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On-Site Staff / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Staff Leadership and Management

Full Participation: A Guide to Being Present

be here now-full participation

By today’s parenting standards, I did something incomprehensible – I did not take any pictures of my kids during an awesome outing on a beautiful Southern California day!

I held it together for a full 1.5 hours and did not pull out my iPhone 6 to “capture the moment” so that my kids could later say how great their dad was.  Oh, who am I kidding? I wanted great pics so that all my friends on Facebook could gawk at the status update I would post later on.

The critical moment in this story came when, as my girls were throwing everything off to run into picture perfect waters, by LA standards at least, and as I was laying down towels and arranging our gear, my oldest daughter ran up to me and said, “Dad get in the water with us!”

be here nowThat was the moment.

It was a request for engagement.  It was their way of telling me they wanted dad as part of the memory being created, and not just someone to document what took place.  What was a dad to do? So history was made as I left the phone in the bag, and took my first steps toward the water and into the core memories of my children (you have to see Inside Out to understand that little bit of a psychology reference).

My kids later told me it was one of the best days ever.  I wonder if they would’ve felt the same way with me in the role as a photographer.

Needless to say, parents all over have fallen into this pattern of becoming historians of their children’s lives.  There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t see parents behind the camera or the phone, participating from a distance, removed from the messiness that is full participation.  You can see the pride on their face when they capture that perfect smile, that perfect action shot or facial expression.

ENOUGH! It is time to put the tech down and become a protagonist in the memory of our children.

The same can be said in our work as leaders and practitioners in the after school space.  As many of us have grown in responsibility within our respective organizations, we have drifted towards this behavior of “documenting” the work.  We are far more concerned with photos, narratives, testimonies, and content that feeds into tweets or status updates, rather than diving into the messiness that is youth development.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you stepped onto a program site, walked into a classroom or onto a blacktop and got into it?  I mean really engaging and interacting with your students, the content, the materials, the experience, being kinesthetic and inquisitive.  After all, this attitude and mindset is what defines our space, does it not? I have heard it said, and have understood it full well, that after school is not a time or a place.  It is some thing.  It is an experience that is meant to be picked up and immersed into like a fresh batch of Play-Doh.

You remember that feeling, right?

When you popped open the can and saw that pristine mold of clay?  The smell that rose up from the container as soon as the lid came off.  And who can forget the feeling of Play-Doh as it weaved and hugged your fingers as you mushed and squeezed that famous colorful clay.  Wow!!! That right there ladies and gentlemen, is our space, our craft, and our calling.

What are you waiting for? Dive in and become part of the memories being created by your staff, your kids, and your community!  By the way, I was not completely forthcoming when I made mention of me not taking a single pic, I took two pictures.  Hey, one step at a time!

 For breakfast today, well, I had a banana.  Long story.  I ended up having a bagel and lox at about 2:00 PM.  One of those days!

Author Profile: @carlossantini

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