Today, I Cried While Facilitating

Today, I cried for the first time while facilitating. It came from holding in the fear, sadness and disappointment of the events of this week. It came from watching the images of Neo-Nazi’s and white supremacists march in the streets. Reading articles and editorials about where we are as a country.

I cried because it felt safe to cry. Among 25 strangers. 25 professionals that work all over North Carolina to promote adolescent health, sexual health among teens, teen parenting support and teen pregnancy prevention. I had never met any of them prior to today.

I facilitated a break-out session on Creating Buy-In and Addressing Resistance for your Adolescent Health Initiative. This is a workshop I’ve facilitated before that allows participants to talk about how they’ve created support, trust and buy-in among their community members, faith-based organizations and schools to support parenting teens, and teens that choose abstinence and teens that are sexually active. We discussed the continuum of passive resisters and sabotagers and why people resist sex education and prevention programs. As they participated in carousel and gallery walk activities, I feel safe among these people that are so passionate about youth in urban and rural communities across the state. I see all shades of skin in the ethnically diverse room, not knowing the invisible differences in each other that don’t show visibly, but aware they are there. Those differences are valuable and make our lives rich. But, we do have one thing in common- we want youth to thrive, be healthy, access information, product & services to advocate for their own health.

I don’t mention politics often during my facilitation events and keynote addresses. I know there are a variety of beliefs in audiences and I respect people’s values and life journeys. But, today, I was asked a question. One simple question. It came at the end when a woman raised her hand and said, “This isn’t about the content today, but I’m intrigued to ask you what you love most about your work.” I’m never asked questions like this in these settings. I wasn’t prepared how to answer. It honestly threw me off guard.

But, after a deep breathe, from my heart, I said, “The opportunity to work with communities all over the United States.” And, in that moment, I knew they heard my voice quiver. The events of this past week came up from my stomach into my tearful eyes and wavering voice. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. I shared that 4 years ago I successfully completed a bike ride across the US solo and in that experience, I never once experienced a negative interaction with a human being. For 90 days. Across cornfields, and mountain ranges. Through incredibly rural communities and small cities. And, as I shared this, tears fell down my face. I didn’t apologize, but rather, said, “In light of this week’s events, I feel the need to share with all of you that my experience is that most Americans are good. Most Americans are genuine and care about each other- no matter who you are. And, that is why I do this work. I do this because of communities like yours, people like you who are passionate and willing to dedicate their professional lives to youth.” And with that, we ended. I saw heads nodding, and smiles and tears in that audience. I had many more people than usual come up to me after and give me hugs.

This is what life is about. Faith in others. Trust and vulnerability. Connection. That's why I do what I do.

Wait. Systems change, from a board game??

By Liz Thorne, VP of Policy and Programs, Cairn Guidance

I don’t like board games. Even when I was young, not interested. I had friends who would play Monopoly for hours, DAYS even, and I just could not buy in. And Yahtzee. Just shaking dice in a cup and rolling them? How boring!

I had heard about the Systems Thinking Systems Changing™ Simulation from Jess for years.  Affectionately referred to as the “Systems Game.” I heard stories of her facilitating groups of hundreds of participants through the process, and stories of participants that would recall their experience from the process at a conference years later. How could a board game teach participants about the complexities of systems change? I was skeptical.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Systems Game for the first time. In just under 4 hours and through my team’s simulated 3-year grant, we tried to implement a new school initiative in our community. We ran into barriers and made the mistakes that are so often cited in grant reports and peer-reviewed journals. We met resistance in the community that wasn’t expected. We tried to implement before we had gotten everybody on board. We didn’t link our activities to our long-range vision. At the end of our first virtual year, my team thought, “we are never going to get anything done.” How often have we uttered that at the end of a year of grant funding??

Participating in the Systems Game reiterated for me the importance of relationship building. This was a recurring theme in a recent grant application we just submitted focused on systems change in schools. It’s a one-year grant and our main focus? Building relationships and gaining community-buy in. Connecting the work of the grant with the vision of the community and connecting that to what schools are held accountable for.

We are looking forward to facilitating the Systems Thinking Systems Changing™ for grantees of the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Programs in Savannah, Georgia next week. The participants will participate in a two-day version that allows plenty of time for processing, reflection and action planning for their projects back in their communities. 

