The Philadelphia Outward Bound School is privileged to work with schools and organizations across the city – including with longtime partners at the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. Snider Hockey is a nationally acclaimed non-profit that uses the sport of hockey to educate and empower under-resourced youth of Philadelphia to prosper in the game of life. This summer, POBS delivered a series of virtual programs to Snider Hockey’s Youth Leadership Council. Each session offered Council members a space to build community, practice leadership skills, and find courage for the challenges ahead.
This blog revisits POBS' work with the Council and Snider Hockey’s Life Skills team. Below are excerpts from a conversation with Kim Glodek, POBS’ Director of Education and Partnerships, Gil Schaffer, Snider Hockey’s Life Skills Programs Manager, and Jeremy Gillam, Snider Hockey’s Life Skills Senior Coordinator.
Kim: I want to talk a little bit about how we arrived at the summer program. We decided early on to work with Snider Hockey's Youth Leadership Council. Can you tell us about the Council and how your goals for the Council played out in our online sessions over the summer?
Gil: Last year was a huge year for Snider Hockey's Life Skills programs. We added more structure to our team in order to take a big bite out of some areas that we haven't been able to tackle before. One of those areas was this idea of a traditional student leadership council that would consist of 8 - 12 highly engaged students looking for greater responsibility. However, we received so many nominations that we quickly shifted from ‘How do we whittle this down 8 - 12 students,’ to, ‘Why don't we be more inclusive than that. Let's look at this in a different way.’
We put together a council of 56 students, grouped into three tiers: the underclass tier of 9th and 10th graders, the upper-class tier 11th and 12th graders, and the alumni tier. We finally had this vision and then COVID happened. A lot of our initial ideas for the students’ leadership development, like opportunities to shadow staff, or work with younger students and build mentorship opportunities, had to be thrown out the window.
We look at Outward Bound as leadership experts and we thought, ‘We have this leadership council. We have these leadership partners. What can we do?’ That’s when Kim and her team presented this idea of doing an online leadership course. We took this idea to the students and a lot of them were all over it. They wanted it. They were excited about it.
Kim: Are there any highlights that stand out to you as pivotal points in those sessions that sparked the students’ learning or those ‘aha’ moments?
Gil: For our students, it's definitely been a highlight, without a doubt. After the program, a lot of students said, ‘If there's something like this in the future, I definitely want to be a part of it,’ which tells me it was a good experience and that they want more because they feel like part of a team.
Mentorship has also been a big part of the vision for this council. I think your staff deserves a lot of credit for the culmination of the final session where the upper class and the alumni council members were given the opportunity to be a mentor to the underclass members and prepare advice for them from their own lives and experiences. That session really - I mean, really, really - knocked it out of the park.
Another common theme we heard in the feedback from students was that they learned there are different ways to be a leader. That may sound obvious to those of us who are trying to teach it, but that was a huge takeaway. I felt like this was an eye-opening experience for our students. In different ways, their feedback all hit on this idea of perspective. Some said, ‘I didn't realize you can lead like this,’ or ‘I learned to really consider somebody else's point of view.’ I think all those things are critical to true leadership.
Kim: The students represented a range of experiences and backgrounds that allowed the students to learn from each other and see the value that everyone brought to the table. It wasn't all the top athletes or all of the "A" students but a mix of many different players involved. That mixture played a big role in building the students' perspectives. You could see the little light bulbs coming on like, ‘oh yeah, I'm hearing a perspective that I didn't necessarily consider before.’
Sometimes that depth of experience only happens on our longer course or over a series of day programs, so I appreciate Snider Hockey’s commitment to multiple sessions. It allowed us to evaluate each program and question, ‘What does this build on? What are those stepping stones to the next session? What did the students respond to in this session and is that something we need to dig into in the next session or should we stick to the plan?’'. Making adjustments along the way enabled us to meet the needs of students and was an important part of the process.
Jeremy: The ability to assess and make adjustments and then move forward, as you said, was so, so important. It gave our student-athletes that authentic feeling of ‘I'm really being heard here. My voice really matters in this space. I could be the youngest student-athlete here, but it matters just the same.’ And I thought that was such a valuable piece of this experience for everybody.
Gil: There was such a high level of respect in the atmosphere and the environment that your team created, which was really cool to see. Not all of the students knew each other or had worked together before. The level of respect amongst the students in each session left everybody with such a good feeling. That's why we focus on perspective learning so much because it sticks with you so much longer. Any time you can put forth the effort to consider what someone else thinks or be a little bit more patient or a little bit more respectful, it's going to really stick with you. It all ties back to leadership, which is why I get really excited about this council. Leadership is the umbrella that allows you to teach so many other things.
Kim: I remember our first conversation and we talked a lot about the goals of the council and what you wanted its outcomes to be while also recognizing, ‘Wow, the world is different for our students. How can we do our best to support them? How do we help continue to push them forward with leadership, connection, belonging, and courage? And how do we transition all of those things that once felt so tangible in-person to an online experience?’ We really appreciate your trust in us as a partner to figure out how to navigate this virtual space. Being able to do that together has been really special.
Gil: I want to echo what you’re saying. I think it was scary on our end as the partners. I certainly felt the pressure. It's easy to look back now and say, ‘Wow, what a great success.’ It was a little scary at first, but I think we got better because of it. Our team certainly felt that way and I’m sure your team felt that as well.
Kim: On course we talk about getting outside of our comfort zone so much, and we ask our kids to do that all the time. Going through this process has been a series of ‘stepping outside of the comfort zone’ for the students, your staff, and our staff. The students, once again, proved how willing they are to expand that zone, and I really appreciate that.
Jeremy: I've been thinking about how not having the vehicle of play really handcuffs us in an awesome way and gets us outside of our comfort zones. We are able to connect with each other and empower each other in ways that we just don't do in the locker room or with the few minutes we have before or after practice. I’m feeling really optimistic about how we can use this tool going forward, even coupled with our play, to connect in new and exciting ways.
Kim: We've talked about that, too. While we can't wait to see our students again and be outdoors with them, there's a silver lining in all of this. We've learned how to use this form of communication and this platform in a way that might actually serve as a support for in-person programming. We've even received some feedback from your students and from other groups that suggested using an online platform as a warm-up to an in-person program or as a follow-up a couple of months down the road. There's a lot of really great learning and innovation that's come out of this. There are some changes that we will definitely take with us going forward.