This blog was originally posted on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Out-of-School Time Blog.
The Best Out-of-School Time (BOOST) Conference is coming up, and this year I'm honored to once again co-present with Bruno Marchesi, Chief Operating Officer at the Center for Collaborative Solutions. We will be discussing Local, State, and National Perspectives on the Healthy Afterschool Movement.
Prior to his role as COO, Bruno served as Project Manager for the Healthy Behaviors and My Brother's Keeper statewide initiatives. Bruno has also previously served as Program Director of the UC Davis School of Education and the California AfterSchool Network. Additionally, both Bruno and I are bloggers with the BOOST Breakfast Club!
First question: Why did you choose to work in the out-of-school time (OST) space? Why do you think OST essential for the success of children?
I began my journey in after school working as a line staff in an after school program in 1997. I did not realize until much later in my career that after school programs not only provide a safe and supportive space for young people, but it exposes them to academic enrichment opportunities that they otherwise may not have. Afterschool provides young people an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with their peers and caring adults, while at the same time giving them an opportunity to develop their voice and leadership skills.
Second question: What are some experiences you've had working in OST that have helped you develop as a professional?
As I developed my own skills in after school and got an opportunity to be promoted into other positions within the OST field, I cannot say enough about the blessing that I have received to be surrounded by such great coaches throughout my career. These folks really invested their time, energy and expertise to help me develop my skills while showing me personal and professional friendship and helping me aspire towards and develop career goals. This really has been the key to success for my development in the field. I can only hope to do my part and pass along the knowledge and experience that I have gained to others in the field.
Third question: What do you feel like is missing when it comes to training OST professionals?
I believe that as a field, we have grown to be more sophisticated about the professional development offerings that we provide our staff. I think we need to do a better job with mentorship, focusing not only on outcome based skills but soft skills when it comes to leadership development, core values, and transferring of knowledge between colleagues.
Let's keep going: What's one of the best pieces of advice someone has given you while working in the OST field?
One of my former mentors always emphasized the value of prioritizing what is really important based on your own core values, only then will we have the time to do what is needed and what we deem important in life. It is the difference between doing things right... and doing the right things.
One more: With high turnover and lower pay, how do you think young professionals can be recruited and retained to work in OST?
I truly believe that each person has to make their own decisions about staying, however, having an intentional vision and an organizational culture that fosters trust is key to building community engagement, both internally with our staff, and externally with those whom we serve. It's about creating systems to treat our staff in the same way that our organization intends to serve our community.
Thanks Bruno! Who are the coaches and mentors in your life? Who do you have the ability to inspire? Take time this week as you plan activities and schedules to reflect and reconnect with the core values that drive you and your commitment to out-of-school time.
For breakfast I had a coffee and scrambled eggs.
In 2008, forty-six percent of public elementary school reported that a fee-based stand-alone program was physically located on campus (National Center for Education Statistics, February 2009). Whether or not that figure holds true in 2014 is not yet known, but count yourself – and your students – lucky if you have a program available to your students on your campus. A continually growing body of research proves that high quality afterschool programs have the ability to change children's lives by engaging them in learning, improving their grades and test scores, and keeping them safe, healthy, and on track for continued success.
But afterschool programs, especially those located on a school campus, cannot do it alone. They must have the support of the school staff to truly sustain high quality. If you are on a campus fortunate enough to provide afterschool services, here's what you can do to help:
• If you are an administrator, first and foremost, communicate. Set monthly or bi-weekly meetings with afterschool administration to discuss the focus of afterschool program activities, needs, and wishes. Help program staff understand broad campus goals for student achievement. These meetings also help afterschool staff understand their role in the bigger picture of quality education on campus. Other roles of an administrator who supports afterschool are detailed in this article.
• Invite the afterschool team to present at family information nights, open houses, and other school-community events. Provide time for them to explain their goals and activities, as well as the benefits of afterschool programs.
• Share resources with afterschool programs. Whether it is a library, gym, cafeteria, science or computer lab, students benefit from access to specialized spaces. Cordoning off a school and restricting afterschool students to a classroom and a restroom limits the effect of the program. If necessary, create a classroom (or space) agreement like the one found on this site.
• Invite afterschool program staff to attend staff development opportunities. Campus-based training is often low- to no-cost and aligns the afterschool team's pedagogical techniques with school day teaching.
• Know more about an administrator's role in creating a quality school with a quality afterschool component. Read the report found here for dozens of ways to support afterschool.