Cairn Guidance Work Updates

We have just been notified that we will be presenting two sessions in Bend Oregon at the School Employee Wellness Conference in March for OEA Choice TrustJess will share her information on creating sustainable staff wellness programs as well as moderate a panel of school health champions sharing they staff wellness success stories. 

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Health Education Student Growth Goals- we got it!

Those of you teaching in Kentucky have heard PGES, Program Review, Student Growth Goals multiple times in different settings. Even if you are obsessed with student achievement & assessment (like I am), the terms may make you groan, roll your eyes or have a stomach ache. It is not because you don't believe in clear criteria for accountability for yourself or your students. 

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Oregon Community Foundation; Studio to School Grants

A few months ago, my former employee, Maesie Speer, currently the Program Associate for Grants and Programs at the Oregon Community Foundation, asked me if I'd be willing to share the Systems Thinking Systems Changing simulation with her staff in hopes that they would see the value of facilitating the simulation for recipients of their Studio to School grant. Her colleagues were really excited about it and last Friday, I facilitated the game with 100 participants in Eugene Oregon at the Shedd Institute

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Supporting Sustainability

This past Saturday, I helped coordinate, facilitate and keynote an event with Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS), the 19th largest school district in the country. We were fortunate to have three essential organizations represented.

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What Have We Been Up To?

Here is an update about what Cairn Guidance has been up to recently. We are so excited to be working in school health, community health and within the content areas of: tele-medicine, after-school programming for youth, school health policies, facilitation, keynoting, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly streets, sustainability, curriculum, systems thinking, suicide prevention, mental health promotion, and obesity prevention! 

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky- Jess is a part time project officer for the Foundation, overseeing sub-grantee projects around Kentucky. These projects are funded through the federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF) and focus on a variety of community health issues. Through the Foundation, Jess was invited to the White House this upcoming Friday for a SIF reception displaying some of the innovative projects being implemented around the country. She is honored to have been invited to participate in this great event!

Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS)- We have just completed a review of PGCPS District Wellness Policy and all other related school health policies, including Bullying/Harassment, Crisis, Recess, Competitive Foods and HIV policies. We are also helping to facilitate a Health and Wellness Team Conference on September 27 for over 100 participants across their school system, representing school nurses, health education teachers, physical education teachers, cafeteria managers and school administrators. I will be keynoting the day to energize participants and helping facilitate school health related information, best practices and sustainability of their school health work. Both the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and ASCD will be present to help support the district’s commitment to being “Great By Choice” and choosing to invest more in health promotion, disease prevention, quality health care while in school for their students, health screenings for their staff and increased family engagement in school health and wellness committees in order to improve academic achievement for ALL students attending their public schools.

American School Health Association (ASHA)- ASHA is in Portland Oct 9-11! Jess will be facilitating the first-timer’s session at ASHA this year, on Friday morning. She is also presenting a workshop on “Creating Lasting School Health Programs,” focused on how to create sustainable school health initiatives. 

Alaska Department of Education- Jess will be traveling up to Anchorage in October to facilitate the Systems Thinking; Systems Changing Simulation for districts in Alaska working on chronic disease and school health, some CDC 1305/Quad Grant-selected districts.  Jess is excited that this trip falls right after ASHA’s conference in Portland and will allow a couple of days in Seward AK to ‘play’!

Alta Planning/Grand Rapids MI Transportation Project- Cairn Guidance is working with Alta Planning to create a safer, healthier city. We are working on a project funded by the transportation to create a more bicycle/pedestrian friendly city. Cairn’s role will be to create adult-learning modules to promote safe bicycling and walking around the city, during all times throughout the year. We are mentioned in this article on the project.

EVEN- EVEN is an initiative Cairn is helping launch around mental health. The project includes a High School suicide prevention project and will be expanding to address mental health within communities, specifically military and their families, K-12 schools and in work settings addressing employee wellness. More to come on this project!

HYPE Project- Eat Smart, Move More South Carolina partnered with the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to create the Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project. It was created through funding from the Federal Community Transformation Grant Program as a part of the Healthy South Carolina Initiative.

