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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!

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?


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!

The Power of Relationships

July 3rd, 2015

My friend, Rena, a referee, stood on the sidelines before a scrimmage, talking with a frustrated basketball player. She gave her some advice for improving her game. She explained in detail how important her role was on the court and why the coach had changed her position. She gave perspective to what was going on. Rena helped paint a vision and expectations for leadership for the girl’s role and how she could step up her game.


After her next game, the player sought out Rena and told her that she had taken her advice and had the best game she’d ever had and scored the most points she’d ever scored.


This quick moment is a great example of how a caring adult created a relational space, took a few minutes to listen, focus on the player, be real, and find her strengths. A mere 5-10 minutes of listening and sharing together can build a person up!


Rena simply took advantage of a moment, and turned it into something deeper. She seized an opportunity to show the player she cared and to offer encouraging words, actions and challenging ideas for making things better. The result? The player ran with it. She needed someone to listen, to care, to create a safe space for sharing and then she was open to feedback for making changes. That’s positive youth development in action!


To learn more about creating relational space, the value of listening and empowering youth to be proactive in their own lives, check out our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.



Have you had a passing conversation with a young person that you later learned was a bigger deal to them than you ever thought possible? Share with us!



Silence – An Unexpected Strategy for Engaging Youth

June 17th, 2015

As you listen to youth, make sure you invite silence into the conversation. Some of us hurry conversations because silence makes us uncomfortable. Silence, however, is a friend to conversations and creates space for introverts to think and for everyone to reflect. After you ask a question, wait 10–12 seconds (count: one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, and so forth) before you ask another question. Or breathe slowly in-between. These two tricks will help you slow down and focus on them.

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!

Classic Children’s Books

April 13th, 2015

The library is so vast, that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start looking for good books.  Check out this list of classic youth stories from my friend Mary Young:

Where the red fern grows
Wrinkle in time
Island of the blue dolphins
My side of the mtn.   The Hobbit
Chronicles of narnia
Treasure island
Swiss family Robinson
Robin hood
Black beauty
The black stallion
Treasures of the snow
Little house on the prairie
Little women.
Johnny tremain
Little men

Resources for Teaching Tolerance

April 8th, 2015

Have you seen all the cool resources you can access from Teaching Tolerance?  Here is a sampling:

Racial Profiling

Defusing School Violence

Unequal Unemployment

The Motivation for Movement (immigration)

Progressive City Planners

Changing Demographics: What Can We Do to Promote Respect?

Freedom’s Main Line (segregation in KY)

You can find a full list of their resources at

6 Ways to Challenge Youth to Become Social Entrepreneurs

March 25th, 2015

If your young people are fired up about tackling issues and have ideas for wide-scale change, they may be social entrepreneurs in the making. Do your young people seem to be change agents at heart? Do they seek to invent new approaches and improve systems? “That’s what social entrepreneurs do,” says Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka. “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” Social entrepreneurs often weave philanthropy and business with ideas that unstick systems or impact communities in big, powerful, society-changing ways.

Strategic Moves

  1. Invite your youth to take a social entrepreneur quiz or practice building a socially conscious business at The New Heroes, “Are You the Next New Hero?”
  2. Read stories of other young      social entrepreneurs in this article: “Meet the 25 Most Influential People      in the World!” Huffington Post.      June 18, 2012.
  3. As a group, join others in      solving big challenges at
  4. Teach a course on social      entrepreneurship. Check out the free curriculum at The New Heroes,      “Classroom Materials,”
  5. Find funding for creative      projects at Kickstarter,
  6. Be inspired by other ideas      at and at


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!

Take a Stand – A Service-Learning Activity for Exploring Interests

March 18th, 2015

What issues is your group willing to take a stand on? Poll your group by having each person vote with their feet by simultaneously moving to a corner of the room that represents their answer.  Group members will be able to look around the group to see the kinds of social issues each person is interested in.  This will help you gauge the interests of the group, so you can know what kinds of service or advocacy projects to explore together.

  • You have extra money to donate to a cause. Will you give it to help the homeless or to address environmental issues?
  • You have a day to volunteer. Will you help the animal shelter or a nursing home?
  •  You are going to answer the phone to accept donations for a service group. Would you rather answer the phone for raising money for world hunger or for saving the whales?
  •  You get to choose how the city will spend its financial and physical resources. Will you vote to help disaster relief victims or senior citizens?
  •  You’ve been chosen to speak to a group of lawmakers. Would you rather speak about childhood obesity or violence in schools?