• If you are a teacher, help programs align to the school day by communicating directly with afterschool personnel. A homework checklist, like the one found here, helps afterschool program staff know what you expect from your students.
• Help programs provide time for students to read, study, learn, and practice. Work with program staff to develop schedules that balance their needs. This skill can be second-nature to teachers but very foreign to afterschool staff.
• Lend program resources. Do you have a great read aloud book? Are there board games on your shelf you never have classroom time to play? Most afterschool staff would be happy to borrow these items for use in the program.
These are a few of hundreds of ideas for supporting quality programming on your campus. Remember to discuss needs and problem-solve so all parties – teachers, program staff, most importantly, students, benefit from this coordinated, focused effort. Most of all, be welcoming to afterschool program staff. Greet them in hallways and make them feel at home at school, just as you would a fellow teacher. After all, these afterschool folks nurture the seeds you planted during the school day.
Image credit: NIOST
As I walk into the office of BOOST Collaborative I see artwork, inspirational t-shirts, magazines, and vision boards. I have been interning here for about three weeks now, and I have learned so much about the professional world. Rachel leads me into an open office room, which is freezing cold from the air conditioning. The office has no walls, just windows, creating a cool open space. My mentor Tia and I have worked closely together for the past few weeks, but I am excited to learn more about her past.
Tia Quinn is a passionate professional who created the company BOOST Collaborative in 2007. BOOST Collaborative is a purpose driven organization dedicated to creating change within after school programs nationally. Her organization started on her couch and has grown into a beautiful office space in Little Italy in Downtown, San Diego. Sitting down for an interview, you can tell she is passionate for what she does and wants to see change created within after school programs.
HG: Can you start off by telling me how you came to be in the afterschool program field?
TQ: My background educationally speaking is in psychology, however my work experience primarily has been in the afterschool field. I was a counselor for a bit working with high school students, but for the past twenty-two years I've worked primarily with after school programs, in Connecticut and California. I've done everything from being a site supervisor to a program director. I was the Region 9 Co-Lead working with all the publicly and federally funded afterschool programs in Orange, San Diego, and Imperial counties. I felt that I could make a bigger impact on youth and adults that work with youth if I went out on my own to provide impactful, innovative services.
HG: How did you start BOOST Collaborative?
TQ: So, it started in my living room! I had always done training and consulting on the side for different programs around the country. As that grew I felt like I was able to go out on my own, and start my own company. So I began in my living room, borrowed money from a friend, and started my own company!
HG: That's so crazy. Look where you are now.
TQ: I know, and I love it. I wouldn't change it for anything. The work we are able to do as a team and provide for the field, I wouldn't have it any other way.
HG: Ten years ago, where did you see yourself now?
TQ: Not here! I've always loved this work, and in the beginning I just saw it as a job. I never saw it as a career. Even though I loved working with youth, then later on as I shifted into working with educators, I still didn't see the work as a career. But then I remember I went to my first conference and I met other people who were working in the field, and I was really inspired by the speakers and the workshops and the time to network. I think that was the first time in my adult life that I saw the work that I was doing as a career.
HG: Where did you go to college and what did you study?
TQ: I went to University of Hartford in Connecticut and I studied psychology and sociology, and while I was in college, I started working for an inner-city afterschool program. It was my first experience working with an afterschool program and that's when I fell in love with the concept of out-of-school time and how we can impact students lives through out-of-school time programs.
HG: What advice would you go back and give your teenage self? Speaking academically and personally.
TQ: My teenage self?! I was always involved in a lot of extracurricular activities like student council, band and sports. I think that those are wonderful opportunities to participate in and really engage in, and although academically I had very high test scores, I had average grades because I wasn't engaged in the learning process of the classroom. So I think that I would go back and maybe put more effort in my GPA. It wasn't important to me, and the things that were important to me were actually the extracurricular activities and I felt like I was really more involved and engaged with those things over anything else. Advice I would give to any young person, such as yourself, is just to be open to new possibilities and experiences and have a well-rounded exposure whether it's through travel or education, it's really important to be open socially AND academically.
HG: What sort of trainings, programs, and experiences helped you to be prepared for the professional working world?
TQ: I don't think I've ever taken a business class on how to run a business in my life. Like I said my background is in psychology and working with youth and after school programs so that is what I am familiar with. Starting BOOST I jumped into it very blindly. I didn't know what I was getting into as far as running a company. I'm actually in a program now, an entrepreneur program that teaches me how to run my business and how to grow my business. So I'm doing that after the fact, when maybe I should have done it before. It's good to network and see how others deal with issues within their companies.
