partner with them in rebuilding their lives, helping youth get access to educational and social support, economic counseling and spiritual mentoring that will help be successful and contribute to their community.  The Urban Passage wants to see youth move from the life they have always known to the life God intended for them


Since 2005, they have partnered with Glories Happy Hats to sew hats for terminally ill children in a local hospital. The youth responsibilities include designing and creating the hats, as well as checking for quality assurance. Volunteers work alongside them, encouraging them to persevere when they are overwhelmed by the task or discouraged by setbacks. When the hats are completed, the youth deliver the hats to families in the hospitals. The children get to choose a hat, and if they wish, a hat for a friend or sibling.


Kimberly Moore, the Urban Passage founder, says, “I love this program because young people get an opportunity to contribute to the happiness of others. The teen’s lives are difficult, but when they meet the sick children, they begin to realize that they have a lot to be grateful for.” The program makes a lasting impact on the teens because they realize that they have a positive contribution to make to society, and the community values their efforts. The teens love it too. After they are released from the detention program, they often ask to come back to b e a part of the Happy Hats program.


Find out more at

Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

Field Trips to Explore Youth Perspectives: Virtual and Real-Time Opportunities

July 8th, 2015

Excerpted from Groups Troops, Clubs and Classrooms by Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor, 2014

Field trips are a powerful way to help youth expand their perspectives. They help youth learn more about the community and expand their horizons of opportunity and awareness. Field trips can reinforce academic, civic, or cultural learning and connect to the personal sparks or interests of young people. Field trips are powerful ways to help youth explore potential connections to the community with regard to internships, career fields, hobbies, and volunteer opportunities.

Choose field trips that give youth different perspectives of what makes the community work and demonstrate a variety of sparks. Try one of these: airport, bakery, pro sports team practice, cathedral, farm, factory, science lab, or a military base. Think about what makes your community unique and take youth to explore your community on a deeper level. Where could you take your youth to give them the most diverse perspective possible?

Or consider virtual field trips:

  • Use Skype to interact with      people across the world. Skyping can prepare youth for what they might      experience on an upcoming trip to another part of the world or it can be a      conduit for creating updated versions of “pen-pals.”
  • Virtual classrooms can      provide venues for groups to connect through technology for the sake of      discussions or doing presentations.
  • Take virtual field trips      around the world to learn about anything you want to. The website has many virtual field trips submitted by      children around the world.
  • Have youth create and submit      their own videos to share on Meet Me at the Corner’s website.
  • Use a search engine to      research topics of interest to your group. Just remember to preview any      media content that you share with your group.


Looking for more ways to help young people explore the world?  Check out our newest book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!