The purpose of the HYPE Project is to motivate and engage youth in policy, systems, and environmental obesity change efforts throughout South Carolina. The HYPE Project will build the skills of youth so that they can become a greater voice in their communities. The HYPE Project activities focus on healthy eating and active living; however, youth are encouraged to use the skills they learn to be lifelong champions of positive change.

Cairn Guidance is reviewing HYPE’s student and facilitator guides in order to strengthen the program. Using their pilot and evaluation feedback and reviewing the program through the lens of the Health Education Analysis Tool, we will provide additions and revisions as needed.

Southern Obesity Summit- Jess will be keynoting this conference on Tuesday, October 7 in Louisville. Her “Do Something Extraordinary” keynote will motivate and energize participants to continue to fight obesity in their communities and set personal wellness goals to take care of their own health. 

 

Sugarloaf Maine; Schoolsite Health Promotion Conference

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I'm here! It's gorgeous. 4 months ago when Susan Berry at the Maine Department of Education contacted me about working with them again at the end of June at Sugarloaf Resort, how could I say no? I arrived at 2pm today, took a hike part way up a ski mountain I haven't been to since high school. No joke, this place is in the middle of Maine. It took about 4.5 hours to drive here from Boston this morning. The weather is perfect and it's nice to be here a little early. 

Since I'm here for the entire 3-day conference, Susan and I worked together to determine a few opportunities for me to participate in the conference. This conference has been held for 29 years (!) and focuses on school employee wellness. So, tomorrow is the first day and I'll be facilitating the opening energizer to get school teams acquainted and another activity to get the entire group of participants engaged in the topics of the week, including personal wellness, school site wellness and partnership development. Wednesday I will be the opening keynote for the day and Thursday I'll be facilitating a workshop called, "Honing your Stairway Speech" which allows participants opportunities to practice advocacy skills around school health issues. I hope to get some networking time in while kayaking, hiking and enjoying the amazing views from beautiful Maine! 

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KY Let's Move Active Schools Physical Activity Leader Training

Yesterday was Kentucky's first ever Let's Move Active Schools (LMAS) Physical Activity Leader (PAL) Training. Jamie Sparks, Coordinated School Health Director at the Kentucky Department of Education and I were the trainers. We had 57 PE teachers (K-12 represented) from all over the region excited to join in on the skill-building workshop, and, of course the fun!

Jamie Sparks and I were the trainers for the first #KYPAL training in Kentucky!

 

Let's Move Active Schools PAL training equips educators and other school health advocates to implement Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs (CSPAP). I don't love that we call it Programs, because in reality, CSPAP is really about implementing programs, policies and practices that create a culture of health in your school. The mantra is "60 a Day!" with the goal being students are physically active 60 minutes per day. That might sound like a lot, but it is really not.. Those 60 minutes of physical activity could include: time being physically active in physical education class, before and after school physical activity (laps programs, after school inter-murals, walk and bike to school efforts) and during school physical activity opportunities (within classroom environments, or breaks and recess). Plenty of opportunities to get students moving!

We know that there is research to demonstrate that incorporating physical activity (PA) in the classroom doesn't affect academic performance in any negative way. And, as Jamie Sparks alluded to in the training, we know that our brain on PA is like Miracle Grow on plants. In the classroom, it boosts attention & concentration. 

         
  
 
  
    
  
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     Physical  activity improves learning on three levels: “first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.”     John Ratey , SPARK

 

Physical  activity improves learning on three levels: “first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.”

John Ratey , SPARK

 

The training was full of movement, music, laughter and activities that engaged our participants. The participants participated in a carousel activity in which they were able to work in groups of 10 to brainstorm what they were currently doing around the areas of physical education, before and after school PA programs, PA during school, family and community engagement, and staff involvement at the elementary and/or secondary level. They also had a chance to discuss what could be done at their schools to strengthen these 5 areas of CSPAP.  We provided opportunities for them to learn the 7 Step Process for implementing CSPAP in their school (create a School Wellness Council, complete a needs assessment, create vision, goals and objectives, action plan, define outcomes, develop a plan of action, implement and measure success).

The teachers were engaged and enthusiastic for a summer professional development day! It was great to meet new teachers passionate about this work in my home state. Loved having the opportunity- thank you to all the partners that made it happen!

 Carousel Activity

Carousel Activity