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Kansas 4-H Tip Sheet

June 15, 2018

4-H: Invite, Welcome, Learn

Submitted by Wade Weber

4-H Youth Development builds and grows tomorrow’s leaders. The principles that govern positive youth development are key to adolescent development. I will be sharing my thoughts about those essential principles. Some human development principles have been around for some time.  Consider Sanford’s Challenge and Support is a concept in human development that has been around since 1962.  David Kolb’s Do Reflect Apply model has been around since 1984. Some principles are timeless, yet there is new knowledge that is being discovered daily about how youth learn. How can 4-H Youth Development continue to leverage what is known in order to maximize dynamic learning environments to benefit youth?  That is a central question that guides me each day.  

Learning environments and tactics in engagement are changing rapidly in school and local economies. Leveraging our partnership with the University to grow our capacity to adopt these changes in engagement is critical for our future success enriching local communities through 4-H.  

The professional challenge each day is to involve ourselves in the work and then reflecting on what we have and are still learning. We seek to understand the wide variety of influencers that are engaging youth. And then start something new by doing something different – sometimes incrementally, sometimes in leaps – in order to help grow youth to be the community leaders we need them to be.  This past year for me has been a purposeful observation and reflection of all the various activities that involve the Kansas 4-H Program. We have so many great things going on in 4-H, but the challenges in front of us are real and not going away. So how do I stay confident in the midst of uncertainty, I focus on the KSRE and 4-H mission. If I focus on our mission, even in the midst of external and internal challenges, I can invite others into something very good. Taking a look at one of the phrases that guide our 4-H Movement - 4‑H empowers young people with the skills to lead for a lifetime. So how do I live and act in a way that moves us closer that organizational reality.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Consider the fundamental needs of youth we talk about in 4-H: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.

In order to empower youth, they need to know and experience belonging.  A belonging that shows that they are a part of the community that is learning together.  This is more than just having “get to know you” games or remembering names, but genuinely fostering learning environments that affirm the value and contribution of each learner within the context of community.

Purpose to Learn Together

Now it is true, you can learn without engaging in community – self- directed learning is powerful. But when talking about adolescent development, learning and community are essential components in growing tomorrow’s leaders.  If young people learn mastery without the relational skills essential to share that mastery in community life, that youth will be limited in their overall effectiveness as a leader.

But how does that environment even start?

I believe it starts by those inside the program deciding to be invitational and welcoming.

Be Purposely Invitational and Relentlessly Welcoming

Purposeful and relentless. Community does not just spontaneously form, it is crafted with intentionality.  But that belonging and community cannot exist without a mutual commitment from both parties.  The inviter and the invitee.

One practice I was challenged to do early on in my Extension career, was to weekly seek out conversations with “new people” – people who knew nothing about Extension or 4-H work. This simple challenge transformed how I saw the program and how I shared about it with others.  I quickly discovered words that seemed so clear to me were confusing to others.  My insider language was actually masking the benefits of 4-H Youth Development to people outside the 4-H experience.  But I got better “learning by doing,” and I found that families, business partnerships, youth, and schools wanted… like really wanted what 4-H offered. But it first required me to invite others to discover what I valued so dearly. And secondly had to learn. I had to learn how to communicate 4-H values and experiences in language that others could understand. Thirdly, I had to commit to honoring their choice. I could not force a relationship.  Community cannot form under coercion.  It has to be something freely entered into.  And that meant I also needed to honor those who chose not to join at that time.  No pressure tactics, just expressing genuine desire for the invitee to join. More often than not, when I followed those steps, new families, partners, volunteers and youth positively responded and jumped into the 4-H journey.

So simply stated, go talk to people this month who do not have a clue about 4-H.  Ask them what hopes and fears they have regarding youth development in your local community. How can we be responsive and yet true to what we know works in growing youth to be tomorrow’s leaders. How can people value something they have never had explained to them?

People prioritize what they value, and my challenge to all of us in 4-H circles is to connect with people’s values and then showcase the pathway that 4-H provides to grow positive expressions of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

Monthly, I will be sharing and writing about Kansas 4-H program distinctives, values and progress. I invite you to discuss with me the distinctions and fundamentals that make 4-H Youth Development the premier positive youth development program in Kansas. We have no peer when it comes to our structure, our history, our networks, our relationship with K-State, and our presence in communities across our state. Let’s continue local efforts to be relentlessly welcoming and purposely invitational – inviting others to discover the benefits of 4-H Youth Development.