In my roles over the past decade, I’ve met quite a few afterschool and summer program leaders.
Some of them strongly portray traits found in successful leaders. These adults set the tone for their sites, providing order and structure, flexibility, sternness, and a 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, but 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 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!
Author: Terri Marini
Teacher, Literacy Coach
Terri Marini is a middle school teacher and literacy coach on a school campus lucky enough to have an afterschool program. Previously the Vice President of Programs at Dallas AfterSchool Network, she was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Program Quality Initiative and the Network. Terri continues her 30-year career in the education field where she held such positions as curriculum writer, staff trainer, and consultant. Her expertise includes working with young children through adolescents, as well as curriculum and instructional design. Terri holds committee positions on organizations that support her children’s education and sports interests. Terri earned a B.Ed. from University of North Texas with a literacy and early childhood focus, and a MS from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN with a major in Curriculum and Instruction with Technology. When she’s not teaching, she’s reading!