Opinion

How Not to Lose Your Mind Over Every New Trend in Your Field

It sometimes feels like risking whiplash to try to follow all the emerging trends in our field and the potential funding, resources and opportunities that come along with them. Every few years, sometimes more often, there are new trends that are often accompanied by or are a part of funding opportunities. Some of these trends stick around for awhile until something newer, younger and sexier gets introduced. Some trends seem to come around in cycles.

Trends that I’ve seen come, go and distract from other, previous trends include (not an exhaustive list!):

  • Apprenticeships (teens)
  • Bullying (middle schoolers)
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) (middle and teens)
  • Family engagement (all)
  • STEM (and then STEAM) (all)
  • Girls and sports (middle)
  • Trauma-informed practices (all)
  • Digital badges (middle/teens)
  • Literacy (elementary)
  • Expanded learning (all)
  • Out-of-school time (all)
  • Project-based learning (all)
  • Service learning (all)
  • 21st-century skills (teens)

Terms like expanded learning and out-of-school time (OST) were used over the last five to seven years to refer to the time outside of typical school hours (7 a.m.-3 p.m.). OST seems to be the term that stuck and is more commonly used to describe the hours after school, on the weekends and even during the summer and school breaks.

Depending on the group you serve, some trends may be more relevant to you, but how do you know for sure if it’s worth “drinking the Kool-Aid”?  

Here are a few tips for deciding if a trend is for you:

  • What age group do you work with? If you are working with elementary school youth, the idea of redesigning your program to align with apprenticeship frameworks may not be that relevant. However you can consider how the things you do with your little ones now will better prepare them for when they are ready to have an apprenticeship.
  • Similarly, what family or parent/caregiver engagement looks like at the elementary school level looks very different at the high school level. Be very clear about why you want families to engage with your program, and adapt what you do and how you engage with them to meet their developmental needs.
  • Do you have the right staff to tackle this topic/trend? Before switching over to STEM programming, assess your staff’s ability to lead STEM activities. Do you have the appropriate space and resources to implement STEM programming?
  • What kind of partners might you need to take on this trend? Do you have the time and capacity to identify, foster and nurture those relationships?
  • Does this trend (or the money and resources that come with it) support your program mission or goals? If not, then why are you doing it? Is there another goal that it supports? Does it create an opportunity for you to shift or try something you’ve been wanting to try?

Here are tips for staying abreast of the trends:

Sign up for newsletters from local and national organizations like:

And, check your local professional development providers, intermediary networks, etc. Don’t underestimate the importance of reading the newspaper and staying abreast of trends in your local community. And pay attention to national trends. Is there a national shift toward clean energy? Will there need to be qualified people to work in that sector? Will there be money available to train young adults to be prepared to take on this work?

It’s easy to feel like you have to integrate every trend into your program and worry that you might miss an opportunity. But the clearer you are about what you do, for whom you do it and the capacity of your staff and partners to do that work well, the easier it will be to say “no” and stay focused on your work.

Rebecca Fabiano, master of science in education, is the founder and president of Fab Youth Philly, a small, woman-owned business that supports youth-serving organizations and serves as a lab to create programming for and with youth.

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