HG: What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
TQ: There are so many aspects of our company that I love. I'm really passionate about training educators. I love when I get to travel and incorporate personal experiences into my travel like live music or visiting with friends. Also just being in the room with after school-time educators- that's what inspires me and helps me grow. Of course my other favorite part is actually the BOOST Conference. Seeing it all come together and seeing people have a good time is amazing. My least favorite part is the day-to-day operations. As the CEO I need to keep my eye on the big picture and the overall vision but sometimes I get caught up in the other little things. It's a constant learning experience for me to stay focused on what I need to be doing.
HG: You have a very successful company but how do you hope to grow even more in the future?
TQ: Our goal is to be able to create experiences for people in the community. The next project that we are working on, as you know, is the MARS Experience. It's out of the realm of what BOOST is known for but MARS will introduce an experience with a different audience. The next step with that is to take the systems that we know work well and mirroring that into another audience.
HG: What advice would you give someone my age, who has a lot of ambition, but doesn't know where to start?
TQ: I would definitely say to travel. I think it's so important to go to other countries to see different cultures. I think travelling allows you to find out more about yourself and figure out who you want to become in this world. Along with traveling, I think volunteering in your community and giving back are very important to your growth as a person as well.
Haley Gorman spent one month at the BOOST Collaborative office as part of an intensive Internship Program in partnership with her school, High Tech High Chula Vista. Tia Quinn is the Founder & CEO of BOOST Collaborative, headquartered in San Diego, CA.
To promote an environment of innovation and improvement, one strategy we employ is engaging our staff in developing and then sharing their expertise with their peers. It is in an effort to promote a learning community philosophy to encourage leadership, promote learning, and foster expertise. Through the learning community we are focusing on intentional personal and program improvement, fostering expertise and leadership, and creating internal capacity for staff development.
Promoting Personal & Program Improvement
We have a diverse committee that puts together a list of internal staff expertise. Staff are asked to identify their expertise and participate in sharing it with their peers. The committee also surveys the staff to understand what the professional development needs and wants are among the staff. Those with expertise in the areas of need or interest are then asked to deliver trainings and other learning experiences. In addition to this approach, we also ask staff to lead discussions in their areas of interest. For example, we have a training series that has different staff members leading discussions on selected TED Talks.
The committee also identifies where outside training and support are needed and encourages staff to attend external trainings to expand or develop expertise. Every staff member is asked to develop their own professional development goals, which are discussed and reviewed in the performance evaluation process. All of this is in an effort to continue to grow and expand personal skills, which improve program performance and promote an environment of innovation.
Fostering Expertise & Leadership
Through the learning community, the goal is that staff at all levels of the organization see themselves as ongoing learners and leaders in their field. This happens from their own continued learning as well as rising to high expectations. Being asked to lead a workshop for peers builds confidence. To teach is to first learn, so in that way it also promotes learning in the person developing the workshop. These "teachers" further take on the mantle of leader as they showcase their skills to their peers.
Building Internal Capacity
An added benefit to this strategy is that you are growing your organization's staff development capacity in a very cost effective way. You don't have to pay consultants or send staff to as many external trainings, saving money on fees and travel and focusing in on your internal capacity.
I think it is also a great model for our students. They see that the staff is taking charge of their own education and growth, which can only have a positive benefit for our students, hopefully inspiring them to own their own learning and capacity for leadership.
Speaking of a learning community, I am looking forward to one of the best learning opportunities while we are here at BOOST. I can see a series of internal trainings over the next couple of days that are inspired by BOOST, so those that attend are sharing their learning with those who aren't able to be here. What do you think?
To spice up my day, I had potatoes and cottage cheese with Tabasco for breakfast this morning.
At Techbridge we host a book club that gives us a chance to make time to read and come together to talk about research. We don't always agree on the subject matter, but the book discussions always get us thinking about how we approach our work with kids and with one another. Our last read was Quiet. In her best seller, Susan Cain shares research and personal experiences about the continuum of extroversion-introversion and how the trait can impact engagement and performance at work and school.
Quiet got me rethinking how we support the girls in our after-school programs and how we work at Techbridge. Here are some of my take-aways from the book for our work with kids in our after-school programs.
1) One third to one half of us are introverts yet there is some bias in our culture towards extraverts. Research shows that those who are talkative are more likely to have the chance to present their ideas and more likely to be perceived as competent. As we plan activities, let's stop and think about how we can encourage kids—and especially the introverts—to get their fair share of time and attention so they can fully engage in every part of the lesson.
