By Sam Piha
(Note: The COVID-19 pandemic has been very disruptive to afterschool providers and we will cover this topic ongoing. However, as afterschool leaders plan for Summer and next Fall, we will also offer posts that advances thinking for the afterschool movement.)
Dr. Dale Blyth has been a leader in the fields of youth development and afterschool for many years, and has many accomplishments. In late 2019, we asked Dr. Blyth a few questions and to look ahead as we enter a new decade of the afterschool movement. Below are some of his responses.
Q: In looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, what do you see as the important emerging trends in expanded learning programs?
DALE: Three emerging trends are on my radar screen. First, the growing international work on creating a field of youth work and youth development. We have much to learn from other countries and how they support young people and how the workforce working with young people are prepared and supported. It has great implications for our field.
Q: How might international work be collected and disseminated to practitioners?
DALE: There are at least three ways we can increase our knowledge of what is happening internationally in our field: (1) consider joining the new World Education Research Association’s Extended Learning International Research Network.
While more research focused, it does provide a connection to what is happening in other places; (2) consider traveling, particularly to Europe, and explore their rich history in youth work. This can be done through the National Afterschool Association’s International Learning Exchange which travels to a country every June. This year we are going to Berlin, Germany – and also meeting the leads of the Extended Learning group noted above.
This is a great way to make connections and meet new colleagues that can become a great source of international information. The web site also includes information from previous visits; (3) the journals, magazines, and meetings in our field need to seek out and publish more news from abroad in ways that provide insights and ideas for practice. This can happen by inviting international practice leaders and researchers to our conferences as well as devoting space to regular international perspectives or doing a special issue.
Q: What is the second trend you would like to share?
DALE: As schools discover / rediscover the importance of the social and emotional dimensions of learning and development and as more and more national groups bring attention to the science of learning and development, it offers new opportunities for our field.
Our field can shine a light on what we do and build on the capacities we have in these critical areas and help avoid an overly content and school-centric approach to developing these skills. This will help schools and communities find a new and more balanced partnership. Some are calling for new forms of practice research partnerships that are less driven by a research study and more about engaging together to better understand and advance practice.
Q: How might practitioners get involved with researchers to form these partnerships?
DALE: Searching out the right research partner can be difficult but rewarding. Start by identifying what you want to learn and looking at who is doing work in this area in bridging journals such as the Journal of Youth Development. Contact these folks to find out who else might be doing work in this area close to home. Check with colleges and universities in your area as well as research and evaluation organizations. Look for people interested in applied research and/or evaluation. Also contact your state afterschool network and/or associations for possible leads and perhaps consider joining a learning cohort or professional learning community that is looking at practice issues through many lenses – including research. Like all good partnerships, you need to develop a relationship with the researchers and affirm your mutual commitment to the project which can be time intensive but enormously valuable.
Q: What is the third trend you would like to share?
DALE: The role of data to both inform, shape and even inspire practice is at a turning point in our field where we need to move from just evaluating what we do to be accountable to others to the point where we are using data to complement our deep and rich understanding of youth and the ways we work with them.
Q: Can you give an example of what this might look like?
DALE: The work of Gil Noam and colleagues at the PEAR (Partnerships for Education and Resilience) Institute at Harvard is a good example of how getting data on STEM and social emotional learning can both inform and change practice. Seeing the youth in your program through data that you can sort by topic and look at individuals can reshape how you approach practice. Another good set of examples comes from the work on social and emotional learning that was part of the SEL Challenge created by the Susan Crown Exchange and captured in Preparing Youth to Thrive.
Q: Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, what do you see as the most significant challenge facing the field of expanded learning?
DALE: The major challenge I see is the very fragmented nature of the field's people working with youth and the lack of a clear taxonomy that addresses our commonalities as well as unique contributions as professionals and as programs and activities of different types. This includes the lack of a coherent identity for youth workers. Understanding the workforce - from paid to volunteers - and the settings and purposes of their work with young people requires our attention.
If we are to be a force in the future and mobilize the types of resources needed to both open education and support high quality youth work, we need to better understand, promote and improve the workforce delivering opportunities to young people.
Q: We know that improving the afterschool work force is challenging because of the lack of program funding (due to the reduced number of funders interested in youth development and the increase in minimum wage), the lack of time, and staff turnover. Do you have any thoughts on how these challenges can be overcome?
DALE: While the challenges are real and difficult to meet one program at a time, I am inspired by the work of intermediaries, local systems, networks, and associations to create meaningful opportunities. Also some of the national youth serving programs offer training that others can sometimes tap – for example, 4-H and related university extension services and the YMCA Character Development Learning Institute. I would start by making sure my organization was connected to these networks and local leaders to best discover what I need.
For a full bio on Dr. Dale Blyth, click here.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.