Bobby Caples (Education)

Education & Youth Development Consultant

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Must Read for All Youth Workers: New Report from University of Chicago

Great new report from the University of Chicago that comprehensively integrates youth development theory, broad educational objectives, and youth-oriented public policy. My review:

Teachers: Summer Camp. Do it!

I’m about to say something that’s probably going to be fairly unpopular to teachers out there who are used to being asked to do more for less: This summer, give even more. Volunteer at a summer camp for a week and get paid absolutely nothing to do it.

Now that I’ve gotten all of the unpopular and borderline offensive phrases and commands out of the way, here’s what I mean:

First, a bit about my backstory. I got my start in youth work at summer camps back in college. If for no other reason than primacy (it happened first), it’s really influenced the way I see my professional world. It’s the reason I’m cool with long hours, and see going above and beyond as the norm, rather than a district initiative to cheat me out of pay. It’s the reason I’ve chosen my discipline approach that I have, and it informs the way I approach staff development & training.

The simplest, and first, argument I’ll start with is that summer camp serves as a great compliment to what you do during the school year, and can serve as a great “reset button” for your approach with kids. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you get frustrated and tired of the shenanigans that kids pull throughout the year. Sadly, over the course of a few years, that point of fatigue & exhaustion most teachers feel throughout the year creeps earlier and earlier through the school year. If you find yourself so very ready for the last day of school before you hit the 100-day celebration, this may be a sign you know what I’m talking about.

So, give that, why in the world would I argue for doing more, and for free, during the summer? The simple reason is that I don’t believe fatigue is the mere result of effort exerted. I believe it has to do more with our perspective. We aren’t fatigued because we’ve done too much – we’re fatigued because we feel we’ve done too much. Sure, there is such a thing as actually getting tired, but we work long and hard at the beginning of the school year too and somehow feel recharged and refreshed in the morning when we come back.

So, summer camp – it’s a reset button that helps us reset our perspective about how and why we work with kids. It helps us connect with them as people again – not as sponges that need to soak up our lessons. We can start to reconnect with their goals and dreams, rather than our needs and pass-through district directives. At summer camp, the clock moves differently, and the entire goal structure is different. Have you ever gone out for a happy hour drink with colleagues and felt those work relationships rejuvenate? Sure, you just spent more time with that particular co-worker you’ve been detesting, but you shared a few laughs, personal stories, & margaritas, and things seem to be a bit lighter come Monday morning. It’s sort of the same with summer camp & kids – it’s the kid version your Friday afternoon happy hour.

Beyond just being able to tolerate kids, I think it really helps us improve as educators. So much of teaching is about relationships, from being able to challenge kids without them shutting down, to being able to deal with kids who have already shut down because of peer conflict. Let’s face it, as much as we want to maintain strong relationships with kids throughout the school year, increasing demands on teachers make it increasingly more difficult to do so. We still do maintain relationships, but it becomes more difficult, and relationships more strained – at least for me. Summer camp gives us the opportunity to reconnect with kids and focus just on relationships – not lessons, learning, etc.

I guess I can’t really ignore why I’m advocating for the free part of things. First, I’d say that I don’t think it’s absolutely essential. All of the things I mentioned above are certainly possible with paid positions, but there’s something about a volunteering that reaffirms exactly the reasons we do things as educators – for reasons other than the money. It’s almost like renewing our vows in a way – when you volunteer, you are completely and utterly choosing that interaction, and that makes it different than when you’re getting paid to do it.

So, summer camp folks – do it. For free. Or not, but I will!

Authentic Choice

Note: This blog post has been cross-published on

Most of the time when we give kids a choice, it’s pretty clear to them what we want them to choose. Sure, you’re giving them the choice between finishing their work and missing recess, and they can choose, but my experience has been that giving such choice is only step 1 of building authentic choice. Step 2 is, not shockingly, respecting that choice and communicating such respect.

Easier said than done, right? Too often, when a child makes the choice we don’t want them to, we get angry or otherwise try to convince them of the better option. Here’s the problem – in a discipline model in which the end goal is building accountability to self rather than accountability to authority, your voiced disapproval actually hurts rather than helps. By coercing them into your preferred choice, you’re actually taking away from their ability to make their choice, thereby moving agency/authority from their sphere into yours. You’re teaching them to behave for you, and make choices that you like, not ones that actually benefit them.

Again, back to “easier said than done.” So, one thing that makes it “easier done” is doing a bit of “under the hood” work in your own mind with expectations. The first step is to stop wanting them to make your choice, and seeing wrong choices as potentially right ones. What does this mean? This means that really, truly letting kids make any choice presented to them, then experiencing the results, builds a stronger perceived connection between their own agency with decision-making and the end result. In short, they start to see themselves as the ones responsible for good or bad results of their choices. They start to remove you as the middle man, and start to see themselves as the ones responsible for their actions.

Listen First (Behavior Management)

This is going to be one of those posts that sounds obvious, and sort of is.

Every so often, it seems I have to re-learn every lesson I’ve ever learned regarding behavior management. Most recently, I had to go back to square one: Listen. I’ve now come to see this lesson as needing to occur periodically in a fairly predictable cycle: I start off listening as a general approach to behavior management, then slowly I start “talking” more and more. Then, I find that I’m talking so much that I’m not listening at all. Then, I realize what I’m doing and go back to the beginning.

By “listening” & “talking,” of course, I don’t mean just the physical act of actually verbalizing vs auditory intake – I mean a general posture toward behavior manage. Listening involves receiving – taking in cues, letting others talk first, trying to first understand before being understood. Talking, on the other hand, involves putting out information into the world.

Both are important, for sure, but I think a lot of us probably get into the habit of talking when you are the one who “owns the goal,” so to speak – when you’re the one who is more motivated for something to happen. Like control in general, though, the more we apply pressure to the world, the less likely it is to change, at least with some things.

So, for now, I think I’m back where I need to be.


Note: This commentary has been cross-published on

Just a quick observation in response to a recent post on another education blog. Over the past few years, there has been continuous focus on “over-test” of students, from curriculum-based type assessments such as DIBELS to, of course, full-blown state tests that “count.” A recent blogger felt that, in her experience, the education system had crossed the line past “over-testing.”

My response is far from novel, but I believe an important one: If “over-testing” has indeed occurred, it’s quite easy to peg the blame on all testing. That is, because too many tests have been given, every single one is welcomed with spite and animosity. Yet another one. The recent emphasis on using data in education has even been under fire because, at times, it’s misused.

If you can’t already see my point, here it is: Data is GOOD. Assessments are GOOD. Sure, too many is bad, and using data in a bad way doesn’t work, but when we’re attacking assessments and data, let’s stay focused on that. Instead, we’re seeing more and more posts condemning it all – tests, assessments, etc.

Question: If we add another test, will you view it as inevitably bad? Is there no chance that it could be effective? If we integrate data in a new way into our educational framework, is it bound to overburden, or does it stand the chance of helping?

It’s easy to get frustrated with “too much” and stand levying the blame on each individual component, rather than remembering that is isn’t every particular assessment measure that’s broken, but a flaw in the overall system in which those individual components are implemented.

Fixing Indicators

Linking to another article I recently published on another site: Do enjoy!

Fixing Indicators

Bobby Caples – The Scene

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