2) Introverts and extroverts have different preferences for levels of stimulation. We can value both types of learning styles and create sweet spots for introverts and extroverts. In cooperative projects, we can be mindful of the demands placed on introverts and keep some space and time for individual work, especially at the start of a project.
3) It helps when kids know their roles in group activities. Clearly defined goals can help introverts take an active role and not get overshadowed by those more extroverted. With thoughtfulness, role assignment can gently nudge introverts to take on more active roles and extroverts to be more reflective.
4) Despite years of research on what works (and what doesn't), we're still setting up brainstorm situations in ways that are likely to be less productive. Invite kids to think about the project at hand and brainstorm on their own in advance of sharing in a group. With time to think kids are likely to generate more useful ideas and introverts are more likely to have the chance to add their ideas in the mix.
5) Many of the projects we introduce in our after-school programs ask kids to work with others. Sometimes kids get to choose who they work with while other times we assign partners. We have heard from some of our girls that they appreciate moving outside their comfort zone and working with others. These opportunities help kids go beyond their circle of friends, grade level, racial group, ability level, or place on the introversion-extroversion continuum.
6) Explain why it's important to learn to work with others and why you do social engineering. From our experience we found it helpful to explain to kids and parents. We promote teamwork to prepare our girls for what's ahead in high school, college, and the work place.
7) Working collaboratively can also create challenges. Some pairs find that two minds are better than one. These groups jump in and share ideas that build upon one another's efforts. They quickly try out their plans and when their first design fails—as they typically do—the girls step back and discuss how they can improve upon the redesign. In contrast, others just can't seem to figure out how to work together. Through trial and error, we have learned lessons to reduce these challenges and help more of our girls to work together with success.
8) At the end of the afternoon, allow time for kids to reflect in ways that support introverts and extraverts. Give everyone a post-it and invite them to share an idea they learned or a question they want to pursue. Collect and discuss them at the end or start of your program.
9) Help parents appreciate their child for who they are and offer strategies to support their child's strengths.
Our discussion around Quiet also gave us food for thought on our workspace and how we work at the office.
1) The open space concept is very popular, yet research suggests a different approach may work better. Top performers have workplaces that provide the most privacy, personal space, and freedom from interruption. Excessive stimulation and frequent interruptions can reduce productivity. Places with the optimal work environments offer a mix of personal and private quiet areas where staff can focus on individual projects and work alone along with casual meet-up areas where folks can brainstorm and share work in progress without interrupting others. This arrangement allows people to choose when and how much they want to collaborate. The set-up also accommodates for differences among introverts and extroverts. While it may not be possible to totally reconfigure an office, it is possible to reimagine elements within the office.
2) Some of our staff have jobs that bring frequent interruptions and interactions with others. They have been encouraged to create systems that let others know when they need quiet and uninterrupted time. A stop sign, a cartoon, or closed door gives them permission to have quiet time when they need it and to let others know when to hold off on a request or question.
3) Meetings are an important and frequent part of our work day. We are trying to be more mindful of differences among staff and support the inclusion of ideas from everyone during meetings and project planning. From Quiet, we learned that we can create opportunities for introverts to participate by inviting them in advance to present an idea or project update. With time to prepare they will be able to think about and rehearse their contribution. Another idea we are trying is asking staff to brainstorm by themselves and compiling their ideas for group discussion. This gives everyone time to contribute and reflect in advance. Not only does this encourage introverts but it also makes for more productive discussions.
I encourage you to read Quiet and think about how you support the introverts and extroverts in the work you do. What did you learn from the research? Do you disagree with any messages in the book? I invite you to share your experiences.
By the way, I had breakfast this Sunday morning here at the Techbridge office. I find that the quiet and uninterrupted time allows me to write and think about where I want to go during the week.
The director's job can be very complex. We've come up with a powerful yet simple way to articulate what the job entails, illustrate how to effectively manage your time, and leverage your efforts to maximize your success. We have identified 7 Specialties that help bring simplicity to understanding a challenging and complex job.
When directors only specialize in one of these areas (such as... "MY specialty is parent relationships"), they add value, but they never really experience success. They fall short. All 7 of these specialties are crucial for success. You must make ALL of them YOUR specialty if you want to succeed in this job. We have witnessed time and time again that when directors become specialists in all of these areas they have less stress, more joy, and more success at work.