Ask the group for other causes that mean something to them and why they’re important to them. Brainstorm ways youth can help. Then get busy! Pick an issue you want to tackle or a project idea that everyone agrees on and get to work.

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!

Finding Great Books for Kids

March 16th, 2015

“Find out what the kid really loves, and help them find a book, magazine, or any kind of text about that love. Without judgment. The subject can be sharks, volcanoes, bodily functions, the Guinness Book of World Records, fighting ships of World War II. And they can read about this love for as long as they want.” – Jon Scieszka

‘Evidence-based’ only proves it worked in the past

March 11th, 2015

reposted from Anderson Williams

But, we work in the present, and are preparing young people for the future.   Now, don’t get me wrong, this does not necessarily mean evidence-based practices don’t work in the present, or won’t work in the future. They very well may. Many do. But, let’s just be clear on what the term “evidence-based” actually means.   Evidence is inherently backward looking. And, acknowledging this, it seems worthwhile to take pause and reconsider our obsession in education and youth work with an evidence base, and wonder if it may be part of our problem when it comes to reform.   The technology-driven pace of social, cultural, economic, and educational change is only picking up speed. What we did yesterday is increasingly distant from what we will be doing tomorrow. Yesterday’s evidence-based input is further than ever from tomorrow’s desired outcome.   Evidence in moderation is a good thing; it’s a foundation; a starting point. Evidence-based approaches are conservative, and that’s good in the right place and time, and with the right dosage. It’s important to remember, however, that evidence-based models started as innovations somewhere along the line. They were generated because someone wasn’t acting based on evidence!   Unfortunately, moderation is dead in the age of high stakes testing and related attempts at accountability. Our current use of “evidence-based” as the pervasive and singularly accepted criteria for action stifles creativity and innovation. It slowly but surely stops progress. And, in a broader context of rapid change, it encourages education and youth work to be less reflective, less confident in taking risks, and makes us less resilient when we are presented with the changing realities of our young people.   As we cozy up in the comfort and security of evidence, we find ourselves securely on a path to irrelevance.     But, irrelevance is only part of the problem. The obsession with evidence-based models can be more insidious too. It’s one thing to unwittingly stifle innovation and slowly become irrelevant in an honest (if uncreative) effort to generate quality work, establish standards, etc. It’s another thing altogether to use evidence-based as an active excuse. Too many of us use our “evidence” to let ourselves off the hook even as we fail to deliver solid outcomes.   “Hey, our curriculum (or program) was good. It was evidence-based. I don’t know why the kids are still failing (or aren’t showing up). I did my part. I’ve got the evidence to prove it!”   Our evidence-based input gets confused as our outcome.   So, as we continue to invest in evidence-based models and standards, let’s make sure we also keep our senses attuned to the present and our eyes up and looking at the future. Let’s invest in building and enhancing evidence-based models and not just relying on them.
For more great posts from Anderson and his colleagues, visit the Zeumo blog.

6 Ways to Remember Names

February 25th, 2015

To build relationships, you have to learn the names of the youth in your program.  Knowing a person’s name is a way of showing honor and respect. When someone tells you her name, repeat it and ask if you are saying it correctly. If you don’t get it right the first time, practice until you can say it correctly. Then focus on remembering that name, so you can call the person by name in the future. Taking time to know names communicates value and appreciation.

Here are some simple strategies for remembering names:

  1. Repeat names as soon as people introduce themselves. If one person says, “My name is Jim,” then respond with, “It’s so nice to meet you, Jim.” Make a point to use his name again in the conversation. Repetition will cement the name in your memory quickly. (Remember what brain science tells us—you have to repeat to remember!)
  2. Keep a list of young people you interact with on a regular basis. We like to keep this list in a calendar or journal. Sometimes we include the phonetic pronunciation of their names (Shanella = shane + ella) or a phrase to remind us who they are (tall red-headed boy who looks like cousin Jake).
  3. Take pictures of young people in your program, and let them autograph their pictures. Seeing images with the names will help you remember.
  4. Link their names with someone else you know or an object that will help you remember the association. Perhaps Angelica reminds you of an angel. Or George makes you remember your grandpa George.
  5. Combine their names with random facts. You could also ask anything like the following: What color can’t you live without? What decade would you want to live in? What kind of car do you want to drive? The more off the wall less frequently asked question the better. The approach keeps youth on their toes, makes them pause, adds in an element of novelty, and helps everyone in the group remember names. Jake Lawrence asks his youth to share their names and what shampoo they use. Random facts create a lighthearted tone and set people at ease. Believe it or not, these crazy facts will also help you remember their names.
  6. Mix movement with the sharing of names. Here’s another brain booster from Jake to help your entire group retain names. The first person says, “I’m Weston, and I like to move.” Weston then does some sort of move or dance. Everyone else says, “Hey, Weston!” and they copy his move. Continue on to the next person.

