If you haven’t heard the buzz, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s expansion of the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative is in full swing, with 20 completed trainings and 14 more scheduled for 2016. Team Up offers a unique learning experience that enhances schools’ food service operations through training and peer-to-peer mentorship to school nutrition professionals looking to maintain a healthy environment and encourage strong student meal program participation.
What exactly happens at a Team Up training? Ever had an “a-ha” or a “why didn’t I think of that” moment when a friend shares a really great idea? Team Up is where “a-ha” moments are shared among school nutrition professionals and turned into action back via their school meals programs. Let’s break down a Team Up workshop to see how these “a-ha” moments transpire.
Best Practice Panel Presentations
Great ideas are meant for sharing. Team Up workshops kick off with panels where participants hear school nutrition peer mentors share their best practices and strategies for issues like increasing school meal program participation, menu planning and financial management.
This is where the magic happens! After listening to best practice presentations, participants break out into small groups for a round of brainstorming and problem-solving around each specific topic, all with best practice ideas in mind. Using the Egan Skilled Helper Model, which uses an opportunity-development approach, school nutrition peer mentors guide and facilitate discussions as participants identify their program challenges and develop solutions with their peers. During the breakout sessions, participants examine:
- What is going on in my school nutrition program?
- What does a better outcome look like?
- How do I get to the better outcome?
- How do I make it all happen?
The Action Plan
Participants examined their challenges and solutions and excitement is building around progress and potential opportunities identified during the breakout sessions. What do participants do with all of these great ideas? Peer mentors help participants put their specific strategies and solutions into an action plan using SMART goals, which are defined as goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time‐bound. Participants take their action plan home as a guide to implement their Team Up strategies and solutions in their school nutrition programs.
Operating a school meals program can be challenging, but school nutrition directors don’t have to do it alone. Team Up workshops invite allied organizations to share their free school nutrition resources that support school food service operations and help create a healthy school environment. Participants can use these resources as they move forward with implementing their action plan in their school nutrition programs.
Networking is another valuable resource Team Up workshops provide, giving school nutrition directors opportunities to develop working relationships with their peer mentors and other school nutrition directors in their state. Many directors who have attended a Team Up training have expressed that they’re not alone and can turn to their fellow director. “I can now see what areas I need to work and improve on in my program. I see that I am not alone in my journey. I have many helpful people that I can rely on for help and guidance. The Team Up training was valuable to me because I am more comfortable talking to my peers. I see I am not alone and I can ask for help.” – Rebecca Lusk, Manager/Supervisor, Towns County Schools, Hiawassee, Ga.
After the Workshop
The Team Up workshop may be complete, but the Team Up spirit lives on. After returning home, participants roll up their sleeves, take a deep breath, and take the first steps outlined in their Team Up action plan - and then real life happens. Barriers pop up as action plans are implemented, but there’s no reason to get discouraged. Team Up peer mentors and state agencies are still available should participants have questions or get stuck with their action plan. In addition, USDA together with the Institute of Child Nutrition hosts monthly webinars for school nutrition professionals to expand their knowledge and tools on a wide variety of topics; webinars recordings are made available online for later viewing.
And this is why Team Up workshops are so effective – Team Up encourages school nutrition professionals to continue to network with their peers and problem-solve school nutrition program barriers long after the workshop is completed. No one is an island, and we must team up to make school meals accessible, nutritious and delicious!
For more information about the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative, check out the Team Up Web site and these guest blogs authored by former participants in the Team Up workshops. For more information on other training and resources available to school nutrition professionals, visit our Healthier School Day web site.