1. The Basics
The First Specialty is the Basics. This specialty is all about a consistent and superb execution of the basics of your programming standards – your state licensing standards, accreditation standards or organizational standards. It is about a complete and UNCOMPROMISING devotion to delivering a basic promise of quality.
What does it look like? Well, you know it when you see it. It is very recognizable. When you walk in, it feels welcome and inviting. It is obvious from the first moment that this is a clean, organized, carefully planned environment. Artwork, signage, and the décor all tell me I have found the fun afterschool program known for being a model of quality. There is an attractive and up-to-date information area with activity calendars, notices, newsletters, and school/community events. There is a cute sign that tells me about all the staff. There are soft spaces where kids are relaxing and chatting. There are enriching activities happening and address academics and promote higher-order thinking. The voices are pleasant, and positive, and fun. The staff seem to love working here. They seem like pros at what they do. It feels good.
2. Essence of Leadership
The Second Specialty is the Essence of Leadership. This specialty is all about being a responsible, trustworthy, caring leader. It is not about charisma. It is about values-based servant leadership. It is about being the ultimate role model of a critically-reflective professional. It is about honesty, personal responsibility and hard work. It is about helping people decide where they want to go and how to get there
When you show the essence of leadership, people will follow you and support you and help you succeed. When you develop the skills necessary to "exude" the essence of leadership, those skills will help you to gain friends, influence people, and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way in life. The communication skills and coaching strategies you develop will help you to build strong, lasting relationships.
3. Cultivating Leadership
The Third Specialty is Cultivating Leadership. This specialty is all about facilitating the development of leadership in others. It is about recognizing, supporting, encouraging, and celebrating the goals and achievements of others in a spirit of facilitation and caring. It is about acknowledging and utilizing the experience and education of others, and encouraging their continued development by providing opportunities for training, mentoring, and professional and personal growth. It is all about positivity and hope and the desire to help people develop their skills.
Cultivating leadership at all levels of an organization is crucial to creating a great place to work. We hire people based on our culture and their character, then we develop them and help them grow. We know that not ALL people want to continually develop themselves. We believe that in afterschool, this is not acceptable. It is not acceptable if our kids do not develop and grow while with us. It is not acceptable if our staff does not develop and grow while with us.
4. Business of the Business
This specialty is all about protecting and nurturing the business of the business. We have an important mission. No money means no mission. We give our people knowledge and information about our fiscal resources; we empower them, and we trust them to control costs and provide quality and value. It is about leading in good times... for bad times.
It is about looking for ways to improve the financial health of the organization as a whole. It is about being innovative in finding new ways to increase program enrollment. It is about fundraising. It is about finding and utilizing new resources. It is about identifying and eliminating waste. It is about providing the highest possible quality for the lowest possible price – doing more with less. It is not about making sure you get your slice of the pie; it is about making a BIGGER pie.
Good leaders pay attention to the details, and when it comes to details, the proof is in the paperwork. This specialty is all about documenting evidence of all the great stuff that we do. We have great experiences with other people's kids; parents miss important moments. We do important work, but as time passes, as staff turnover happens, as we learn new things, our memories fade and become malleable.
Successful organizations know how to keep track of important data, details, and records. Proof is about taking notes and pictures and writing up curriculum ideas. Proof is all about consistently keeping an accurate record of important details. It is not about "red tape." It is about producing paperwork that is meaningful and communicates important information. It is about thorough, professional, on-time record keeping.
Telling our story changes the nature of the relationships we have with our stakeholders and opens doors to new resources and new possibilities for accomplishing our mission. We tell our staff, "When you are on the job, everything you do or say is public relations; when you are part of our team, you are ALWAYS telling our story, so tell it WELL."
This specialty is all about sharing the proof of the great things we do. It is about ensuring that people know our organization and what we do to serve the community. It is about celebrating the work that you do in as public of a way as possible. It is about creating proactive systems and strategies to engage stakeholders and promote and market our organization and our work. It is about making sure that the teachers, nurses, custodians, PE teachers, cafeteria managers, counselors, support staff, and all the families in our schools know that we are there and what services we provide.
7. CQI = Continuous Quality Improvement
If we are not improving constantly, then we are slowly and steadily deteriorating toward our short-term irrelevance and our ultimate demise. This specialty is all about constant improvement even when things are going swimmingly. It is about an insatiable thirst for knowledge and growth. It is all about continuous purposeful change. It is all about constant strategic progress and transformation.