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!

One Strategy that Will Completely Change the Way you work with Young People

February 18th, 2015

Wanna change the way you work with young people?  Adopt what our counseling friend Jake calls “unconditional positive regard”, and determine that you will maintain that attitude no matter what.

Unconditional positive regard is a belief that no matter what happens or what is seen, this person (the youth in front of you) is good even if he or she has done terrible things. Even if the good isn’t obvious. Everyone has the capacity to do good. Your job is to believe that and offer encouragement to your group to cultivate it.

This is the attitude you commit to before you meet any child, during your interactions with your youth, and even after those trying moments when they walk away and you want to start grumbling and generalizing about “kids today.” It’s okay to get the frustrations out of your system  but always return to center: to a belief and hope in unconditional positive regard. This attitude will bring hope to your group and strengthen your efforts to see and cultivate the best in others.

How would this change the environment in your home, classroom or program?

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!

Moving More = Learning Lots

February 16th, 2015

As P.E. gets cut from more and more school days, teachers and afterschool care providers are searching for more ways to encouragement movement with youth.  We love to move and play, so we’ve collected lots of activities to share in this workshop.

Title: Do a Body Good: Moving More = Learning Lots

Description: The latest brain research has a lot to say about the importance of movement. This workshop illustrates how to incorporate movement through relationship building, concept reviews, getting feedback, reflection and energizers/refreshers – all in 5-10 minute blasts. We will give you time to practice creating and leading movement activities.

Audience: youth workers and educators

Time: 1 ½ – 2 hours

Schedule by contacting us at 615-262-9676 or


Contact us if you want to bring this workshop to your organization – 615-262-9676 or


5 Ways to Be Prepared as an Educator, Youth Worker or Coach

February 11th, 2015

Excerpted from Groups Troops, Clubs and Classrooms by Ragsdale and Saylor

Being prepared for a group means having a plan A, B, C, and sometimes D—at least in your head. For example, you had planned activities for 45 youth but only 10 show up. You were supposed to have a guest speaker, but she suddenly cancels. Now what? How can you make the time together meaningful and worthwhile? Or, you planned for two hours of programming or instruction, but circumstances beyond your control interrupt your plan. Now you now have 45 minutes to get across a meaty subject like dealing with bullies, learning the secrets of closing a debate, reducing fractions, or planning a service project. What do you do?

Here’s what we’ve learned:

Try not to take yourself too seriously. Relax and be willing to adapt your plan. Keep the flow moving so that the time you do have with them is meaningful.

Have more games, activities, examples, and ideas than you will use. If you are over-prepared, you will have the flexibility to add, delete, or move content as needed.

Have a variety of ways to approach your content. When 10 people show up instead of 45 (or vice versa), you can adapt your methods. This strategy also means being able to present content in different ways to accommodate various learning styles. Consider the multiple intelligences in your group when developing each lesson plan. Challenge yourself to use at least two or three styles so that you are engaging as many youth as you can in what you do. Mix it up. Present information visually, verbally, with movement, and so forth.

Have flex in the content. Sometimes you come in ready to get across a key message or explore a subject only to discover that your group isn’t where you thought they were. Let go. Meet them where they are. That might mean taking a deeper dive into your topic or introducing the idea and slowly beginning to work on it. Sometimes you have to swim in the shallow end of the discovery pool.

Be willing to let go. On occasion, you might have to totally adjust your plan. Be present enough to know when forging ahead with an agenda is useless because the young people in your classroom or group are not “there.” And if they aren’t there, they aren’t going to receive your message, and they won’t see you as the person who is truly present for them. Have a plan but be ready to adjust to the circumstances. Be flexible and adaptable, read the group, and adjust as necessary. It’s an art!

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!