Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Frontline Staff Basics #2

Beyond Professionalism, your Frontline Staff also needs to understand the basics of managing the after-school environment including the crucial time between activities known as transitions, providing behavior guidance, and disciplining youth when necessary. Understanding and being able to put into practice these key basics allows the frontline staff to create a space for learning. When the environment is chaotic, learning is not occurring, so in order to promote learning, and more obviously safety, it is important that staff has base line understanding of these program aspects.

When looking at managing the environment, your staff members need to visualize exactly how things would look and sound if the activity were being done “perfectly”. Each can then compare the vision of “perfection” with the reality that they are witnessing, and then go to work, with the support of others, to ensure that each environment of the after-school program is exactly what the staff member has imagined. For example, if the program agreements are Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible, how will those agreements manifest walking down the hallway, during snack, or when students are working on homework? A conversation needs to occur with students in which they discuss what safety, respect, and responsibility means in the different after-school environments. No one expects student behavior during an outdoor activity to be the same as during a lesson indoors. So let’s acknowledge that by creating environmental agreements and being very sure that kids understand the guidelines in each situation. It is also important that staff is aware that how they position themselves in the environment makes it easier or more challenging to manage it. Staff must also manage the environment by walking around and establishing a presence in each of the spaces within the whole environment, making it easier for students to practice positive behavior choices.

Behavior Guidance is different than Managing the Environment often referred to as Classroom Management. Behavior Guidance is utilized to get a group of people to willingly cooperative with the standards of behavior that have been cooperatively set. You begin this process by being certain that everyone has a clear understanding of the expectations and then through a series of conversations, class meetings, and clarifying activities, establishing norms that will define the desired behavior. It is important to include both individual and group strategies to encourage positive choices and discourage choices that do not go along with the established guidelines that every student participated in defining. Sometimes young people check to see if the program leader (the adult in charge) really means what they say and say what they mean. When this occurs, it is important that the adult follow through with the discipline that was set in place long before the behavior manifested. Discipline is about making choices—choices that are clearly defined from the beginning—you may choose to cooperate with the group and participate in the activity or you may choose to not follow the guidelines and sit this activity out. Students, like the rest of us, are continuously doing research to determine if you are a person they can trust. Once it is established that you are, the more likely it is that young people will make positive choices.

We utilize classroom management skills and behavior guidance to help the program run smoothly and ensure that each student is having a positive experience during the program. One of the times in which these skills and guidance are most pivotal is the transition period between activities. After-school programs have many transitions—the first is the transition from the school day to the program itself, which is followed by transitions into snack and networking, from this activity to outdoor activities, to homework, to enrichment, to academic support, and so on, and then finally from school to home. Taking the time to establish guidelines around expected behavior during these transitions will go a long way in creating harmony in the program.

Frontline staff who have developing skills around managing the environment, behavior guidance, discipline, and successful transitions, will be more successful in their interactions with you and creating an engaging learning environment for youth.

Consult 4 Kids can help with this. Check them out at www.consultfourkids.com

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