Successful directors must be future-focused thinkers - insatiable lifelong learners that consider the learning process to be active, not passive. They must embrace the acquisition of insight and knowledge, and hold dear the views of potential futures as well as those of the present and the past, all being elements of continuous improvement. The biggest room in the world is the "room for improvement." CQI is about remembering this simple fact.
If you make ALL 7 of these YOUR Specialty - if you manage your time and priorities in alignment with these critical areas of focus, you will experience legendary success as a director and that means you will have met your mission of facilitating the positive development of children with equally legendary success.
For breakfast today, I'm having a large cup of iced coffee and a peanut butter sandwich – extra crunchy.
It's testing time again in public schools! Wooohooooo! Ah yes... Number 2 pencils and bubble-in responses, test taking anxiety and the all encompassing fear that even with all the impressive and meaningful gains your students have made through the year so far they might not do as well as you'd wish. Oh, and your evaluations and merit-based pay increases are on the line to boot! Oh standardized testing how I love you so!
As educators we are bound to standards and assessments and evaluations that can often blur and transform why we decide to work with youth. I am a firm believer that learning should be engaging, meaningful, and that all people can live harmoniously and learn from and with one another through the joy of play. Play is the great equalizer. When we play, we don't see age, color, or gender per se, we are immersed in the moment, and in those moments lie rich teaching and learning opportunities for all involved. Understanding and utilizing the experiential learning cycle enriches these learning opportunities through reflection and application of "aha moments" discovered through play, to other areas of the play participant's lives. This is where the power of this type of learning resides. Play by itself is a beautiful thing, but when enriched through intentional reflection, players become emotionally engaged in the lessons learned and with the people with whom they've learned and played with.
I feel that play, throughout the lifespan, but particularly in childhood enables the play participants to explore many skills and concepts in a different and safe (play) environment that enables the player to then draw upon the concepts and skills learned through play when situations or life experiences occur that parallel those learned through play. Some of these "lessons" are then connected consciously, while some of them just become part of the fabric of who we are, or who we have become based on our experiences.
I also feel that, given the recent advances in neuroscience and the discovery and proof of neuroplasticity of the brain, not only during brain development, but throughout the lifespan, that play holds a significant value in the development of healthy synapses, and that we can continue to keep our brains "young" through play. So, play also serves the purposes of helping people to nurture and develop healthy brain activity through learning about their physical and social worlds by engaging in interesting and meaningful play experiences with others and within different environments. Movement and interaction in play, as in all experiences, can result in the creation of new neural pathways, which can lead to consequent changes in thought, values, and behavior.
Play engages children because it is fun, self-directed and self-initiated, and play enriches and links to learning in many ways. During the early stages of play, children learn about object permanence through a good game of "peek a boo", or the relationships of cause and effect, such as when the child pushes a button or turns a crank, an animal pops up from behind the door on a toy, or when I bounce a certain type of rubber ball, it bounces higher than when I drop that big rock on Dad's foot again (ouch!). Additionally, children begin to understand, albeit in a very elementary and hands-on way, simple physics concepts.
As children grow and move into the next stages of development and become aware that they are social beings, they begin playing cooperatively, sharing materials and ideas in their play. It is during cooperative play that we begin to really hash out many of the interpersonal skills needed for the rest of our lives. Skills are learned such as: sharing, collaboration, compromise, problem-solving and conflict resolution. This type of play, (and while the complexity may grow with the child), becomes the foundation for the type of play that they will mostly engage in throughout the rest of their lives. This is not to say that we discard solitary play all together, merely that we are hardwired as humans to be with and engage with other humans. The human animal is playful, and the seemingly simple process of play can have positive influence on and with people. When people are in joyful, playful interactions they are setting aside more serious personal, community, and cultural differences and they are able enjoy the interactions with those whom they are engaged in playing with. I believe it was Plato that said something along the lines of "You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of work".
I feel that the majority of learning experiences provided for children should be play-based. I think the extent to which we allow purely self-directed play occur in education should diminish as children develop the cognitive skills to interpret and apply new information and curricula, however I feel that the more we can engage people, children of all ages, in fun and playful learning, the more the learner will find it enjoyable, meaningful, and therefore demonstrate better retention because they will be more able to develop and own a love of learning.
So, as we gear up for this time of THE STANDARDIZED TESTs, please be sure to take some time to nurture and educate kids' (and teachers'!) souls by connecting with people through PLAY. Give yourself that gift and PLAY!
