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On-Site Staff / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Litmus Test Your Program’s Magic

Litmus Test Your Program’s Magic

The best organizations keep a constant eye on program improvement. Walt Disney once said, ”The real trouble with the world is that too many people grow up.” I believe that is also the trouble with a lot of well-intended organizations with incredible mission statements and passionate staff who work with children on a day-to-day basis, but get caught up in that controversial catch-phrase commonly known as, “adulting.” I’ve been guilty of it. We all get busy. Papers need to be filed, grants need to be written, emails returned, and parent letters updated. We’re stuck on the proverbial office treadmill.

Part of my job includes visiting schools and their after school or summer programs. I’ve seen a lot. From being greeted by cheerleaders running through bubbles and principals in eight-foot dinosaur costumes blasting incredibly loud music, to silent sterile environments that make me feel like I should whisper. It is amazing how incredibly different school environments can be.

But what if we were more intentional about how we make people FEEL? What if we create an environment that would make Walt Disney proud? What if we require our entire organization to embrace FUN?

But who has time for fun and isn’t that the job of the program staff? The short answer is everyone in your organization has time for fun and quite frankly you really can’t afford NOT to have fun. In fact, it should be part of your mission statement. The Charleston RiverDogs, a minor league baseball team based in Charleston, South Carolina uses fun as a springboard for all they do. Their tagline “Make Fun,” drives all their decisions from marketing to programming, and Mike Veeck, President of the RiverDogs, co-authored the book, Fun is Good where he shares why heavy doses of fun, creativity, and passion are essential to success. I agree with this philosophy and have learned over the past twenty years that the most engaging and fun educational programs are the ones that are the most successful.

So how do you know if your program is fun? There may not be a true litmus test for fun, but there are certain questions you could ask yourself and your answers will reveal a lot:

1.     Are you meeting or exceeding your goals and objectives?

2.     Is your attendance growing?

3.     Are your students well behaved?

4.     Do your parents show up to volunteer or attend special events?

5.     Are children and staff laughing?

6.     Is your staff engaged with the students?

7.     Is there a “team” culture that includes all staff from janitorial, transportation, food service to executive leadership?

The more “yeses” you have, the more fun and engaging your culture is. Remember, it may not be the Development Director’s job to blow bubbles all day, but it should be a priority within your organization to make sure everyone who comes in contact with your program gets a good vibe when they enter.

Imagine this, all Disney employees, regardless of their job, are called “Cast Members,” and there are strict guidelines they all must follow to ensure fun is had by all. Sometimes the most fun and seemingly carefree spaces are those with strict rules and guidelines. Think about your program. What if you REQUIRED everyone on your team to engage with parents when they pick up and drop off? Or there’s a fun staff parade each day during snack time? What small adjustments can you make immediately to ensure your students experience a magical program that exceeds your expectations?

The culture of an organization will determine your attitude, so think long and hard about how your employees act in the presence of children and see if you can tweak some of your policies to make your space a bit more magical. Channel your inner seven-year-old self and make decisions based on that.

For breakfast, I had black coffee with a gluten-free bagel topped with cream cheese and topped with “Everything Bagel” seasoning.   

Author: @robinberlinsky

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