For breakfast this morning, as I sipped the aromatic French Roast that helps jumpstart my mornings, I played with my food; arranging the bits and pieces of my organic multi-grain English muffin with peanut butter and blueberry jam around to make hairstyles and facial hair on the on the funny-face plate that I borrowed from my son, and began my day with a smile. PLAY ON!
I recently attended a training session on classroom management with other leaders in the field of after school education. The trainer, a former classroom teacher of 10 years, now a program director, was highly engaging, organized, and unquestionably experienced when it came to working with challenging students. She eloquently shared information on her program, classroom management protocols used in her district, as well as some best practices that included guidelines commonly used in her classrooms. Despite the useful nature of the information she provided and its relevance to after school programming, I couldn't help but notice how students were consistently, yet inconspicuously, being referred to as 'the others'.
"They need to be validated."
"They need structure."
"They need clear and explicit directions."
"They need to be treated with respect."
"They," as in "not us."
The proverbial "us vs. them" mentality, prominent in the rhetoric around classroom management, is not only ubiquitous in education but anywhere discrimination is present. It fundamentally separates you from those you describe through the use of language and language itself plays a powerful role in how we perceive and interact with others in the world; in this case, how we perceive and interact with students. It is very common to hear educators at all levels refer to students in this way and I doubt the trainer was intentionally trying to 'other' anyone. However, this cultural meme is evidence of an existing divide between educators and students.
The one crucial element missing in her presentation, and I would assume, many professional development trainings on classroom management, was the synthesis and recognition that children and adults alike require similar support in order to be successful. I believe that we ALL need to be validated; we all need structure; we all need clear and explicit directions; and most importantly, we all need and deserve to be treated with respect. Unfortunately, the didactic principle, "treat [students] the way you wish to be treated," is not already the status quo in education.
Time for a Hypothetical
Let's imagine for a moment that I am a college professor, and you, a student in my class. You enter my classroom late, and I, being the one in charge, decide to call you out in front of the 200 people that arrived, on time mind you, to lecture.
"Hey (insert your name)! What did I say last time? I told you not to be late! This is your first warning!"
Though, you may have deserved the diatribe for interrupting my highly informative presentation on blueberry vs. banana nut muffins (blueberry all the way), being called out in front of 200 people is, well, kind of embarrassing. To make matters worse, imagine a person you admired (who actually came on time) witnessed the entire interaction take place. Not a good look.
Now, let's imagine I am your supervisor and you are participating in a leadership meeting. I notice you talking to a colleague sitting next to you and in front of everyone at the meeting, I say, "(Insert your name), what was the deadline I just set for attendance records to be submitted? Oh, you don't know... because you weren't paying attention. Too busy talking to the person next to you, huh? Well, guess what! You just earned yourself a write-up!"
I don't know about you, but if my boss did that to me, I'd be half way to Human Resources.
Now imagine you're a 2nd grader in an ordinary elementary school classroom, and your teacher calls you out in front of the class for talking. "(Insert your name), why are you talking?! I told you no talking right now! Well, congratulations! You just lost your recess!" *Taken from an actual teacher observation*
Unfortunately, this type of interaction is not uncommon in 2nd grade classrooms, or classrooms in general. Kids are disrespected all the time, all day long, solely because they are, well, kids. Furthermore, the idea that adults automatically earn the respect of kids is adult-centered and is often not reciprocated in kind.
The fact of the matter is we're ALL kids (some more than others... you know who you are) and NO ONE wants to be disrespected. As adults in the classroom, we are privileged with the opportunity to model for our young learners how people should treat one another in our society. Therefore, calling a student out in front of the class (like calling someone out in the middle of a meeting) is not a good classroom management practice, not just because KIDS don't like it, but because it's a mean thing to do! And yelling at a kid is not a good classroom management practice because yelling at someone is a mean thing to do!
I do not deny that there are clear, marketably effective strategies for managing behavior in a classroom, but what I do not do is view them as mutually exclusive of the communicative strategies I would use with adults. To be clear with expectations and goals, respectful in the manner in which issues are addressed, and honest with the feedback being provided, is what all leaders need to do when working with people, whether they are leaders in a classroom, or leaders of entire organizations.
I have observed some of the poorest classroom management practices to some of the greatest in my 13 years in education, and the most well managed classrooms have always been those that were run by LOVE and not FEAR, and by teachers who knew they were not the only teachers in the classroom; but that they too were students.
For breakfast I had three tangerines.
In my roles over the past decade, I've met quite a few afterschool and summer program leaders. Some of these define traits found in successful leaders. These adults set the tone for their sites, providing order and structure, but flexibility; sternness, but passion for children and making a difference in their lives. They communicate high expectations, but are nurturing in helping staff and children achieve them. They do not speak loudly, but carry a clipboard filled with procedures and notes. They walk quickly, but calmly. They see each staff member and child as an individual, but they never lose sight of the group. They provide advice and grace when things go wrong, and they practice the actions of a leader: They look, listen, learn, and lead. They are proactive and reactive. They encourage, communicate, and document.
And I've seen programs led by children, not in the purposeful way. Children lead when no adult creates order, structure, and flexibility. These programs lack high expectations, and nurturing, passion, and grace have left the building. There is "speaking loudly" since that's the only way adults can be heard over the din and chaos of the program. Adults' eyes are closed to the needs of each student and staff member, and any action is reactive. Communication seems to only happen when an issue arises, and inconsistency of manner and tone in the response leave staff members and children walking on eggshells, unable to trust.
There are few resources to help program leaders grow from being led to leading specific to the afterschool and summer learning world. As a matter of fact, an Amazon.com search for "after school" leads to exactly four results. Leading an afterschool program is often a sink-or-swim situation, promoting staff turnover, low program attendance, and a waste of funds. One of the books listed in the search results, though, is one I picked up last fall. Check out Great Afterschool Programs and Spaces That Wow! by Linda J. Armstrong and Christine A Schmidt (Redleaf Press, September 10, 2013). This important resource helps sites put children and staff first by providing tips and techniques for leading a fabulous program. Later this year, MindWorks Resources will introduce a Smart Start Kit, available to help programs expanding or creating new sites, too.
I'm excited to see new material published as afterschool and summer programs have evolved over the past decade. If you are a program leader – in the truest sense – I encourage you to do the same: publish materials to help those programs beginning to echo William Golding's The Lord of the Flies.
For breakfast I had cookies!
When I started out in the afterschool field 30 + years ago I never envisioned this work as a career. I had taken a position as the Outreach Director at a YMCA in New Jersey. One of the many items on my job description was operating the After School Kare (ASK) program at one school site. Fifteen years later when I left the Y the ASK program had grown to 32 sites in 7 school districts with 1600 children. Since that time I've worked as a state contract administrator, trainer, and evaluator for afterschool programs. But most surprising of all my son is now working in an afterschool program while he's taking the LSATs and applying to law school. Our dinner conversations have been very interesting as he tells me his perspective on working in a program like the ones he attended as a child. I have met other afterschool staff members who grew up in these programs and they bring a unique perspective to the movement.
As an evaluator I constantly review best practices based on research. The discussions with my son reflect the spirit of what research tell us about voice and choice, student engagement, and the importance of play. My son's undergraduate degree isn't in education so his interactions with students are based on his life experiences. I'm sharing his perspective on afterschool based on our talks. You may find them insightful.
Moving from Participant to Staff:
As a former participant, what do you think are important elements of an afterschool program?
After a long day at school, kids need to have some down time to relax. They also need choice instead of being required to participate in activities. Obviously homework is important. Kids resent staff who have favorites so being fair and consistent is essential.
What is your approach to discipline?
Most of our kids are in 1st and 2nd grade so we don't have many problems with discipline. I usually remind them of the rules or ask them "What do you think I'm going to say?" I know what the kids like to do so if there's a reoccurring problem I'll take away privileges for a day or two. Every once in a while I use the "Dad" voice when they could hurt themselves or another child.
What do you think is different about afterschool today as compared to 15 years ago?
The extent to which the staff can physically play with kids has changed a lot. Staff have to be so careful about their interactions. I don't play tag with the kids for this reason. Technology has changed, but our site only has access to one computer for homework assistance. Personally I think it's a good thing for our kids because they have to play with each other.
What do you think is the same?
I am amazed at how many of the toys and games that I played with are still popular. The boys still love Legos and Pokémon cards and girls love to play school. Everybody plays Uno. I wish we could do cooking, it was my favorite afterschool activity in middle school.
What advice would you give to staff who have not worked in afterschool programs before?
Always get involved with the kids and play with them. Don't just stand on the sidelines and watch. The staff that left the most impressions on me were the ones who were engaged.
We got a high powered blender for Christmas so for breakfast today I made a raspberry/blueberry smoothie with yogurt, cranberry juice and almond butter. Healthy and yummy!